Code Blue at Schools Rattles Nerves

By Lori Aratani and Katherine Shaver
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 12, 2006

A 12-year-old boy's false claim yesterday that an armed man approached him at a bus stop and threatened violence at a school prompted officials to lock the doors and heighten security at 13 campuses in northwestern Montgomery County.

The boy, a seventh-grader at Kingsview Middle School in Germantown, told his story to a driver as he boarded his bus in the morning, then recanted it during an after-school interview with detectives.

Before he did, the tale was enough to throw Maryland's largest school system into confusion and parents into a state of uncertainty. Acting with "an abundance of caution," police and school system officials put the schools under a day-long Code Blue alert, which meant doors were monitored and students continued classes under tighter security than usual.

Police spokeswoman Lucille Baur said detectives are conferring with prosecutors to determine whether to file charges against the boy. She said it was unclear what his motive may have been.

The school system's actions, coming after a series of school shootings and violent threats across the United States, demonstrate the current concern about student safety. Baur said police had initially recommended that three campuses be put under Code Blue alert, but school officials decided to add 10 schools.

Montgomery's response echoes that of officials in Virginia's Culpeper County, which shut down all public and private schools last week after receiving a bomb threat by phone. A 25-year-old man was arrested yesterday in connection with the case.

In Arlington County, security was tightened yesterday at Wakefield High School and neighboring Claremont Immersion Elementary School after a teenager apparently fired a paintball gun while walking to school, an official said. And in Wilmington, Del., three high school students were charged with terroristic threatening and conspiracy for making bomb threats at their school.

On Tuesday, President Bush hosted a six-hour Conference on School Safety in Chevy Chase, at which officials talked about strategies for making campuses more secure.

Yesterday's Code Blue alert in Montgomery was one of several incidents that rattled the nerves of the 139,000-student school system.

Just before 8 a.m., more than 2,200 students at Sherwood High School were evacuated after administrators received a bomb threat. Bomb-sniffing dogs were brought in to sweep the Sandy Spring campus. The threat turned out to be false, and a 15-year-old student from Sherwood was arrested in connection with the incident.

Then, in the early afternoon, two elementary schools in Gaithersburg -- Brown Station and Diamond -- briefly tightened security after Gaithersburg police notified them that a burglary suspect whose description matched that of the man who allegedly made the bus stop threat was believed to be in the area. The Code Blue at those schools, a separate action, was lifted about 90 minutes later.

Montgomery police said that elementary school students were kept inside buildings for recess and that outdoor activities at other campuses were canceled. School system officials also canceled after-school activities at Kingsview Middle.

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