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Rumor Frightens Ohio Students

May 22, 1998

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ When a high school student promised two weeks ago that ``something big″ was going to happen on Thursday, rumors spread that he had a hit list of classmates to kill or planned to bring a bomb to class.

Parents were worried, and the school called in the police to investigate.

Even though they decided there was no truth to the rumors, 130 of the school’s 540 students at Bishop Hartley High School stayed home Thursday _ an absentee rate about six times higher than normal.

The student’s big event? His 16th birthday.

Principal Jim Silcott said the rumors began when the student, whom he described as shy and a little awkward socially, wrote ``May 21″ on a blackboard. He would not release the boy’s name.

``When kids asked him about it, he was too embarrassed to say it was his birthday, so he told them, `Something big is going to happen that day,‴ Silcott said.

The tale spread from there: maybe a shooting during Mass, or a bombing.

Police talked with the boy and the grandfather he lives with after the rumors began, and decided no extra precautions were needed Thursday.

The teen-ager has good grades, is helpful and has never been a problem in his two years at the school, Silcott said.

``He’s the kind of kid who would like to have a few more friends,″ the principal said.

Silcott thought the rumors had been squelched, but they started again over the weekend and were raging by Monday.

It’s possible some students started the rumors because they wanted a day off, Silcott said, but recent school shootings in Kentucky, Arkansas, Mississippi and Pennsylvania also has caused ``a heightened sense of hysteria.″

One parent, John Palma, said the school shootings _ including Thursday’s in Oregon _ made him concerned, especially since one of the rumors had his daughter’s name on the hit list, and the boy had once asked her out.

Stephanie Palma, 18, stayed home Thursday morning but went to school in the afternoon. ``I know she was nervous,″ her father said.

Josh Jones, an 18-year-old senior, said he went to school Thursday because he didn’t believe the rumors.

Jones said he doesn’t know the 16-year-old boy but said, ``People torment him all the time.″

The boy hasn’t been in school since Monday, and Silcott said he might not return for the final two weeks of the school year, for fear of being harassed by other students.

``I’m worried about his self esteem and peace of mind,″ Silcott said.

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