By Mike Bartell and Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writers
An 18-year-old student at Sylvania Northview High School was arrested last night and charged with inducing panic after an Internet threat stating Sylvania would suffer the same bloody fate as Littleton, Colo., caused the district’s two high schools to be closed today.
Sylvania Superintendent Les Schultz made the decision yesterday after discovering a web page that threatened revenge-based killings similar to last week’s rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado.
“The time for REVENGE is near,” the web site read. “Sylvania NORTHVIEW and SOUTHVIEW will fall. Sylvania pigs will fry like bacon! … Columbine’s death toll will seem VERY SMALL.”
N1ch01as A4van1t1s, of 1638 Delmonte Dr., a senior at Northview, was arrested on the felony charge about 10:30 p.m. at his home in the Dorr Street-Reynolds Road area in Toledo. The arrest was made about 90 minutes after authorities began searching the home where he lives with his parents, police said.
He was being held last night in the Sylvania city jail pending arraignment today in Sylvania Municipal Court, police said.
Sylvania police Det. Mike Yunker said the search warrant was for computer equipment and explosive devices. Mr. A4van1t1s’s personal computer and some computer-related items, including computer disks and CD Roms, were confiscated.
No explosive devices were found, the detective said.
Mr. A4van1t1s told Detective Yunker that the computer message was merely a prank – and that he did not mean to cause problems for the school system or the community.
But given what happened in Colorado, authorities took the threat seriously.
Lucas County prosecutors issued subpoenas to the Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet service that hosted the threat.
Meanwhile, the FBI’s Toledo office got involved, assisting area authorities with technical assistance and searching for violations of federal law.
“This is very, very serious,” county Prosecutor Julia Bates said prior to the arrest. “We are using all the tools we have. Even if it is not a real threat, it is still inciting to violence and inducement to panic, and if we can find out who is involved, we can and will prosecute.”
Northview and Southview high schools, with a combined enrollment of about 2,500 students, are closed today, and all scheduled events on the campuses are canceled.
The schools are expected to reopen tomorrow, the superintendent said.
A search of the high school buildings is to be conducted today to make sure they are safe.
The three junior highs and seven elementary schools will be in session today, according to the superintendent.
Mr. Schultz said that parents who wish to keep their children home today from any Sylvania school can get an excused absence.
“You just can’t take the risk that this guy is serious,” said Northview Principal Kevin Gorman before the arrest. “We’ll have the police go through the entire building. I’m sure it’s a prank, but student and staff safety comes first.”
The threat was found Tuesday, when three school administrators – Superintendent Schultz, Southview Principal Ron Malone, and Mr. Gorman – received an e-mail alerting them to a web page containing a threat against the schools.
After finding the threat, school officials conferred with local police and the county prosecutor’s office. At about 1 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Schultz made the decision to cancel school.
“The safety and welfare of our students and staff continue to be our main priority at the Sylvania schools,” the school district said in a press release announcing his decision.
Among the events canceled are a dance for senior citizens and several sports matches.
Area authorities have been on high alert for potential copy-cat crimes ever since the April 20 attack on Columbine High, in which students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students, one teacher, and themselves.
Several local school systems have had incidents, including Fremont Ross, Bowling Green, and Fostoria. Officials are never sure whether the threats are legitimate.
Finding out who wrote the threat is a major focus of the investigation.
The page asked: “How many bombs are there? … How many snow days did we have? HMM … could this be a hint?” It includes a derogatory reference to “Dr. Malone.” The principal of Southview High School is Ron Malone.
The page refers to something called the “UNITY group” as the page’s creator, as well as a Star of David, a symbol of Judaism. The Columbine killers were open admirers of Adolph Hitler and some elements of Nazi ideology.
The threatening web site was hosted by Angelfire, a California- based free web page provider. Anyone who wants to create a web page on Angelfire can do so free of charge in under 30 seconds – without giving his or her name, address, or even a valid e-mail address.
As a result, Angelfire, along with similar online services like Tripod and GeoCities, have been repeatedly used to create fraudulent or threatening web pages – including several school bomb threats.
“We’ve had a small spike in these sort of incidents since Colorado happened,” said Angelfire spokeswoman Dorianne Almann.
“There is very little identity verification involved in setting up an account,” said Neil Bibbins, the abuse manager at Angelfire. He said the company was considering changing that policy to make it more difficult to set up a site anonymously.
Angelfire also was in the news earlier this month when someone created a false news story claiming that PairGain, a New Jersey telephone equipment company, was the subject of a takeover attempt. The fake story was posted to an Angelfire web page.
The company’s stock soared more than 30 per cent on the news, but dropped when the fraud was discovered, leaving many investors with heavy losses.
In that case, authorities were able to trace the fake story to an individual computer in New Jersey, even though the perpetrator did not use a real name or e-mail address in creating the web site. A PairGain employee has since been arrested and charged with creating the web site.
Tracing an online threat to the computer it was made on can be quite simple. Each computer on the Internet is assigned an individual Internet Protocol (IP) number, and any activity from that computer can usually be traced using the protocol number.
But tracing a threat to a computer and tracing a threat to a person are very different tasks. If the computer used is a public terminal, at which many people might have access to the Internet, it can be impossible to uncover who made the threat.
Ms. Almann expressed optimism that the Sylvania threat could be traced back to its source. “The guy who created Melissa” – the computer virus that hit thousands of computers last month – “was quite sophisticated, and he got caught. I’m sure this clown wasn’t that sophisticated.”
The threatening web page was available on the Internet Tuesday, but had been taken down by yesterday afternoon. Mr. Bibbins said he could not say the specific time the page was taken down, or whether someone in his office had been alerted by local authorities.
Northview is in the city of Sylvania; Southview is in Sylvania Township.
Stan Borgia, head of the Toledo FBI office, said his office is involved in the investigation.
“We’re working with the [Sylvania] police department … looking for violations of federal law,” he said before the arrest. “We are conducting an investigation and I expect we ultimately will be providing a supporting role in this local investigation.”
Both schools have used up all their calamity days this year, so students will have to make up the missed day in June.
Mr. Gorman said that there had been previous bomb threats in the Sylvania school system, but said that the events in Columbine made him take them more seriously. “With all the publicity this has gotten in the media, there are going to be copycats who thinks it’s glamorous,” he said.
Several Southview students were happy they’ve been granted today off from school because of the threat, and only a few were worried about it.
Freshmen Anne Wiemer and Kelly Riley, both 15, said they were scared.
“We are supposed to have an assembly [tomorrow] and that’s a great place to blow us all up,” young Wiemer said.
“A lot of people are saying that there was a bomb threat at Northview and they are just taking some extra precautions,” said junior Glenn Zebrowski.
None of the students were aware that Southview was the tar- get of the web page threat. The information students were given on why the school is closed today was “pretty vague,”
Chris Vander, a sophomore, said. “They said they can’t tell us why school was being closed, they just said it was a safety reason,” he said. “I don’t think anything is going to happen.”
Students from the high schools went home at 1:15 p.m. yesterday because of a previously scheduled early dismissal. But students were not told about the nature of the threat, causing many students to spread rumors among themselves.
Some said bombs had been found in classrooms; some said bombs had gone off. Some named individual students as possible perpetrators.
Parents of Sylvania students seemed relieved by the superintendent’s decision.
“This is horrible and I’m glad they are taking it seriously,” said Cheryl Jackson, who has two sons, a senior and a junior, at Southview.
The shooting in Littleton has escalated the seriousness of such threats, Mrs. Jackson and her husband Ken Jackson noted. And the looming threat of violence in schools will last a long time, Mr. Jackson said.
“I will always worry about our kids’ safety. This makes it worse,” he said.
Blade staff writers Chase Clements, Tom Jewell, Mike Jones, Al McKay, Ignazio Messina, Ryan E. Smith, and Mark Zaborney contributed to this report.