Thursday, March 6, 2014

School Go Boom

The other day, I was leaving my office to pick my teenage daughter up at high school. I sent some copy to a client and still had a few minutes, so I decided to look at Facebook before I left. There, in the newsfeed, was a post from another mother, a new friend of mine from my Zumba class.

"Nothing like two bomb threats in a day at the high school ..."

Say what?

I double checked the date and the school she mentioned. Why had I not heard about this? I have email. I have a phone (three different numbers, actually, all within an arm's reach of my desk). My daughter has no compunction about texting me from school, as she has proven countless times over far less important news.

A bomb threat? Really? Instant flashback.

I was in seventh grade, and it was my first week at a new school (we combined junior and high into five years, with most girls graduating after eleventh grade). I had made a friend and we were browsing M.H. Lamston's, a "five and dime" on the corner of 45th and Lexington. There was a type of nougat candy from Italy and I mentioned in passing that my mother liked it. Once we were outside and waiting for the bus, the girl pulled two pieces of the candy out of her pocket.

I was aghast.

She was a shoplifter, which made her simultaneously the coolest and scariest and most exciting person I had ever met. I can't remember if I took the candy (I probably did), but I was very wary from then on. Sure enough, later that month we had a social studies test and my criminal-friend went to a pay phone and called in a bomb threat.

As with the candy incident, I only found out after the fact. Still, I felt terribly anxious. Was I an accomplice? What if she was caught? What if I were questioned? Even though preteens are notorious drama seekers, this was a little too much for me. I was relieved when her family moved and she left the school.

Bomb threats were fairly common during my teens. We were all afraid of the Russians, and it was pure, inarguable logic that the Soviet Union would choose my high school as a nuclear target, right? But, my anxiety over the USSR was nothing compared to my anxiety over my classmate's phone call.

It contrasts nicely (as so many anecdotes do) with my husband's experience with the same phenomenon at the same time. "We used to have bomb/fire threats almost daily when I was in junior high. Phone-only of course, and I forget  the outcome, whether they figured out who it was, etc.  We mostly enjoyed it ..."

Back to 2014. Once my daughter was safely in the car with me ("I didn't text you 'cause I knew you'd freak out."), I got the full story. Someone (presumably a student) had posted a fairly vague threat on the anonymous social media site Yik Yak:

"The school is going to go boom ... enjoy a** holes"

The kids were evacuated. The police came. The fire department came. The school was searched. Nothing was found.

A couple of hours later, another perceived threat appeared. The kids were evacuated. The police came. The fire department came. The school was searched. Nothing was found.

The good news? 

This was almost certainly a prank. Earlier in the day, the principal of the school had warned students about a strict new policy regarding the use of sites like Yik Yak. Coincidence? I think not.

The bad news?

Disrupting a school assembly is a misdemeanor crime. Making a bomb threat is a felony. Unlike the NYC pay phone used by my young friend forty years ago, even so-called "anonymous" posts made from mobile devices can be traced via IP address. Whether you understand the technology or not, the bottom line is that someone's going to get busted.

Meanwhile, the bottom line for most of the students was that they missed about two hours of class. They were evacuated so quickly that most didn't have time to grab a coat or jacket despite the frigid temperature. (My own daughter huddled with a couple of buds under a fire blanket, which her clever chemistry teacher brought outside.) I'm sure it was all very exciting.

And, of course, it didn't stop them from posting a few wry observations (on Facebook and, yes, Yik Yak).

"The word wasn't really 'bomb.' It was 'prom.' A promposal gone bad — d*mn you, autocorrect."

"How was your day, honey?" "It was da bomb."

And, my personal favorite ...

"If the bomb doesn't get us, the hypothermia will."

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my new book Lovin' the Alien at   

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