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Threats of violence in schools soar across U.S.

Since Monday, schools and colleges in at least 27 states — from Oregon to Florida — have had scares, hoaxes or lockdowns. With a nation on edge, the number of threats, real or perceived, has spiked.
/ Source: NBC News and news services

Since Monday, schools and colleges in at least 27 states — from Oregon to Florida — have had scares, hoaxes or lockdowns. With a nation on edge, the number of threats, real or perceived, has spiked.

Outside Denver on Friday, what sounded like an explosion forced these high school students to evacuate, canceling classes.

In Yuba County, Calif., Jeffrey Carney turned himself in Thursday night after allegedly threatening to "make Virginia Tech look mild." Still on Friday, all public schools remain closed. And, in Woodbridge, Va., students planned to memorialize a former classmate killed Monday — instead, a bomb threat forced them to leave.

Threats in Louisiana, Montana and Washington state directly mentioned the massacre in Virginia, while others were reports of suspicious activity in Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota and Michigan.

In Louisiana, parents picked up hundreds of students from Bogalusa's high school and middle school amid reports that a man had been arrested Tuesday morning for threatening a mass killing in a note that alluded to the murders at Virginia Tech.

‘You haven’t seen anything yet’
Schools Superintendent Jerry Payne said both schools were locked down and police arrested a 53-year-old man who allegedly made the threat in a note he gave to a student headed to the private Bowling Green School in Franklinton. Both towns are in southeastern Louisiana.

"The note referred to what happened at Virginia Tech," Payne said. "It said something like, 'If you think that was bad, then you haven't seen anything yet."

A Great Falls, Mont., high school was locked down for a time Tuesday after a threatening note was found in a girls' bathroom.

A student found the threatening note at about 12:15 p.m. on a toilet paper dispenser. It stated, "the shooting would start at Great Falls High at 12:30 and it would be worse than Virginia Tech," Assistant Superintendent Dick Kuntz said. He said it was a hoax.

Washington State University's branch campus in Vancouver was evacuated because of graffiti discovered in a campus restroom that threatened harm likened to the Virginia slayings around 8 p.m., around the time a conference on the Patriot Act and the war on terror was scheduled, authorities said. The event was to be rescheduled.

In Rapid City, S.D., schools were locked down after receiving reports of a man with a gun in a parking lot at Central High. No shots were fired and no injuries were reported, police said. The high school students were taken to the nearby Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, where parents were allowed to pick up their children.

‘Always take the necessary precautions’
In Austin, Texas, authorities evacuated buildings at St. Edward's University after a threatening note was found, a school official said.

Police secured the campus perimeter and were searching the buildings, St. Edward's University spokeswoman Mischelle Amador said. She declined to say where the note was found and said its contents were "nonspecific."

Amador said the university's reaction was not influenced by Monday's attack at Virginia Tech.

"No matter what day or when this would have happened, we will always take the necessary precautions to protect our students, our faculty, our staff, the entire university community," she said.

Seven North Dakota State University buildings in Fargo were evacuated after a duffel bag was found outside a bus shelter in the main part of the campus. NDSU spokesman Dave Wahlberg said the shootings in Virginia reinforced the need to "err on the side of safety."

In Bloomfield Hills, Mich., police attributed a 30-minute lockdown at the exclusive Cranbrook Schools complex to jittery nerves following the Virginia slayings.

School officials called police after parents and students reported spotting a 6-foot-tall man in a skirt, high heels, lipstick and a blond wig near a school drop-off area outside Cranbrook's Kingswood Upper School, Lt. Paul Myszenski said. Police were unable to find anyone meeting the man's description.

At the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, officials ordered three campus administration buildings evacuated for almost two hours Tuesday morning in response to a telephone bomb threat. The city's bomb squad searched the buildings but found nothing, campus spokesman Chuck Cantrell said.

‘Err on the side of caution’
Cantrell said there was no reason to believe the bogus threat was related to the shootings at Virginia Tech, but "we just chose to err on the side of caution today."

In Arizona, classes were canceled at Estrella Mountain Community College in Avondale, a suburb of Phoenix, after a note threatening a shooting was delivered via intercampus mail.

Avondale police conferred with campus officers and staff and decided the threat was "serious and immediate" and ordered the evacuation, said Amy Boulton, a police spokeswoman. Officers searched the campus looking for evidence or any threat but nothing was found, Boulton said.

A scare at the University of Oklahoma at Norman started with a report of a man spotted on campus carrying a suspicious object, officials said.

The man was carrying an umbrella, not a weapon, and he later identified himself to authorities, University of Oklahoma President David Boren said in a statement. Boren initially had said the person was believed to carrying a yoga mat.

"We now consider the matter closed," Boren said. "We always want to err on the side of caution in a situation like this."

Why so many threats and why now? Experts say this phenomenon feeds on attention and publicity.

"It's basically monkey-see-monkey-do," Dr. Drew Pinsky, professor of psychiatry at the USC School of Medicine says. "Humans have the tendency to see things and do the same thing."

The FBI says it reviews each threat. Few are deemed credible, but in Washington state, police arrested a student carrying three loaded guns.

And at the University of Colorado, investigators found weapons and ammunition in a student's dorm room.

The fear can be real. Seung-Hui Cho wrote that he was inspired by the Columbine killers' attack eight years ago Friday.

"I certainly think that he saw there was some advantage to sort of follow in their footsteps," says Bill Woodward of the Center for the Study of Violence and Research, University of Colorado.  "They talked of following in the footsteps of McVeigh and now Cho's talking about following in the footsteps of Harris and Klebold."

"They see someone acclaimed or gratified and they want to get a piece of that for themselves," psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky of the USC School of Medicine says.

Experts say this wave of threats will decrease over time. They also say, without action, it's only a matter of time before something like this happens again.