Possibly the only thing more disturbing than the realization that someone was on campus at a school in Harford County this week making threats to kill people is the reaction of the school and its public safety component.
On Monday morning, the administration at Harford Community College decided not to immediately alert the campus about what police would later describe as a "homicidal/suicidal" person wandering the campus.
At around 10:30 a.m., a student was heard making "dangerous threats" near the library on the campus east of Bel Air. He was taken into custody about 50 minutes later and is not expected to be charged. Typically, when an individual involved in such an incident isn't charged, it's because it's being treated as a mental health issue.
While it can be debated endlessly as to whether a person who makes threats while in a mentally off-balanced state should be charged, one thing isn't up for debate: people who are mentally off balance sometimes carry out threats of violence and all such threats need to be taken seriously. This didn't happen at Harford Community College on Monday. While police were notified, for faculty, staff and students it was business as usual on campus.
College officials have defended the situation, saying the person making the threats was taken into custody relatively quickly and no one ended up being hurt. This view constitutes whistling past the graveyard, and demonstrates a cavalier attitude toward the well-being of the folks on campus who weren't notified, even as they were potentially in harm's way.
Sure, nothing happened this time. And there's probably a good chance nothing will happen the next time someone shows up on a school campus and starts making threats. Unfortunately, there's also a 50 percent chance such an incident won't end with everyone either safe at home or in a treatment facility.
For at least five decades, school campuses have been the scenes of horrifying murder sprees. The names of certain places now carry the pall of violence and death, be they the result of relatively recent rampages like those at Virginia Tech or Columbine High School in Colorado, or in the more distant past like Aug. 1, 1966 when a sniper roosted in the clock tower at the University of Texas and killed people during a spree that lasted 96 minutes (incidentally, 46 minutes longer than the Harford Community College threat maker was on campus) and killed 16 people.
Too often, we're overcome by overconfidence about the safety of our world. For many people, the first reaction when a fire alarm goes off is to call the maintenance staff and find out how quickly it can be turned off. A car alarm sounds, and the only people likely to call police are those fed up with the noise.
It's easy to become jaded to warnings of potential danger.
But it's wrong for people in positions of responsibility to keep information about potential danger to themselves and to then conclude it was the right decision because nothing bad happened.
Next time, something terrible could just as easily happen and then failing to warn the people on campus won't just be wrong, or perhaps criminal, it'll be dead wrong.