PRINCETON – Public letters of apology are sometimes a condition of probation in today’s criminal justice system, but a 15-year-old Princeton girl appears to have added a new twist to the practice.
Sarah Dawn Stanley hasn’t been to court yet, but she has written a letter about how her life has changed since she made bomb threats at Woodland High School on Nov. 20 and 21.
“I’d have to say that what has impacted me the most is the way I’ve embarrassed the people that had faith in me,” Stanley said in the letter distributed to area newspapers and television stations this week.” I’ve disappointed so many people I care about. How will they cope? How will I cope?”
Describing herself as “a 15-year-old sophomore girl who’d never been in trouble before,” Stanley writes that she “thought it would be funny to write a bomb threat on the bathroom wall, then mark it with a date.”
The message wasn’t funny to school officials.
Union 107 Superintendent Barry McLaughlin said staff called police and cleared the school, moving classes to alternative sites in accordance with a school system plan for responding to bomb threats.
That happened on Monday, Nov. 20, McLaughlin said.
On Tuesday, the message appeared again. “There is a bomb in the school.” The message was dated Nov. 21.
McLaughlin said school personnel conducted an investigation and confronted the student they thought was responsible. Baileyville police obtained enough information to make an arrest, he said.
Baileyville Police Chief Phil Harriman said a 15-year-old female juvenile was arrested on two counts of terrorizing.
Despite Stanley going public, Harriman and McLaughlin said they couldn’t release the juvenile’s name. McLaughlin said the student has been suspended, pending a disciplinary hearing.
Stanley’s mother, Dawn Fitch, said the incident has thrown her family and the community for a loop. Prior to this, her daughter has never gotten into any kind of trouble, she said.
“Sarah loves school and she never misses,” Fitch said. “She’s involved in church and choir. She plays the saxophone and she’s in the drama club.”
Fitch said she believes the bottom line is that her daughter is a jokester.
“I’ve told her for years that her class clown act was going to get her into trouble,” Fitch said. ” It is a shame it had to come to this.”
Stanley said Friday her cousin turned her in to school authorities. She hasn’t talked to her cousin. Stanley’s bail conditions prohibit any contact with her cousin or anyone else at Woodland High School.
Stanley said she’s not permitted on school property without permission from the principal, who is recommending that she be expelled. The school board will make a final decision Tuesday night, she said.
Stanley said she wrote the bomb threat because she remembered that everyone liked it last year when classes were moved because of a bomb threat. There wasn’t any homework, she said.
She wrote the second message on Tuesday because everyone thought Monday’s evacuation was “cool,” she said.
“But I didn’t know then about what people had to go through and how much it cost the school,” she said. “I’m very sorry about what I did and I wanted to show other kids what can happen to them when they do stupid pranks.”
Assistant District Attorney Patrick Larson, who prosecutes juvenile crimes in Washington and Hancock counties, said he has recommended public letters of apology in a number of cases where the crime affects the community.
In some juvenile court cases, young people enter a plea through their attorney and may never even see their victims. The letters are a way for the juvenile to accept responsibility for what they’ve done.
Machias District Court Judge John Romei said there are some cases-including those involving adults-where public apologies just make sense.
Without something like a letter of apology, there isn’t a punishment between “hitting someone with a bomb or tickling them with a feather”, he said.
“And it certainly does humble them a bit,” Romei said.