Parents talk anxiety, kids’ reactions after school bomb threats

“As a parent, I’m anxious myself.’’

Police officials, explosives experts, and bomb-sniffing dogs checked children’s backpacks at Methuen High School last week after the district received a bomb threat. —CJ Gunther / EPA

Brenda Magno’s sister called her last Tuesday morning from Groton with alarming news.

The Groton school district was experiencing a bomb threat.

“While talking to her, I got a text from my son saying ‘We’re being evacuated from [Ayer] high school,’’’ said Magno, of Ayer. “As they were leaving the school, he got texts from his cousins in Groton saying they were sheltering in place.’’

More than a dozen school districts across Massachusetts received bomb threats last Tuesday, prompting an FBI investigation. More districts received threats through the rest of last week.

Magno’s 15-year-old son kept in touch with his cousins and parents via cellphone throughout the ordeal.

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“I responded to [my son], saying, ‘It seems like it was a hoax, it’s happening in a lot of schools, don’t worry about it,’’’ she said.

Her instinct was to reassure him and hide her own anxiety.

“As a parent, I’m anxious myself,’’ said Magno. “You don’t want them to know that you yourself are worried about these things.’’

Meanwhile, Melissa Smith was at work when her husband called to say their twin daughters were on lockdown at Billerica High School.

“Part of me said, ‘Be rational, this is just a stupid joke.’ The other half, 10 percent, 20 percent of you is like, ‘Crap, what if this is real?’’’ said Smith.

Both Smith and her husband texted their girls immediately.

“You just want that connection to make sure they are feeling OK,’’ Smith said.

After school, the Smith and Magno families talked about the incident with their kids.

Smith said her twins, who celebrated their sixteenth birthdays over the weekend, said they weren’t afraid to go to school the next day. However, one daughter said it was hard not to think about other tragedies like school shootings during the ordeal.

“They weren’t terribly freaked out,’’ said Smith. “Unfortunately, we’re kind of numb to this kind of stuff happening all the time.’’

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Magno has an 11-year-old daughter in the middle school who knew nothing about the threat at her brother’s school. Magno and her husband decided to talk to her about it.

“I knew that she would hear it because I knew my son would want to talk about it,’’ said Magno. “I would rather her hear it from me than whatever stories the kids were going to come up with.’’

A police officer and a member of the K-9 unit searched outside of Arlington High School after the district received a bomb threat last week. —Jessica Rinaldi / The Boston Globe

Annette Nedeljkovic, a Newton mother of a kindergartener and third grader, chose not to tell her kids about the bomb threat to Newton North High School on Tuesday, deeming them too young. But the decision didn’t come without worry.

“There could be some third-grade kids who know what’s going on, who watch the news with their parents,’’ said Nedeljkovic. “They might come into school and tell other kids.’’

When Kerry Kelley asked her first-grade daughter if she did anything different at school that day, the answer was no. Kelly’s school district also received a threat this week.

“I see what she knows, if something is bothering her,’’ said Kelley. “If it’s not there, there’s no reason to talk about it. There is no reason to bring your anxiety down on your children, no reason to give them more information than is necessary.’’

Smith puts her faith in the experts, saying, “At some point you’ve got to say, you can’t let fear run your life. You have to put your trust in the police, the fire department, and the school systems.’’

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