BANGOR, Maine — The troubling rumor spread fast.
Something bad was going to happen at Bangor High School, maybe something involving a gun. No one knew when, only that it would be sometime Tuesday.
The news circulated like a virus, aided by dozens, maybe hundreds of text messages, e-mails and cell phone calls, along with a touch of good old-fashioned gossip. Soon, the rumor had infiltrated the school and its 1,400 students. The details likely grew more salacious with each passing hour.
In the end, it was all a hoax, but the rumor that began during the day on Monday and spread into the evening put many students, parents, school administrators and police on temporary alert.
“There were some initial concerns and rightly so,” Bangor schools Superintendent Betsy Webb said Tuesday afternoon. “But after an extensive investigation, we determined that no threats were made against any students or the school.”
Webb said the rumor started Monday when two male students got into an altercation over a girl. That exchange led to one of the students starting a rumor that something bad was going to happen at the school on Tuesday.
“It probably elevated as it went along the trail,” Webb said.
Bangor school officials contacted police on Monday and worked into the evening to determine the veracity of the rumor. Eventually, one of the students admitted to starting it, although Webb stressed that the student who initiated the rumor did not, in fact, make any threats himself.
Once the rumor was dispelled, the hardest part was convincing students and parents of that fact. Deputy Police Chief Peter Arno said a big part of Tuesday was spent on damage control.
“This was one of those cases where something got out there and it was hard to reign back in,” Arno said.
Webb said several students even stayed home from school on Tuesday, apparently concerned that something might happen. Dozens of parents also called both school department and police officials to make sure the school was safe.
Each student was sent home after school Tuesday with a letter for their parents explaining the situation, and the superintendent also indicated that she would address the incident at Tuesday night’s school committee meeting.
“It’s a serious incident to start a rumor of this nature,” she said. “We’re always concerned about the safety of our school and our students.”
School officials would not allow the Bangor Daily News to interview students on school grounds Tuesday.
So far, no charges have been filed against the student who admitted to starting the rumor. Arno said police were working with the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office to see if charges will be filed. None of the students involved was identified because they are juveniles.
Webb said she couldn’t remember a similar incident, or fake incident, since she’s been an administrator with the Bangor School Department.