Death Note scare at Gig Harbor middle school
Write the name of your enemy in a supernatural notebook. See his or her face in your mind. Within 40 seconds, add the manner of death you’d like to see happen. In the story “Death Note,” based on a popular Japanese comic book franchise, the macabre wish comes true.
And while the dark concept is only make-believe, it hasn’t stopped real-life copycats from pretending it could happen.
Now you can add a group of Gig Harbor students to that list.
Authorities say four students at Kopachuck Middle School were disciplined last week for creating their own “Death Note” with other students’ names on it.
For some, it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a hit list, like the kind used by real and would-be school shooters.
Pierce County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Ed Troyer said at least one student was expelled and three others were disciplined. Peninsula School District officials wouldn’t confirm this week the nature of their punishment, which was handed down May 14.
Kopachuck Principal Dave Colombini contacted parents of the school’s 620 students via recorded telephone message the following day.
“Recently, an event at Kopachuck has raised safety awareness to an even higher level,” he said in the message. “A few students wrote some fear-provoking notes in a published book, and the matter has been thoroughly investigated. There is no credible threat to the school, students or staff.”
Troyer said another student spotted the book on the floor, read it and gave it to a teacher. The teacher turned it in to the principal’s office, and law enforcement was contacted.
BOOK CONTAINED 50 NAMES
Superintendent Terry Bouck said the book contained about 50 names, some of them Kopachuck students.
Authorities say the book also contained the name of a teacher and celebrities such as President George W. Bush and Paris Hilton. Much of the material written in the “Death Note” was past tense.
Still, the incident is prompting school district officials to examine what, if anything, should be done to make sure students and parents feel safe. Bouck wouldn’t specify whether that means banning the book outright.
“It’s clearly inappropriate for a book like this to be brought to school,” he said.
The father of an eighth-grade student who was suspended for three days says her actions “were born out of long-term and ongoing frustration and bullying” from the other kids.
The father – whom The News Tribune isn’t naming out of concerns his daughter will be further harassed at school – said the bullying has taken place for about two years.
“This was an extremely poor choice to express their frustration,” he added. “They felt pretty powerless.”
What’s frustrating to him is that the students who bullied his daughter have never faced consequences.
The scare in Gig Harbor is just the latest involving the comic book-inspired franchise that has sparked a backlash around the country.
The main character in the story is a teenager who tries to do good by writing down the names of criminals in his supernatural notebook. But to his main enemy, a detective, he is a cold-blooded killer.
ORIGINS IN JAPAN
The concept originated five years ago in Japan with manga-style comic books and has since spawned anime cartoons, books and a feature-length movie that debuted in 2006.
Kids can buy their own “Death Note,” complete with material from the movie and a set of blank pages to list their own potential targets. It’s listed for $15.95 at www.amazon.com
A military student who brought “Death Note” materials to his high school was suspended in Richmond, Va.; a middle school student was removed from campus in Hartsville, S.C.; and a pair of 12-year-old boys were arrested in Gadsden, Ala.
Alex Henshaw, who works at Comic Book Ink in Tacoma, says customers can buy “Death Note” and other manga titles at his store, but they must be specially ordered. He says the “Death Note” series is popular.
Henshaw, 27, was a Kopachuck student several years ago. He says some kids don’t realize the true meaning of the story: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“He’s a kid with a God complex,” Henshaw said of the main character. “It’s very clear that he is an evil person.”
Bouck said Kopachuck officials received about 20 phone calls from parents after they sent the recorded message. He said no parents held their children back from school because of it.
Troyer says the community shouldn’t be worried over “Death Note.”
“This is typical Japanese horror movie stuff and is not a credible threat,” he said. “We see how it could upset parents, but the appropriate actions have taken place, and there is no threat.”
Brent Champaco: 253-597-8653