DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - March 23, 2007

Text messaging gathers crowd at fight scene

Clash results in stitches, arrest and suspension from school

by Natalie O'Neill

In-school text messaging helped orchestrate an after-school brawl, prompting about 20 observers to show up at Alamo Plaza.

Two male Monte Vista High School students, both over six feet tall, recently used text messaging to spread the word about the time and location of their planned fistfight. Some of the observers got word through a text message chain and arrived at the scene at about 3:40 p.m. on a recent Monday.

"(The young men) text messaged each other to set up transportation to the location - then called back with their cell phones to confirm they were there," Alamo Deputy Elmer Glasser said at the March police advisory meeting.

The juveniles, who were both 17 years old, had gotten into a verbal conflict earlier that day during a lunch break at school. They then arranged to meet after class to settle the issue physically.

Both young men struck each other several times with closed fists, causing a concussion and the need for stitches. One of the boys was identified as the primary aggressor and was arrested for felony battery.

The fight was halted quickly and the young men's parents were contacted by the police department.

"It could have been much worse. This was big boys just being dumb," Glasser said.

Police Advisory members noted that when they were in high school, there were fights after school but not on this scale, with such organization.

"This is how they get all of their friends there?" one Police Advisory Committee member asked, intrigued.

Before the school shootings of 1999 in other places, cell phones in the class room were largely against policy in public high schools. But overwhelming responses from both parents and students prompted the rules in most schools to change nationwide, with safety cited as the primary reason.

But while technology helps students stay safe and connected to their parents, new reports from the National Crime Prevention Council point to the argument that cell phones could be doing teens as much harm as good.

According to the new survey, more than 40 percent of teens have been victims of taunts and threats via the text messaging, instant messages and Internet networking sites. The episodes have been dubbed "cyberbullying."

In the case of the Alamo fight, the incident was partially prompted by name calling and offensive language, Glasser said. It is, however, unclear whether the language was spoken, text messaged or both.

"There was some strong language used and when the father was called in, he wanted to address that first," Glasser said.

While no figures were listed with National Crime Prevention Council as to how many of the reported instances of cyberbullying ended in physical fights or violence, the survey stated that teens who were taunted via technology reported feeling "angry" and "scared" and that a common reaction was "seeking revenge on the bully."

Because the Alamo incident began on school grounds, both students were suspended.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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