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Authorities in Pierce County, Washington have arrested a 16-year-old boy for allegedly plotting to shoot his high school classmates. That's just the latest in a wave of similar incidents around the country this month. Police say they have discovered plots in Alaska, Alabama, Kansas and Mississippi, and an earlier one in Pierce County. NPR's Martin Kaste looked into whether these incidents are somehow related.
MARTIN KASTE reporting:
It would seem that the 16-year-old boy at the center of the most recent alleged gun plot wanted to be caught. He sent an electronic message to a classmate, who in turn alerted school authorities. Pierce County Sheriff's Department spokesman Ed Troyer says his department applied for a search warrant the same day.
Mr. ED TROYER (Spokesman, Pierce County Sheriff's Department): When we got to the house we found there were weapons there, there were handguns there. We found a homemade bomb. He admitted his involvement in this and told us what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. And with that information, along with recovering of the weapons and the text page he sent out, we didn't have any choice but to arrest him.
KASTE: The boy goes to Rogers High School in an exurbia of Tacoma, Washington. The school's staff wouldn't talk about the case. But out in the post-2:00 bell traffic jam, some of the students were willing to pull over and talk about the arrest. Senior Elliot Olsen says he assumes these plots are at least partly inspired by the anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School.
Mr. ELLIOT OLSON (Senior, Rogers High School): It's like the April 20th, right?
KASTE: People know the, you know the date.
Mr. OLSEN: Hitler's birthday, yeah. I know, I've heard about it.
KASTE: But he says it might also just be the season.
Mr. OLSEN: I don't know what it could be. I mean, spring, people are, everyone's getting happy, and people who still aren't happy, maybe they're mad that, you know, everything is turning up for people and they aren't feeling the same way.
KASTE: A spokeswoman from the school district's downtown headquarters, Karen Hansen, says administrators are not taking any special precautions because of the Columbine anniversary or because of the other recent plots around the country.
Ms. KAREN HANSEN (Spokeswoman, Pierce County School Districts): It may or may not be a coincidence. Um, but we're constantly on, on guard. We're constantly looking for, for anything that could lead to something like this.
KASTE: But is there any extra scrutiny, or...
Ms. HANSEN: At, at this time of the year? No.
KASTE: But Bill Moduleski, a school safety expert at the Department of Education, shares young Elliot Olsen's theory about the perils of springtime. Moduleski co-wrote a federal report about targeted school violence, and he says there seems to be something about the end of the school year, as well as the anniversary of Columbine. But it's hard to pin down.
Mr. BILL MODULESKI (School Safety Expert, Department of Education): There is some indication, and it's anecdotal at best, but there is some anecdotal evidence out there, is that these things tend to run cyclically, and in, in groupings and patterns. Now whether one is related to the other, one pushes the other, I don't know.
KASTE: But Moduleski is quick to point out that these gun plots are still very rare. Targeted murders are not on the rise nationwide, and the school crime rate is down. What has changed, he says, is that these plots, whether they're serious or not, are more likely to trigger an alarm.
Mr. MODULESKI: One of the things is that if you go back before, say 1999, and, and Columbine, is that if you heard a group of boys, or girls, talking about this, this sort of thing is, you'd probably shake your head and say, well boys will be boys, and it's just something they're talking about. You wouldn't think anything about it.
KASTE: And kids usually do talk about their plans ahead of time. If not in person, than online. In Pierce County, Sheriff's deputies are being trained how to navigate Internet forums, such as MySpace.com, to find teenage talk of guns and bombs. The springtime discovery of gun plots may simply be the inevitable consequence of all this extra vigilance.
Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.