APRIL 14, 2000, 17:34 EST

Fla. Girls Charged in Murder Plot
Associated Press Writer

MIAMI (AP) — Two seventh-grade girls were charged with scheming to bludgeon three rivals with a bag of batteries and slash their throats in the latest in a recent string of schoolyard murder plots around the country.

The alleged plot was thwarted when officials found the bag and pencil boxes full of knives and razor blades.

``Nowadays you have to take every threat seriously,'' said North Lauderdale police spokesman Roy Liddichott. ``They certainly had the means by which to carry out their threat. Would they have? Luckily we never found out.''

The arrests come the same week that three Indiana first-graders were suspended for allegedly plotting to kill a classmate. Investigators said they even drew a crude map of where the slaying was to take place.

Jack Levin, director of the Brudnick Center on Violence at Northeastern University in Massachusetts, said Friday that media attention to school shootings and other violent acts has increasingly led to copycat plots.

``Many children have a rich fantasy life which includes violence — the difference is now they are drawing their fantasies from national news reports,'' he said. ``They've gone from playing cops and robbers to scenes from Columbine High.''

On Monday, police in North Lauderdale arrested the girls, ages 12 and 13, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder. The girls had planned to silence their victims by shoving batteries down their throats, police said.

School officials initially didn't think the threat was serious but later found the batteries and razor blades, police said.

In the Indiana case, the three girls had planned to shoot a 7-year-old classmate at their school, but also discussed killing her with a butcher knife or hanging her, police said. The three students were suspended Wednesday, a day after a parent alerted school officials of the plan.

In Chimacum, Wash., two middle-school students face charges for an alleged plot in March to shoot their classmates, teachers and administrators. Court papers described them as unhappy with how they were treated by other students and staff.

A 17-year-old boy in West Palm Beach pleaded guilty in March to asking classmates to help him carry out a Columbine-style attack on his high school. Derik Lehman was sentenced to five years' probation.

Robert Butterworth, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles, said the challenge for schools and police is differentiating between empty words and serious threats.

``When I was in school, the saying was `Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you,''' he said. ``That has changed.''

Copyright 2000 Associated Press.