Nearly 40 percent of junior and senior high school students in Peabody stayed home from school Friday because of a bomb threat scrawled on a restroom wall two weeks earlier.
School officials chose not to notify the public of the threat but did notify parents via a letter sent a week after the threat was received.
The threat apparently was a prank. After police reviewed surveillance video and examined an unusual writing style in the graffiti, an unidentified student was suspended, and the district decided to continue with school.
Unusual precautions were ordered nonetheless before classes began Friday, the date reportedly mentioned in the threatening graffiti.
State troopers searched the school with bomb-sniffing dogs Thursday night. Students were escorted out before the search, the building was sealed and guarded, and students were not allowed to return until after their bags and purses were searched Friday.
Tammy Britton kept her children home Friday.
“Honestly, I thought everything would be OK, that nothing would happen,” she said. “But on the slim chance that it might happen, I would never have forgiven myself. My kids are all I’ve got.”
Roger Charles sent his two daughters to school Friday.
“It was not an easy decision,” he said. “We have two girls, one a sophomore and one in eighth grade, and they came home with rumors and stories.
“We discussed the fact that we wanted them to be safe, but with all the security being put in place, we also felt that to respond in panic would reward whoever pulled this stupid stunt, and we were against doing that,” Charles said.
He allowed his daughters to decide whether to accept the district’s offer of skipping class without penalty, and they decided to attend.
Principal Ken Parry reported that at least eight stayed home from Peabody-Burns Elementary School on Friday because of the threat at the high school.
Senior Rayna Barnes described her decision to attend classes Friday.
“My parents and I talked about it,” she said. “I was kind of in favor of not going and my mom was too, but then after we found out about the security and that a student had been suspended and all, I decided to go.
“Plus we had a school meeting on Thursday and they went over everything again and answered questions and really, by then most kids didn’t seem to be scared.”
Also weighing on Barnes’ decision was her basketball team’s sub-state game Friday night. State rules prohibit students from competing if they missed school that day.
“Even at that, basketball is not my life, and if I had felt a threat or hadn’t been comfortable with the security plan, I would not have gone,” she said.
Although many were confident the threat was merely a prank, teacher Ann Leppke said the day didn’t pass without tension — especially around 12:34 p.m., the rumored time at which the explosion was to happen.
“I admit I looked at the clock a couple of times and when it read 12:36, I thought, ‘OK, we’re through it,’” she said. “But everything was fairly low key all day.”