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A note of apology to faculty, students and parents at New Prague Middle School asks for forgiveness for a prank 911 call that forced the school into a lockdown on March 20. The juvenile offender is a special-needs student.

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Shooting hoaxer's family copes with aftermath in New Prague

  • Article by: David Peterson
  • Star Tribune
  • April 30, 2013 - 2:11 PM

The parents of a New Prague middle schooler who alarmed the city by falsely reporting a school shooting have yanked the boy out of his school and away from his circle of friends there, the family attorney says.

“He will not be going back to that school,” Marsh Halberg said. “Part of it is for him to grasp how serious this is — to bring it home strongly by separating him from all his old friends. This is a big deal that he can’t go back. He’s still very remorseful.”

The disclosure is also another step in the family’s campaign to start to heal its relationship with the rest of the city in the aftermath of the March 20 episode.

“There has been a certain amount of ostracism since then, and we understand that,” the attorney said.

While the boy is a juvenile whose name is not being officially released, New Prague is a small town “and everyone there knows who it is,” Halberg said.

The family declined to be interviewed, but last week released a statement asking “forgiveness from our community and everyone affected on that frightful day.”

They also released a handwritten note from the boy which ended, “Can you please forgive me? I promise I will never in my life do this again!”

To add to the tension, the boy is an international adoptee who is a special-needs child requiring extensive, constant supervision — a costly process at a time when school budgets are stretched.

Still, New Prague Superintendent Larry Kauzlarich said he trusts that “people will understand the situation with the family and child. They need understanding and forgiveness and help with healing for that family as well.

“It helps to learn that this wasn’t so much an act of meanness as the act of a unique little individual who has handicaps. I think most in our community will want to understand.”

Call during bathroom break

The boy’s paraprofessional was a female from whom he was separated only during restroom breaks, the attorney said. It was then that he placed the phone call claiming someone with an AK-47 was shooting up the school.

There was a massive, instantaneous law enforcement response amid public alerts that frightened many parents and students. The result for the boy was “several hours with police, who did their job,” the criminal defense attorney said — “firm, but they understood the dynamics and were very professional. I can only offer strong praise for their professionalism.”

Last week, the case reached a swift resolution, the details of which are private. Halberg described the events this way:

“On March 20th, [the boy] had been driven by his father to school and was then handed off to his paraprofessional. Unknown to anyone, the young man had found a discarded cellphone of his parents. A disabled phone can still make 911 calls. This young man told the police that he called 911 because he liked police cars and their flashing lights. He went into a bathroom stall and placed the false 911 call.

“My client’s parents received the school alert as did others with students at the New Prague Middle School. My client’s father, not yet knowing that his son was involved, paced outside the middle school terrorized like other parents for several hours until he also learned that the call was a hoax. As such, he truly can empathize with other parents.”

The irony of the case, he said, is that a boy who managed to create so much fear is himself a little kid who is younger than his age in a host of ways, starting with sheer size.

“He’s tiny. He’s in the bottom 5 percentile on height and weight. He’s just little. You want to give him a hug. He’s a sweet little kid.

“Those who have or work with special-needs children know that every day is a challenge. This young man’s parents have been as proactive and supportive of their child as anyone can be. A realistic goal is not eliminating problems or missteps, but rather trying to minimize their frequency and severity.”

The process of rebuilding will be anchored in the family’s church, Halberg said.

“They go to a very strong church, and part of what they do plan to do at that church is to share more information with members of the congregation in hopes of strengthening that support system.”

 

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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