EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 22, 2012

Windham police present, many students not after alleged school threats

Officials don't find any 'credible' threats

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — Police stationed cruisers outside schools yesterday for “peace of mind” of the community, though by mid-morning they had concluded a threat allegedly made via social media in Connecticut wasn’t credible.

“No direct threat was ever made to our schools,” Capt. Mike Caron said.

Superintendent Henry LaBranche said absenteeism was up 20 to 25 percent, but acknowledged the upcoming school vacation week may have factored in the number.

LaBranche estimated he had about a dozen responses from parents after informing the community of the possible threat overnight Thursday.

Some just wanted an update.

“Others were concerned and kept their kids home,” LaBranche said.

LaBranche said he was second guessed by some parents who thought he should have canceled school.

But officials at the time were trying to determine whether the threat was credible, he said.

Mindful of the Connecticut school shootings a week ago yesterday, LaBranche alerted families and asked for the police presence throughout the day.

“My decisions have to be for the safety of the kids,” LaBranche said.

The cruisers parked outside main entrances at school.

Inside Windham High, a police officer walked along the corridor.

Even the UPS deliveryman had to press a buzzer and request entry through locked doors, though that was a result of stepped-up security in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings.

Otherwise, principal Tom Murphy said it was business as usual at the high school. Students and staff seemed unperturbed.

Windham High had recent experience with this, however. The school went on alert Monday when a loud, unexplained bang prompted officials, as a precaution, to ask police to search the building.

Windham had company yesterday.

New Hampshire State Police Lt. Chris Wagner, who oversees Troop B in Southern New Hampshire, said troopers went to Bedford High School to assist local police with a bomb threat.

Sanborn Regional High School had Rockingham County deputies in the school yesterday, a response to rumors circulating among students of possible trouble, principal Brian Stack said.

“We were chasing tons of rumors,” though none proved substantial, Stack said. “Nothing ever led us anywhere or gave us any concern.”

Still, the school worked with Kingston police and the sheriff’s department to have an expanded police presence to put people’s minds at ease.

Stack estimated attendance at 65 percent. He said typically it would be 85 to 90 percent the Friday before vacation. Some parents were being cautious, he said, though he tried to reassure them.

“My point to parents was this: Knowing what I know, I would have absolutely no issue sending my kids to school,” Stack said.

The superintendent in Manchester, in a letter to the school community posted online, acknowledged “chatter on social media regarding acts of violence” was creating anxiety among parents, students and staff.

Tom Brennan reassured them school officials were working with police to make sure everyone was safe.

“The safety and welfare of our students and staff is our number one priority,” Brennan wrote.

Windham officials had responded to what Caron described as “fourth- or fifth-hand” information about a possible threat on Twitter, apparently originating with students in Connecticut.

Caron said officials still did not know why a Connecticut school administrator concluded a threat was directed at schools here in Windham.

Police in Connecticut continued to investigate.

Caron and Rockingham County Attorney Jim Reams said if a threat were deemed credible, people could be prosecuted under laws ranging from false public alarm to criminal threatening.

LaBranche said the school district would take steps to expel a student behind any such threats.

Earlier in the week, State Police had responded near the Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester for what someone thought was an explosive device on a highway ramp.

Wagner said the report was soon discredited; it was a hydraulic cylinder that fell off a tractor trailer.

Blame the Sandy Hook tragedy, putting people on edge.

“There is heightened awareness and alert,” Wagner said.