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High School Cancels Graduation in Fear of Violence, Suicides

June 8, 1988

FAIRVIEW, Pa. (AP) _ Officials canceled final exams and graduation for the senior class at Fairview High School, saying they feared a group of students had planned to commit suicide or other violence during ceremonies.

″It’s more than just pranks,″ Frank Kroto, Fairview School District solicitor, said Wednesday. ″It’s more than the typical end of the year dissatisfaction with authority.″

Kroto also said several school administrators received personal threats and were being protected by police. He did not give details, but state police said troopers were patrolling near some administrators’ homes, as if they asked for patrols while on vacation.

Officials said they have evidence of a suicide pact among friends of a senior who fatally shot himself at home with a .44-caliber Magnum handgun at Christmastime in the presence of another student. Officials said another, similar handgun was stolen from the dead student’s home and has not been recovered.

Police heard some students were planning to make graduation ″a memorable graduation, one that they would never forget,″ The Erie Daily Times reported Wednesday.

School Board President Barbara Junker, who announced the cancellation at a tense board meeting Tuesday night, said several students she did not identify ″threatened to cause serious disruption at this year’s graduation.″

Mrs. Junker said officials could not guarantee the safety of students and relatives at baccalaureate ceremonies Thursday and at graduation Sunday for 150 seniors.

Teachers will issue final grades on the basis of students’ school work; the board did not decide how students will receive diplomas.

″The problem is if one person on this stage shoots himself or someone else, the board is responsible,″ Kroto said at the meeting, adding that officials have ″evidence there is a possibility this could happen.″

Kroto said many parents agreed with the board’s action, but one mother, who was not identified by the newspaper, said officials were acting on ″a bunch of rumors, none of them based on any evidence.″

Senior Neal Loenslein said he’s talked to other students, has found no students with weapons and doesn’t believe in the existence of a suicide pact.

″Everyone I’ve talked to doesn’t know anything about guns or anything,″ he said. ″It’s all coming from the administration.″

The board, he said, ″built all this out of nothing.″

State police Cpl. James Scheig in nearby Girard said law enforcement authorities are not investigating alleged threats of violence or the possibility of suicides.

″No official complaints have been made to us whatsoever,″ Scheig said. ″We don’t investigate rumors. They know that.″

He said, however, troopers are patrolling near certain administrators’ homes. ″We are making passes through their areas to make our presence known. No big deal,″ Scheig said.

Kroto said he could not explain what might be driving the students to contemplate killing themselves.

One female student told police the four or five students involved were from affluent families in this Lake Erie suburb of about 7,500 people, according to the newspaper, which did not identify her.

″They’re not the leather-jacket types. They have a reputation as partiers. They’re known by everybody,″ the newspaper quoted her as saying.

Although psychologists and psychiatrists have been working with students and teachers since the senior committed suicide, Mrs. Junker said there was still ″a certain segment that the counselors warn could be potentially threatening to either themselves and possibly others.″

Senior Kim Zeigler said a psychiatrist told students after the suicide that there should be a memorial to the victim in the 1988 yearbook. But, she said, officials would not allow it.

″The administration made everyone so mad that there’s definitely some kind of danger,″ she said. ″They (the administration) made it like a jail in there ... like a fortress.″

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