What have the anonymous cowards of the Internet wrought?
Even those who've never surfed the Web can't have missed hearing about the extra security added at Colony Middle School in Palmer last week after a nameless, faceless, virtual mob launched a jihad on students there.
The crime perpetuated by these eighth-graders?
A couple among them harassed a moose. They yelled at it, maybe even threw some sticks and stones. And then the moose ran off and died.
How it died is the subject of much speculation. No one knows exactly what killed it. There was no necropsy performed. An Alaska State Trooper called to the scene said the moose appeared to be an animal dying, as winter-stressed moose do every spring, even before the kids harassed it. The members of the charity called to haul the carcass away and butcher it for food aren't talking, if indeed they saw anything in that process that would indicate what caused the animal's death.
We do, however, know some of the ways in which the moose didn't die. It wasn't stoned to death. It wasn't beaten to death with sticks. It wasn't forced to repeatedly bash itself against anything. It wasn't stabbed or punched or kicked or jumped on or shot.
The moose appears to have been harassed in much the way many moose are harassed all over Southcentral Alaska by gardeners, home owners, school administrators and even wildlife biologists. It is a general and accepted policy among the latter two to chase the animals out of school yards because moose have been known to stomp even adults to death. A principal at one of the elementary schools in Anchorage was chasing one of the animals around his playground with a roaring leaf blower -- harassing the animal, if you will -- last week while the Internet world debated what should be done with the young "terrorists" at Colony.
"Terrorists" was among the tamer labels hung on the children by the denizens of the Internet who hide their names behind virtual hoods befitting the KKK.
The children, of course, were not helped by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District, which suspended two boys for reasons never really explained. This only added fuel to the fire. The school district is apparently ignorant of how the Internet has shifted the public communication paradigm:
If you leave an information vacuum today, something will fill it. If there are no facts given, there will be many fictions created.
The fictions here grew until some in authority came to believe there might be someone out there so confused as to decide he or she needed to avenge the moose "murder" at Colony. Still, District spokeswoman Catherine Esary seemed shocked at my suggestion that the way to put an end to this was to tell the truth about what happened.
"We have told the truth," she said.
Well, sort of.
The school told a little sliver of the truth, and suspended the students. There has, as yet, been no accounting of what exactly happened at Colony or any word of teachers suspended. The latter is most odd given that if the students did something that truly made them responsible for the moose's death, they really aren't the only ones responsible.
They're children. That's why they need supervision. They lack the knowledge, social skills and judgment of adults.
If the children made a mistake, certainly the person or persons charged with supervising them made an even bigger mistake. This shouldn't be a case where that stinky stuff just runs downhill and lands on the littlest, weakest players.
Or maybe these kids aren't that. Maybe they are the sadistic, evil, little devils some on the Internet have accused them of being, and they are relishing a new found infamy among their peers.
Either way, the school district's punishment is misguided. If these are seriously misguided kids, a minor slap on the wrist only reinforces the hoodlum persona that already encourages too many to behave, well, like hoodlums. And if these are good kids, well, getting treated unfairly isn't a good lesson for anyone.
The school doesn't really seem to care. When I talked to Esary on Friday, she was going to speak to Superintendent George Troxel about that strange idea of telling the whole truth. She promised one of them would call me back. Not surprisingly, the phone never rang. It's easier to punish children than answer the questions of some persistent jerk at the newspaper.
And never mind that the failure to answer questions these days leads to "reporting" of all other sorts:
"My child attends CMS and I've tried to talk to her teachers about this and they won't say anything. They're afraid to talk. The school district and principal are covering something up. This whole mess smells bad," someone using the avatar "unbelieving parent" claimed in one of almost 500 posts on the Web site of the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman.
"One thing I was told by a witness that I've not heard or seen written anywhere is that once the moose ran into the fence, the first time, it broke one of it's antlers that imbedded (cq) into it's skull. The boys continued to go after it and it kept running into the fence until it dropped dead. If the school has handed down their punishment, fine -- but there were wildlife laws broken and officers should be investigating this incident for further charges," someone using the avatar "kuskolady" proclaimed in one of almost 200 posts at adn.com.
Is there even a hint of truth to any of this? Does it matter?
"The boys were acting like stupid, childish boys because that's what they are. I believe what some kids have posted on here much more than anything that has come out as an official story. I know when someone has an agenda, and when they are being truthful," "concerned resident" posted on the Frontiersman's site.
Apparently children reading Internet messages from sexual predators aren't the only ones inclined to believe anything they read online. This is simply frightening.
The greatest thing about America is that you can believe anything you want to believe whether right or wrong. But the glue that has held our society together for 200 years has been the idea that if you're going to go public with what you believe, you are expected to stand up and put your name to it.
This is why people are asked to give their names when they testify at public hearings. This is why the founding fathers wrote a constitution giving even the most vile of criminals the right to confront their accusers.
What did these eighth-graders get?
Find Craig Medred online at adn.com/contact/cmedred or call 257-4588.