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Wilson student expelled over threat Burning out principal mentioned on MySpace

Wilson High School has expelled a student for threatening to burn down the principal's house in a message he posted on the MySpace Web site.

The 16-year-old junior was suspended and then kicked out for the rest of the year after the threat was brought to the attention of school administrators, according to students, parents and school officials familiar with the case.

"They're sending a message that, if it happens, and they catch it, this is how they will respond," said Sandy Walch, president of the Parent Teacher Student Association at Wilson High School.

Wilson school administrators won't comment on the threat, but the incident is common knowledge at the school. It illustrates the ease with which MySpace and other Web sites can be misused.

Shortly after the student was expelled, someone set up a fake MySpace page using the name and photo of Daniel Johnson, the high school principal, and crude comments about his personal habits.

"This is no different than anything that happened 20 years ago. It's just a different technology," said Jeff Dabill, Wilson Teachers Association president.

MySpace has become an Internet phenomenon, particularly among teens. A search of the social-networking site this week found that 135 Wilson High School students have MySpace profiles, not counting users younger than 16.

The student who made the threat was using MySpace and visiting someone else's page when he left the threat as a public comment, Wilson students said in interviews.

The Buffalo News is not identifying the teen because he does not face criminal charges. A parent or teacher learned of the arson threat a few weeks ago and contacted the high school, students and parents said.

"[The student] told me that half an hour after he left the comment, someone called his house about it," said one classmate, Tara Paglino, a 10th grader.

Johnson suspended the student and the student was expelled after a meeting with the superintendent, friends said.

In another comment posted March 9 on a MySpace page, the student wrote "[his initials]=expelled. Peace out dude."

The school did not refer the matter to the Niagara County Sheriff's Department, sheriff's Investigator Daniel Brown said.

Friends say they don't know why the student wrote what he did, although several said the student recently had gotten in trouble with the principal. But they said they believe the threat was intended as a joke and they don't take it seriously.

"He likes to kid around a lot," said Janelle Kenny, an eighth-grade Wilson student.

The student didn't return a message left on his cell phone this week. The News could not reach his parents for comment.

The student's family is acquainted with the principal, friends and parents said, and the student and his mother live near the principal on the same street in Wilson.

Johnson and Wilson Superintendent Michael Wendt declined to comment on the case.

Dabill, the teachers' union president, downplayed the incident.

"As far as the staff is concerned, it was addressed and dealt with and it's over," he said.

It's not clear whether the expelled student created the fake profile that appeared later.

"I don't think he would have done that, because he already got in trouble" for the first MySpace comment, said Stacey Beutel, who is in the 10th grade and knows the student.

Another MySpace profile, under the name "On Behalf of Wilson Central School," still uses the same photo of Johnson framed by the words "Big Brother is Watching You."

These are the latest in a series of incidents directed at Johnson.

His home and property were the target of vandalism twice in the past three years, most recently two years ago.

Wilson isn't alone in confronting Internet abuses.

A survey in 2003-04 by i-SAFE America, a non-profit foundation, found that 42 percent of children have been bullied online and 35 percent were threatened online.

A cursory review of news sites this week found that teenagers in Georgia, Massachusetts and Australia are facing charges after threatening on their MySpace pages to kill fellow students or teachers.

Legislators have introduced a bill in the New York Assembly and Senate that would make online harassment a felony.

In interviews outside Wilson High School this week, students said they thought it was unfair to expel the student for something he wrote on MySpace.

"He was kidding, and MySpace has nothing to do with school," said Becky Henning, a 10th grader.

For the students, this is a cautionary tale about what they should write on MySpace.

"I don't put anything on there that I don't want anyone else to find," said Kaitlin Thompson, who is in the eighth grade.

Or, as seventh-grader David Evans put it: "It just says that Big Brother is watching you."

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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