News or Not? Does Media Coverage Create Copycats?

October 3, 2007 - Posted at 9:36 p.m. CDT

POCAHONTAS, AR -- Another day, another bomb threat at a Region 8 school.

But on Wednesday, there was a break in the case and a confession from a student. Late Wednesday afternoon, the Doniphan Police Department told K8 News a student admitted to making last week's bomb threat at Doniphan Schools.  That threat lead to school being dismissed for two days.

There was a second, similar threat at Doniphan yesterday and the investigation into that threat is ongoing.

Wednesday there was another threat, this one at Pocahontas High School.  School officials there evacuated the high school, and called of classes early for the entire district.

Bomb threats have disrupted schedules at two Region 8 schools in the last few weeks, including two threats Wednesday.

Authorities and administrators are left questioning whether it could be the work of copycats...and it makes us wonder here at KAIT how much media coverage of the events plays a role.

"I think it just starts out as hype.  'Hey that was cool, we got out of school all this happened at school,'" said Pocahontas Police Chief Chad Mulligan. Three schools, two districts, multiple evacuations and extensive media coverage...all because of bomb threats.

"It's a serious situation and we will not take it lightly," said Pocahontas Superintendent Daryl Blaxton, "I think anytime students see things, there is always the risk of them copying something whether it's the media or however they find out about it.  That's just a situation that could occur."

Media coverage of events like high school bomb threats can be an open door for copycats.  But Pocahontas students, who were sent home early Wednesday because of a bomb threat, told K8 News they didn't hear of the threats made last week in Doniphan through the news...rather from their parents and friends.

"I'm not really sure because I don't know a lot of high school students that watch the news," admitted PHS sophomore Drew Godwin.

"I think the media does all that they can to inform the parents and things like that. I think that it's very good that they can come to the school and say this is what's happening, you need to be aware of this," said PHS junior Madison Hovis.

Chief Mulligan believes the media can also be used to illustrate what happens when a suspect is apprehended.  As was the case when four Black Rock boys were charged with making false shooting threats against their school in October of last year.

"That also gets out to the general public where now they can see what happened to that individual instead of it just being a local person nobody knows," said Mulligan.

KAIT's policy on reporting school threats is as follows: "We along with most media have historically avoided reporting threats, to avoid copycat threats. But when a school district considers a threat credible enough to dismiss classes, it is our duty to make parents aware of the situation."