Five-forty-five on a frigid February morning is a cruel time to be trekking to work, but Brunswick High secretary Carol Lee Heubach liked to get a head start before the parade of yellow buses and the cars with booming bass and bad mufflers showed up, carrying the school's 2,200-plus student body.
She went through her groggy routine: hung her coat up, grabbed her notepad, pressed "play" on the switchboard's answering machine . . . Oh Christ, not again.
"Hey," said a low, threatening voice on the machine. "I am going to blow this motherfucker up."
This was the third threat the school had received in the past year, and there was no greater pain in the ass. Soon there would be a lockdown. Bomb-sniffing dogs would arrive. Hundreds of hysterical parents would flood the phone lines. And for what? So some stupid kid could watch it unfold on TV, with a thrill as if he were dropping a match into a pile of dry leaves?
It was silly, really. Here was a Podunk town in rural Medina County that had built itself into a big-box store/chain restaurant powerhouse, now brought to its knees by some punk on a pay phone. What a powerful feeling it must be.
The first kid to get caught making threats hadn't even been a student at the school. The second had been a harmless, 15-year-old geek whose voice had barely cracked. It wasn't about a school day off; it was all about the rush. And in Brunswick, each threat seemed to embolden the next.
"I am fuckin' killing everybody in this bitch," continued the voice.
It was time to give this kid what he wanted. Heubach picked up the phone and dialed 911.
The caller sure got a good show. Classes were canceled for three days. Since bitter temperatures had closed the school the previous two days, it was the equivalent of a second spring break in Brunswick. The evening news carried live clips of the action, with the principal holding a press conference on the school lawn.
Yet the prankster had made a fatal error. When you're one of only a few black kids in town, it's not hard to identify your voice. After the threats were played on the radio, a flurry of callers phoned in to rat.
They pointed to Stefan Prince, a troubled 19-year-old who attended a special-education school in Brunswick. Abandoned by his parents and in and out of foster care his whole life, Prince had been kicked out of his last foster home two weeks earlier, this time for defying a magistrate's order to provide proof he was going to school. His MySpace page shows him posing as a generic junior tough guy, with baggy jeans and a fat wad of cash tucked into a side-cocked cap. He's giving the camera the finger.
Even friends admit Prince isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. "You tell him something -- it goes over his head, and then you have to explain it to him, and he'd still be sitting there staring at you like, 'What?'" says best friend John Jakab.
Stefan had been crashing at Jakab's house when he made the calls. But Jakab says he only found out about it a few days later, when cops stormed the house and put his family in handcuffs.
It all looks worse than it was, says Jakab. Stefan is "just a crazy kid."
But Medina County Prosecutor Dean Holman didn't get the joke. He charged Prince with inducing panic, a felony. Prince pleaded guilty. And any hope of sympathy for the slow kid started fading fast. Superintendent Jim Hayas was pressing for hard time. He'd been an educator long enough to remember the days when a bomb threat brought the same punishment as starting a food fight. Not anymore. Not after Columbine.
"Ten years ago, you didn't really react the way you did today," Hayas says. "I don't think I've ever sensed the tension and fear that was in the community that it was in February."
Judge Chris Collier felt the same way. "We can't take the chance that it's just a prank," he said to Prince as the boy stood silently before him last month. Then he read the sentence: two years. Stefan Prince would now be a MySpace tough guy in prison.
None of this boded well for 22-year-old Jay Reger. You could almost hear the air leaving his balloon as Collier read Prince's sentence. Just a week later, Reger was to be sentenced for making bomb threats to both Brunswick and Buckeye schools.
He'd used a pay phone and a bad British accent to issue his threats: "I'm not playing games. That school is gone . . . Columbine times two."
Reger had never even been a student at Brunswick. His rationale was anybody's guess. The jail psychiatrist called it a "misplaced cry for help." Reger suffered from a psychiatric disorder, and he was heavily medicated, jobless, and struggling to support a baby.
Yet he also had a knack for self-sabotage. After he'd been arrested and let out on bond last August, he wrote a phony check for $32,500 to a car dealership, hopped in his new ride, and fled west on the turnpike. He'd just passed the "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign when he saw flashers in his rearview mirror.
On the morning of May 25, Reger stands unshaven, shackled, and drooping in a courtroom. The judge says little -- just shuffles his papers and looks down at them with a furrowed brow. Then he looks at Reger. This is going to hurt: three years, one for each threat.
Reger stands expressionless. An aspiring rapper named P-Rock, sitting in the audience, puts words to what everyone seems to be thinking: "What an idiot!"
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