A threatening message found scribbled on a boys' bathroom wall at Fairview High School on Tuesday led to nearly empty hallways and plenty of parking spots Wednesday as half the student body opted to take the school up on a free, get-out-of-classes day.
"October 18, 2006, is when 'it' happens. Watch how safe we actually are," the message said, according to an e-mail sent by principals to parents of Fairview High and neighboring Southern Hills Middle schools Wednesday evening.
Police and school officials had declined to say exactly what was in the message after parents were alerted Tuesday.
"We know that many of you who contacted us last night and today were frustrated by the vagueness of the threat," said the e-mail sent by Fairview Principal Don Stensrud and Southern Hills Middle Principal Terry Gillach. "We did not share the exact text (Tuesday) night because law enforcement and district security personnel were treating the implied threat of this text as real and were involved in an active investigation at the time."
On Tuesday, Stensrud sent out an e-mail alerting parents and offering an excused absence if they wanted to keep their children home. Southern Hills Middle parents also were alerted to the Fairview message. More than 250 students at Southern Hills, or a little less than half its population, did not show up Wednesday.
Classes at both schools will be on a regular schedule today.
"It appears the threat was groundless," said Briggs Gamblin, Boulder Valley School District spokesman. "These incidents are very rare, and at the end of the day, we're always going to err on the side of our students' safety."
Boulder police are investigating the message, and four officers were stationed at the school Wednesday. If the writer is found, that person could face misdemeanor criminal charges of interfering with a school day and criminal mischief.
"I think looking at what was sent home to parents provided as much information as (Principal Stensrud) could (have) done so that parents could make that decision," said Julie Brooks, Boulder police spokeswoman. "I don't think it would have provided any more, and it might have damaged the case we have."
Some students complained the vagueness allowed the rumor mill to run rampant with talk of bombs and a hit list.
Several parents also took issue with the school's initial secrecy. Barb Kostanick said a lot of parent anxiety could have been avoided if the e-mail said it was bathroom graffiti instead of "an incident occurred."
"I'm glad Fairview sent the e-mail home," she wrote in an e-mail. "It's not easy to find the right balance between secrecy required for police investigations and communication needed for families to feel that their students will be safe."
The usually jammed student parking lot at noon Wednesday had about 40 cars, including a Boulder police cruiser.
With nearly 900 students out, there were only five people in Barbara Platts' acting class, the junior said. She and several other friends braved through morning classes that included playing board games and watching "Finding Nemo," and were preparing to do some sledding during lunch break.
Sam Singleton, 16, said he believes it was a prank to get the day off school - something he guessed that will most likely be copied in the future because of the school's reaction.
"Still, I wouldn't blame them," said Ryan Violette, 15. "They have a lot of students they're responsible for."
Contact Camera Staff Writer Christine Reid at (303) 473-1355 or firstname.lastname@example.org.