Kaye: Warning about schools a wake-up call

Prosecutor advises local school superintendents to revise security plans


Staff Writer

An unlikely chain of events combined to put a very casually attired Monmouth County Prosecutor John Kaye in front of newspaper, television and radio reporters for a hastily called press conference at his office in Freehold Borough on Oct. 8.

Kaye was responding to breaking news that morning indicating that information about a school or schools in Rumson had been found on a computer disc in Iraq.

In measured remarks, Kaye laid out the information he had received over the previous three weeks that appeared to connect a dead man in Iraq to schools in the wealthy community of Rumson.

The prosecutor’s discussion with the members of the media made it clear that law enforcement authorities and Monmouth County school administrators are vigorously renewing their commitment to the issue of school security.

The prosecutor said there are 195 schools in the county.

The stepped-up concern dates back to mid-September when Kaye was informed by federal authorities that a computer disc or discs had been recovered from the body of a man who had been killed in Iraq. He said he was told that classified information indicated there were plans for Rumson schools on that disc.

Published reports on Oct. 8 indicated that a school district in southern New Jersey as well as school districts in California, Florida, Georgia, Michigan and Oregon were also mentioned on the computer disc.

Kaye said the disc taken from the dead man in Iraq was passed to translators, who eventually determined that school districts in the United States were mentioned. Kaye said the dead man was a member of the Ba’athist party that deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein formerly controlled and that the man’s father had a strong connection to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Kaye said he was subsequently told by the FBI that there was no floor plan of any Rumson school on the computer disc found in Baghdad, but that the disc did contain policies relating to school vandalism, violence and bullying that had been posted on an Internet Web site. It is believed the policies relate to Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School and not to the Rumson elementary school district.

Subsequent to the receipt of the information in mid-September, Rumson police brought bomb-sniffing dogs to the schools in that community. With construction projects under way in Rumson, Kaye said, there was specific concern following the recent terrorist siege of a school in Beslan, Russia. In that incident, he said, people posing as workers went into the school and hid weapons and munitions that were in place when the terrorists who carried out the attack invaded the school. More than 300 people, nearly half of them children, were killed in the siege.

Kaye said he does not know of anything that was found at the school in Beslan that would indicate a similar attack was being planned in the United States.

“Of course,” he said, “the Russians are not giving us everything.”

Kaye was joined at the Oct. 8 press conference by Monmouth County Superintendent of Schools Eugenia Lawson, who said administrators in all of the county’s school districts have been advised to review their security plans. In addition, Lawson said contractors will be asked to certify that all individuals entering schools as workers have undergone a background check.

Kaye said he has asked every superintendent whose district Web site may contain building floor plans to remove those plans from the Internet. He said school administrators may have initially placed floor plans on the Internet following the 1999 attack on teachers and students by two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., as a way of aiding people who would have to respond to a school during an emergency.

Kaye and Lawson both described the reported connection between Iraq and Rumson as a wake-up call.

“There was no direct threat [to a school], but we had a piece of information in an odd place,” Kaye said, adding that the terrorist siege and hostage situation at the school in Russia raised the threat of violence to a new and much more dangerous level than ever before.