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ATTACK RUMOR FRIGHTENS KIDS HUNDREDS STAY AWAY FROM QUARTZ HILL HIGH.

Byline: Karen Maeshiro Staff Writer

QUARTZ HILL - A post-Columbine parental nightmare - rumors of a planned attack on a school - scared hundreds of Quartz Hill High School students away from school Friday.

More teens called their parents to come get them once they got to school and heard the rumors, and dozens of parents lined up at the school office at midmorning to retrieve their children.

``He called me in a panic, and I wasn't going to doubt what he said,'' parent Stacey O'Hara said as she picked up her 15-year-old son at the 3,400-pupil campus. ``If this was a ploy by kids to get an additional half-day off, that would be sad, but I'm not going to take that chance. I couldn't live with myself if something had happened and he got hurt and I ignored his cry for help.''

Officials estimated that 500 Quartz Hill High students stayed home or went home because of the rumors, which said that two former students arrested last month in an alleged plot against the school - or their friends - planned an attack on Friday the 13th.

The rumors spread over the myspace.com Internet Web site popular with teenagers and through students text-messaging each other on their cell phones.

Sheriff's deputies and school officials said the rumors may have started as a hoax to start the three-day Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend a day early.

O'Hara's son said he had heard there would be explosions and gunshots and that the two former students had accomplices who were going to do something Friday.

``You never know how crazy these kids are nowadays,'' the boy said.

Parent Teresa Liparote came to pick up her 14-year-old son and another boy after hearing on television news that there was a bomb threat. She also heard from another parent, who telephoned her and said something was going on at Quartz Hill High and that she might want to get the boys.

``I was worried about my kids. I tried to call the school but nobody called me back,'' Liparote said.

Extra school security officers and deputies were posted at the campus because of the rumors, but the only incident was an M-80 firecracker that someone tossed into a trash can during lunch, causing a loud explosion.

School Deputy Paul Pfrehm said some parents came to the school and, after talking with school officials, decided to leave their children in school.

The rumors revolved around two boys, ages 15 and 17, who were arrested and charged before the Christmas break with planning a Columbine-style attack on Valentine's Day in retaliation for being teased.

The boys, who dressed in Goth-style makeup and clothing, said they had felt ostracized at the school, deputies said.

Deputies first became aware of the rumors Thursday afternoon when parents called and said they had heard that the two boys had been released from custody and were planning a pipe-bomb attack, Sgt. Darrel Brown said.

Deputies called Sylmar Juvenile Hall and were told the two boys remained locked up there.

``This appears to be a hoax that started out with a rumor and traveled among the school and parents,'' Brown said. ``They had a text-messaging ring going where students were text-messaging each other on their cell phones.''

``The hysteria caused some students to be rightfully afraid, so the ones who didn't do anything on purpose, they are hearing rumors from fellow students,'' Brown said.

Different rumors circulated among parents and students, including that bombs had been found on the Quartz Hill campus and that the purported attack for which the boys were arrested was supposed to happen on Friday the 13th, not Valentine's Day, officials said.

This was students' first week back at school since the arrests were announced. That meant this week was the first time the teens had to talk about the story at school, Principal Mark Bryant said.

``People are more sensitive than they would have been otherwise. We've been very careful and diligent in trying to follow things up,'' Bryant said.

Karen Maeshiro, (661) 267-5744

karen.maeshiro(at)dailynews.com
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 14, 2006
Words:680
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