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Drawing alarms Brookings students

By Carissa Wolf

WesCom News Service

BROOKINGS – When two Azalea Middle School students were surfing the Internet recently, they found a picture, drawn by a classmate, that showed stick figures shooting at students with guns and bows and arrows. Some of the figures being attacked were labeled with the names of other students.

Alarmed, the middle schoolers immediately showed one of their mothers the crudely-drawn artwork.

"They got me up out of bed to show it to me," Jen Carson said.

And Carson, whose daughter appeared as a stick figure surrounded by scenes of violence in the rough sketch, showed the drawing to the parents of students depicted as victims in the drawing. And those parents alerted the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and school officials.

"Obviously she has problems," Carson said of the student who posted the doodles on the popular teen social networking Website, MySpace. "We're in fear for our child's safety."

The drawing spurred a multi-agency investigation that began April 22 and lasted into the beginning of the school week. In the end, law enforcement authorities concluded that the drawing did not pose a threat and wrapped up their investigation.

But parents of the children depicted as would-be be victims say authorities are doing nothing to protect their children from a disturbed and angry adolescent. Carson, on high alert following the violence at Virginia Tech and other campuses across the country, has decided to keep her child out of school indefinitely.

"I think that people in this community ought to know that these threats are being made," Carson said. "The person ought to be talked to about their intentions."

Carson said that her daughter does not want to return to school.

"She's scared."

The crude drawing and accompanying anger-filled ramblings venting teenage angst did not make any references to Azalea Middle School or violence occurring on school grounds. But school authorities were pulled into the case when parents alerted them to their concerns.

"This was done off campus, not on a school computer and not on school time," Azalea Principal Mike Dillenburg said.

School District Superintendent Chris Nichols noted that the schools block some Web sites, including MySpace, from being accessed on school computers.

Dillenburg said school officials can't even be sure that the student accused of posting the drawing actually downloaded the sketch to MySpace. He said the alleged artist claims that she was not even at home at the time of the posting.

The school and WesCom News Service are withholding the name and screen name of the student because she is a minor.

Dillenburg said the school worked with police and reviewed the drawing to see if it was a threat to the school or students.

"I didn't see any more threat than any other day," Dillenburg said.

The school also researched the school records of the accused student to see if there were any red flags that wound indicate that the student was a threat to others.

"Rather than not look at it, we took the time to look at it and research it," Dillenburg said. "I think if anything, we overreacted to it."

The Brookings Police also reviewed the drawing and determined that it did not constitute a viable threat.

Brookings Police Lt. John Bishop said the drawing did not illustrate any specific threats. He said threats that detail specifics such as a time or place to target victims usually put police on high alert. But Bishop said that the drawing contained no indicators to suggest that the illustrator planned to carry out an attack.

The person who posted the drawing also had no motive, means or opportunity to carry out a threat against other students, Bishop said, and no charges can be filed against the person.

Student and minor privacy protection laws prevent school officials from commenting whether or not they disciplined the accused student or not.

"It's not against the law to post certain things on MySpace," Bishop said. "The bottom line is one, it's not against the law and two, because it's not against the law, we're done."

An FBI FBI spokesperson said that the agency's inquiry into a caller's complaint was quickly halted.

"We did evaluate what the caller perceived to be a threat and at this time we do not believe there is a threat," FBI spokesperson Beth Anne Steele said.

The drawing depicts a stick figure shooting what appears to be a cheerleader shouting, "Go team, Go!" It also shows stick figures falling off of a cliff into a shark-filled ocean. The accompanying text notes that the author learned how to, "hate someone so much that you want to rip there (sic) guts out," and that she's glad to have friends who will hold her back "if im gonna kill someone (sic)." Much of the author's writing talks about how she's the subject of rumors and verbal bullying.

"Go ahead and talk CRAP about me behind my back ... ill find out one day (sic)," the author writes. "And DON'T ever mess with my friends. otherwise I might have to mess you up (sic)."

Carson said that she does not know if jealousy or something else may have ignited the drawing or accompanying text. And she said that she doesn't know why the doodles feature her daughter, someone the alleged illustrator hardly knows.

"She doesn't even talk to this girl." Carson said.

Many personal MySpace Websites are private and are only accessible to people who the site user adds to his or her friends list. WesCom News Service attempted to view the MySpace pages of the alleged poster of the graphic drawing but was denied access. The news service obtained copies of the picture and accompanying Internet posting from concerned Azalea Middle School parents.

The password-protected sites that are often accessible by invitation only made researching the complaints difficult, Dillenburg said.

"This is new territory," he said. "Finding (the post) was tough."

Dillenburg said that he spent "hours and hours and hours," dealing with the threat. The Brookings Police Department also assigned two detectives to the case who each spent about a half a day investigating the posting.

"I don't want to make light of it," Bishop said. "We spent a sizeable amount of time on it."

What is mySpace?

MySpace bills itself as an online community where friends meet their friends' friends. People have seized the power of the site to expand their social networks, find a date and keep in touch with old friends. Celebrities, tweens, up-and-coming musicians and job seekers use MySpace to communicate their message to the masses. You can log onto MySpace at www.myspace.com.

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