School Climate & Safety

‘Copycatting’ May Produce More Threats

By Lesli A. Maxwell — April 23, 2007 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

School leaders should brace for more of the kinds of threats that forced lockdowns and evacuations at campuses around the country last week after the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, experts warned.

Some of last week’s threats directly mentioned the April 16 shootings in Blacksburg, Va., while others referred to the Columbine High School killings in Colorado in 1999. The eighth anniversary of those slayings was last Friday, April 20.

The midweek revelation that Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech gunman, had referred to the Columbine High killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, as “martyrs” in a package of video clips and writings he sent to NBC News heightened concerns about threats of copycat violence—both genuine and false.

“Schools need to be prepared for a wave of false threats, and educators and the community need to do more educating to make it clear to young people that these threats are going to be taken very seriously,” said Dewey G. Cornell, an education professor and the director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia, located in Charlottesville.

“We have a segment of a whole generation of kids who have been inspired by Columbine,” he added. “There really is an idolization of those shooters that we need to address.”

Backpack Ban

In Salem, N.H., the local high school instituted a three-day ban on backpacks, purses, and sports-equipment bags to prevent weapons from being smuggled in, after teachers received notes the day after the shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University promising violence on the Columbine anniversary.

Schools Superintendent Michael Delahanty said the district’s decision to keep school open on April 20 was a message to whoever sent the notes. “The question in my mind is, what happens the next time, and the time after that, and the time after that?” he said. “We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible.”

One day after the Virginia slayings, a public high school in Great Falls, Mont., was locked down for a time after a threatening note was found in a girls’ restroom.

A student found the threatening note on April 17 at about 12:15 p.m. on a toilet-paper dispenser. It said that “the shooting would start at Great Falls High at 12:30, and it would be worse than Virginia Tech,” Assistant Superintendent Dick Kuntz said. He said it was a hoax.

Such threats must be taken seriously and dealt with swiftly, said Gregory A. Thomas, a former security chief for the New York City public schools. He is now the director of a school-preparedness program at the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University.

“When you hear rumblings or that a kid has made some comment about killing someone, you can’t dismiss it,” he said. “You have to call them on it.”

Outside Threats

In Bogalusa, La., parents picked up hundreds of students from the local high school and middle school April 17 after a man had been arrested for threatening a mass killing in a note to a student that alluded to the shootings at Virginia Tech.

“The note referred to what happened at Virginia Tech,” Bogalusa Superintendent Jerry Payne said. “It said something like, ‘If you think that was bad, then you haven’t seen anything yet.’ ”

Two days after the Virginia Tech slayings, a man was arrested in the Washington suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., after referring to them in an apparent threat to his child’s elementary school.

Mr. Cornell suggested that schools should not let down their guard, especially in light of the posthumous fame earned by the Virginia Tech gunman, which was reminiscent of that of the student killers at Columbine High.

“It’s pretty clear now that [Mr. Cho] was influenced, if not inspired, by Columbine,” he said. “And the airing of his videos and photographs is very worrisome to me, because the amount of publicity he has received could certainly stimulate more of this.”

See Also

Read more from our collection of stories in this series,

A version of this article appeared in the April 25, 2007 edition of Education Week as ‘Copycatting’ May Produce More Threats


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Preventing Student Violence: 3 Key Takeaways
Advice from two experts on threat assessment and crisis response in schools.
3 min read
Crosses and flowers hang on a fence outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, near Parkland, Fla., in memory of the 17 people killed in a school shooting there in 2018.
Crosses and flowers were part of a memorial for the 17 people killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Following that shooting, schools around the country considered additional safety measures, including threat-assessment policies.
Brynn Anderson/AP
School Climate & Safety Responding to Student Threats: Schools Wrestle With How to Prevent Violence
The Buffalo shooting suspect made a threat at school last year, but wasn't flagged under the state's red flag law.
10 min read
A rifle hangs on display in the window of the West Endicott & Susquehanna Arms Co., Monday, May 16, 2022, where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased fire arms in Endicott, N.Y.
A rifle hangs on display in the window of an Endicott, N.Y., gun shop where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased firearms.
Michael Hill/AP
School Climate & Safety Grief, Anger, Fear: How Teachers Can Help Students Cope With the Buffalo Shooting
After a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack, teachers again wrestled with how to explain hate and mass violence to students.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.
A mourner pays his respects outside the scene of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
School Climate & Safety Accused Gunman in Buffalo Shooting Was Investigated for Threat to His School
The gunman was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
3 min read
Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.” (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)