Alaska Middle School Shaken by Deadly Plot
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Middle schoolers in North Pole, Alaska are headed back to school today following the arrest this weekend of students suspected of planning to kill their classmates. Six middle school students were arrested on Saturday. Police say the group plotted to cut off power and telephone service to the school, use guns and knives against classmates and faculty, and then escape from town.
The arrests were the second break up of an alleged Columbine-style attack in a matter of days. Last Thursday, five Kansas teenagers, suspected of planning a shooting rampage at their high school, were also arrested. We called assistant superintendent Wayne Gerke to see how the North Pole community is responding. And, hello.
Assistant Superintendent WAYNE GERKE (Assistant Superintendent, Fairbanks North Star Borough Schools, Alaska): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: How did you learn about this plot?
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: Well, I actually received word Monday evening that the North Pole Police Department was working with our school safety officer to follow up on some reports they had received that this was going to be taking place. And so I received a call Monday evening and was immediately communicating with them regularly about the situation.
MONTAGNE: And did you talk to the parents, and did they cooperate? And how did you handle the students suspected?
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: You know, I did not talk to any of the parents personally. That evening the police department from North Pole and our school safety officer went out immediately and started to interview various students whose names they had had, and they started to determine one name after another. And they came up with a list of folks who were either heavily involved or knew significantly about the (unintelligible) information about the situation. And so that's how the situation started.
MONTAGNE: So kids are going back to school this morning. What has been the talk over the weekend from both the children and their parents?
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: You know, I think everybody is in shock right now. We would like to think that a situation like this could never happen here in interior Alaska. But the reality is that we know it can happen, and right now we're facing that situation; and we're lucky that we have policies and procedures in place to help us with those types of things.
I think that, for the most part, parents are concerned; the principal of the school though, Ernie Manzie, is reassuring everybody who he talks to and everybody who wants to hear the message that school is safe. The students who were heavily involved and were allegedly going to be doing any potential harm were arrested on Saturday.
Other students are still suspended from school pending further investigation from the police department and from the school district. And so we are just going to plan on having school as normal on Monday just with some extra supports available.
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, you say here--you didn't expect it to happen to here. Just briefly, what is here? How would you describe your community and this school?
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: You know, interior Alaska, Fairbanks and the North Pole area, we tend to be kind of isolated from the rest of the world. And we are a small community for the most part, compared to a lot of other cities in the country. We're close knit. The community is very supportive of the schools. We do everything we can to support the youth here. There are lots of programs throughout the community for the youth, so....
MONTAGNE: Are people talking about why this possibly could have almost happened?
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: You know, there is talk like that, and of course, we could speculate as much as want about this situation. We are just very thankful that nothing materialized. And, you know, no matter how much we try to guess or speculate, we'll never know if it really ever could have been pulled off. And we're hoping that we will never have to face something like this in the future.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much for joining us.
Assistant Superintendent GERKE: Thank you.
MONTAGNE: Wayne Gerke is assistant superintendent for Fairbanks North Star Borough schools in Alaska.
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