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24 Apr 2006 07:57
Six boys at a small Alaskan middle school were arrested at the weekend on suspicion of planning to carry out a Columbine-style massacre.
Police in the town of North Pole said the arrests were made after a concerned parent raised the alarm. Officers say the boys—all around the age of 13—intended to bring guns and knives to the school to kill their classmates and teachers.
They also allegedly aimed to cut the school’s electricity and telephone lines to give them time to flee.
The arrests came two days after five teenagers in Kansas were arrested on suspicion of planning a similar massacre at their school last Thursday—the seventh anniversary of the Columbine high school killings in Colorado, when two armed teenagers killed 12 pupils and a teacher before shooting themselves.
The North Pole youngsters, in the seventh grade, face charges of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, say police. Officers speculated that the boys were motivated by revenge because they had been picked on at the 500-pupil school—or that they simply did not like their classmates and teachers.
“This plan included the disabling of the school’s telephone and power system, setting an allotted amount of time to remain in the school to kill their victims, and their escape route from the school and North Pole area,” said a police statement.
Fifteen other pupils have been suspended on suspicion that they were involved in or had knowledge of the plot. Police searched the school with dogs at the weekend, but no weapons were found. It is not clear whether the arrested boys had access to weapons.
Jeff Jacobson, the town’s mayor, who is also a teacher at the school, said: “To what extent they could have executed the plan is anyone’s guess. I think all of us were horrified that anybody would be thinking to kill someone else. This is a wake-up call for all of us that we need to keep the channels of communication open with our kids.” Parents and pupils at the school expressed shock that such a plot could be hatched in the town.
“In such a small community as North Pole, you don’t want to think that things like this can happen,” Vicki Kennon, whose daughter is in the same school year as the arrested boys, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.
Barbara Crull, who has two daughters at the school, said: “They need to get this school under control.”
Her daughter, Naomi, added: “Everybody’s wondering if they are on the hit-list.” Police said no such list had been found.
North Pole, with a population of only 1 650, was described by one local teacher as religious, generous and more conservative than the nearby city of Fairbanks.
“There was a relaxed atmosphere—more so than I’ve seen at larger schools, whether in Anchorage or Fairbanks,” the teacher, Conrad Gonzalez, told the Anchorage Daily News. “It was very low-key, friendly ... familial.”
Actually 2 720km south of the real North Pole, the town is famed for its postmark. Each year, thousands of children write to North Pole requesting a letter from Santa Claus with a North Pole postmark.
The Santa industry dominates the town. Its official slogan is “Where the Spirit of Christmas Lives Year Round”. The most notable building in the town is Santa Claus House, outside which stands a giant fibre-glass Santa statue. The building’s address is St Nicholas Drive, not to be confused with Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane or Kris Kringle Drive. - Guardian Unlimited Â
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