ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Students were encouraged to return to North Pole Middle School Monday with the assurance that police would patrol the halls following the weekend arrest of six seventh-graders suspected of plotting a deadly attack.
Nine other seventh-graders also were suspended in possible connection with the elaborate scheme to kill faculty and classmates using guns and knives at the school, where about 500 sixth- through eighth-graders have four weeks until summer vacation, officials said.
"We're going to have school," said principal Ernie Manzie. "We feel that all the students involved are not at school, so we feel it's safe."
The town of 1,600 people is about 14 miles southeast of Fairbanks in Alaska's interior and is home to many military families from nearby Eielson Air Force Base and the Army's Fort Wainwright.
The story has been widely broadcast, but some residents aren't worried about the arrests tainting the image of North Pole as the idyllic home of Santa Claus. The town receives thousands of letters each Christmas from around the world.
"I think most people are savvy enough to realize that violence of this nature can happen anywhere, to the best of families and the best of communities," Mayor Jeffrey Jacobson said.
Still the allegations have shocked this "nice little community," said Laura Harper, who has lived in North Pole for 23 years and works in a local restaurant. "We just can't believe something this horrible is happening in this good town."
The boys, who could face charges of first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, are at the Fairbanks Youth Facility in Fairbanks.
Without elaborating on the evidence, North Pole Police Chief Paul Lindhag said the boys had planned to disable the school's power and telephone systems, giving them time to kill their victims and leave town.
The group wanted to seek revenge for being picked on, he said.
The story in North Pole broke two days after five Kansas teenagers were arrested on suspicion of planning a shooting rampage at their high school last Thursday, the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
"Our investigation does not reveal any connection to any of these other school tragedies," Lindhag said. "I think it's more coincidental than anything."
In Riverton, Kan., a community of about 600 people in southeast Kansas, near the Oklahoma and Missouri borders — prom went on as planned Saturday.
"Our school is not big on canceling things," said Daniel Koucky, a senior at Riverton High School. "We haven't had a snow day in two-and-a-half years."
Sheriff's deputies found guns, ammunition, knives and coded messages in the bedroom of one suspect and documents about firearms and references to Armageddon in two suspects' school lockers.
A bond hearing for the suspects — ages 16 to 18 — was set for Monday afternoon. The prosecutor said he would soon determine whether to file criminal charges.