A woman's calm but serious voice went out over the intercom of Dominguez High School in Compton during classes Friday. She said the Russians had shot down two American warplanes over the Mediterranean Sea and declared war on the United States.
"This can be the beginning of the end of the world," the woman said, according to Laneisheia Howard, a 16-year-old junior who said she was among about 20 students in a word-processing class who took the Halloween prank seriously and rushed from their room in panic.
Within a minute or two, another announcement said it was just a joke, but Compton school board member Bernice Woods wasn't laughing Monday.
"People have it in their mind that maybe something would happen like that," Woods said. "Some of the parents at the school called me and told me how frightened their children were. . . . I feel that no one should have made such an announcement."
Woods--a frequent critic of district management who said she is often on the losing end of votes--said she had requested an emergency meeting of the school board "to find out what happened and what steps we should take as a board." But it appeared Monday that there was insufficient support from fellow board members to call a special meeting, she said.
Woods said she understood from parents that the announcement said "the Russians had declared war on the United States and the students were to get their things and go home."
"Several parents described to me that it was just like chaos, and people were running," Woods said. "One parent told me it was like a stampede."
The principal at Dominguez High, Fred Easter, said he had authorized the announcement as a bit of traditional Homecoming Week high jinks that happened to land on Halloween as well.
"I accept responsibility for the announcement because I did approve it," Easter said.
Board President Kelvin Filer disputed Woods' depiction of what happened after the announcement.
"As far as I know, there was no chaos, there was no hysteria," he said. "I think this whole thing is being blown out of proportion. I think some people are trying to sensationalize something that shouldn't be sensationalized."