BRISTOL, Connecticut, U.S.A. — Some Bristol Eastern High School students are questioning whether school administrators reacted too harshly in suspending two of their classmates this week for allegedly issuing threats.
But in the wake of last month’s massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., school officials said they have no choice except to take every potential threat seriously.
Both of the students suspended — junior Ryan Zeechin and sophomore Brendan Sullivan — said Friday they were only joking around.
Assistant Principal Boyd Biondino said he would not discuss either incident, but added, “Maybe the reaction to joking has changed. We’re increasingly aware of the possibilities, and we’re hearing threats better.”
Zeechin, a junior, allegedly issued a bomb threat.
“It was complete bull,” Zeechin said. “I was joking around and said something like, ‘Yeah — maybe I’ll put a bomb in your book bag’ and some other stuff. It was a joke. The whole thing’s been blown out of proportion. They had to punish me as an example.”
In a meeting with Principal V. Everett Lyons and Biondino, Zeechin said, he was told that “it didn’t matter whether I was joking — I was suspended.”
Lyons, who also refused to comment on either suspension, warned students against making threatening statements during an address Tuesday.
Sullivan was suspended after classmates reported to administrators that he had created an alleged “hit list” of students who had picked on him.
“It wasn’t a hit list,” said Sullivan. “It wasn’t serious. It was in jest.”
Sullivan, an honor student, is described by friends and fellow students as quiet, unassuming and non-violent.
“It’s been blown out of proportion,” said senior Sarah DiVenere. “I know him. I know his family. He could never hurt anybody. The school violence thing is
making everybody paranoid.”
“I think what happened in Columbine was awful,” said senior Scott Costa,”but we have a heightened level of paranoia now. It’s better safe than sorry, I guess, but to what extent? What can you say?”
“Brendan’s just not a violent person.” said sophomore Craig LaRue, a close friend. “He had a list, sure, but it was a joke. He probably shouldn’t have brought the list up since Colorado. That was the mistake.”
“Ever since Colorado,” said freshman Terry Jensen, “it’s like anybody who says anything is in trouble. People are crazy about it.”
But some students could see the other side, too.
Speaking about Zeechin’s alleged threat, junior Alan Aubin said, “It’s good that we’ve set the example. Now others will learn from him, know that they can’t make threats, no matter what they mean.”
“I was just joking around,” said Zeechin. “No one should have taken it seriously. You know when someone’s joking.”
“There can be no such thing as a joke anymore.” said Ken Ferris, choral director at Eastern.”No threat or joke can be taken lightly. You never know which kid is going to carry it out.”
Joe Wilbur is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International. This story originally appeared in The Bristol Press.