Virtual Threat

Photo: Whitney Cox

Friday, February 22, started normally at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights, where I’m a senior. But by third period, word spread: A student had received an anonymous Facebook message threatening to shoot up the school. Was it a hoax? Should we be scared? Why wasn’t the school telling us anything? I soon learned an e-mail had been sent to teachers and parents, confirming the rumor, saying the police had been notified, and assuring them everything was under control.

But it didn’t seem like everything was under control. A halfhearted lockdown was in effect; no one could leave the building. Administrators didn’t address the student body. When the editors of the school newspaper, The Prism, received the administration’s memo, forwarded by a parent, we printed and distributed it. It was noon, about two hours after word of the threat had first filtered out, and students devoured our flyer. Modern communication continued to undercut administrators’ efforts to defuse the situation. Parents called the school seeking information; students called parents for permission to leave. Some kids were still in classes, which surreally continued as usual.

I considered leaving with my younger sister, or dismissing the incident as a joke; I did neither. Parents drifted in to retrieve their children. A police officer stood watch at the front door. Teachers remained tight-lipped. Just after 1 p.m., we got word that there’d finally be an assembly to fill us in. In the chapel, the head of school confirmed what everyone knew, assured us things were under control, and said he didn’t believe anyone was ever in danger. Police had identified a suspect, he said, who hadn’t yet been apprehended, but they knew the suspect wasn’t on school grounds. If we got a parent’s permission, he said, we could leave school. No one quite understood how we could be sure we were safe while the suspect was still at large.

An e-mail sent to parents later in the afternoon explained that the suspect had been identified as a Packer sophomore and a warrant issued for his arrest. On Monday, we learned he’d been arrested over the weekend, charged with a misdemeanor, and released to his parents. Administrators made one thing clear: He won’t be back at school.

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Virtual Threat