Racist death threats target blacks, Hispanics at two Boulder high schools

Update, 1:12 p.m.: An arrest has been made in the Arapahoe campus incident described in this post. Look below the original item for more information.

Back in February, graffiti appeared at Boulder High School declaring "Everyone will die 2/12/10" -- a threat followed a couple of weeks later by a similar one at Broomfield High.

Now, we've got another two-fer, but this time with an additional racist component. Monday at Boulder High, graffiti appeared on a stall in a boy's restroom that read, "The KKK is back. All blacks will die Friday, 4-16-10. Niggers will not live." Then, yesterday, the following turned up on a cafeteria table at Boulder's Arapahoe Campus: "I'm killen all Mexicans! On Friday."

The February incidents led to nothing, but Boulder Police Department spokeswoman Sarah Huntley says, "We cannot write things off as a hoax. We're obviously hopeful that whoever left the messages has no intent to actually commit violence, but we have to operate as if they will."

Huntley can only address the Boulder High warning; the Arapahoe campus falls under the jurisdiction of the Boulder County Sheriff's Office. However, she says that following the Monday report, "we began having conversations with school district officials and the principal (Kevin Braney), and we're in the process of conducting a threat assessment. We'll make some recommendations to the school about how we think they should proceed on Friday, and we do plan to have additional officers at the school on that day. That's something we often do when there's a threat -- to have higher visibility."

In addition, officers will be on hand during a meeting at the school at 4 p.m. today. Briggs Gamblin, spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, explains the get-together's genesis and focus.

"Principal Braney reached out to African-American leaders in the community, some of whom either are or have been Boulder High parents," he says. "He asked, 'How can we support you?'"

By Gamblin's estimate, "There are about 35 to forty African-American students at Boulder High out of about 1,850 total. So the idea was to have an informal round-table discussion to get everyone together, including African-American staff members at the school, to talk about ways in which they would feel supported and protected. To ask, 'What else can we do to help you coming to school? And how can we respect your choice if your parents decide they'd rather you not come to school on that day?'"

The approach will be different at the Arapahoe campus, since Hispanics -- the target of the threat -- represent the majority of students who attend the schools there; facilities include the Career and Technical Education Center, which specializes in vocational instruction. Still, administrators "are reaching out to Latino community leaders, especially those who interact with students, and ask for the best ways our schools and our community can address this. There will be an extra sheriff's office presence on Friday -- and at both schools, we'll have extra counselors on call if students in either location, or their families, feel they need counseling."

Gamblin says most threats made at Boulder Valley School District facilities in recent years have tended to appear early in the week and target Fridays -- timing that implies they're more about creating an excuse for an additional day off as opposed to genuinely murderous impulses. They also spike in April, the month that the attack on Columbine High School took place back in 1999. However, by his count, the number of such BVSD incidents are actually down in 2009-2010 as compared to 2007-2008 and 2008-2009.

Why? He guesses that the amount of media coverage garnered by the Columbine anniversary has diminished with the passage of time. But he also believes the response by authorities to bomb threats is also a factor. He cites an early incident at Boulder High as an example:

"There was a message that said, 'Everyone will blow up' or something like that," he recalls. "So we canceled all after-school activities and practices, which students didn't like. And we brought in the sheriff's dogs to sniff around and do a full search of the building, and when they found that the building was clean, the only other way a bomb could get in was in a backpack. So we said, 'No backpacks,' and students had to carry their books in without backpacks -- or, if they didn't get the message, they had to go meet with school administrators and leave their backpacks. That really frustrated the kids; there was apparently some peer-to-peer frustration over these phony threats. That's anecdotal, but it has some logic to it."

No guarantee that such an approach will stop, or at least slow, incidents like the two this week: "A lot of this is reading tea leaves," Gamblin acknowledges. In the meantime, though, the latest two threats will be treated seriously on a variety of levels, even if they turn out to be nothing more than attempts by morons to extend their weekend.

Update, 1:12 p.m.: Channel 7 is reporting that a sixteen-year-old student has been arrested for investigation of ethnic intimidation in the aforementioned incident at the Arapahoe campus, in which the words "I'm killen all Mexicans! On Friday" were written on a cafeteria table. The Boulder High graffiti threat remains under investigation.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts