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METRO NEWS

2,000 Students Skip Classes After Shooting Threat

March 13, 2001|ELAINE GALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALISO NIGUEL, Calif. — Almost 2,000 students skipped classes at Aliso Niguel High School after e-mails warned that a student planned to shoot up the campus Monday, the same day authorities announced the arrests of two teenagers on suspicion of making terrorist threats.

Rumors and e-mails had swept the south Orange County community over the weekend, and the Orange County Sheriff's Department received more than 100 e-mails from students and 500 phone calls from worried parents alerting officers about the supposed plan.

Sheriff's investigators said a 15-year-old boy, until recently a student at Aliso Niguel High, was arrested Saturday, the morning after investigators began looking into the warnings from parents and students. The student withdrew from school a month ago, said Capistrano Unified School District spokeswoman Julie Jennings.

The second boy, a 14-year-old Capistrano Valley High School student from Mission Viejo, was arrested Monday about 9 a.m. on the campus after students told teachers that the youth had threatened to kill another student.

Authorities later found a pistol at the boy's home, said Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Doan.

"Whether or not we averted a tragedy, we'll never know," said Doan. "When it appears that an individual has the capability to carry out their threats, then we take these things very seriously. It did create quite a stir."

Attendance was not affected at Capistrano, but at Aliso Niguel officials permitted parents to keep their children off campus--although ninth-graders are scheduled to take the state high school exit exam in mathematics today. Other students never showed up. Many stayed home after hearing from friends.

Sheriff's deputies patrolled the campus and school officials stayed alert, zipping around the grounds in golf carts to keep watch. If students strayed beyond the center of campus, a golf cart would bring them back.

Some of the few students on campus pulled out cell phones to call parents.

"It made us upset to think the reputation of our school getting marred by some student making threats," said Elizabeth Luppi, 17, editor of the school newspaper, the Growling Wolverine. "Maybe that person just wanted the day off, but it upset a lot of students."

School officials said the rumors of a violent threat trickled down from an emergency services dispatcher at the school district who took a call from a teenager reporting she had heard a male student threaten to "shoot up the school Monday."

According to John Pehrson, assistant vice principal at Aliso Niguel, only about 850 students came to campus and about 1,900 were absent. The school serves students from the Aliso Viejo and Laguna Niguel areas.

Pehrson lauded the good communication between students, parents and law enforcement officials, although he said the administration was frustrated that so many students were missing school.

For those who did attend, it was a day of leisure in which teachers let students watch movies, play games or have informal conversations about current events.

"The reason so many kids aren't here is that they're using it as a day to slack off," said Jamie Gunter, 17. "It's a ditch day. But they are so stupid to ditch today because it's been so fun. In English class we went out and played volleyball."

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