Doomsday — December 21, 2012 — came and went without much going on in the way of cataclysm, apocalyptic events, planetary destruction from space, or even a second coming of a deity. It simply passed. But while some were trying to hook up for end of the world sex or find parties to attend, and others were “bugging out” or “bugging in” (the so-called “doomsday preppers”) to last out whatever end-time scenario would befall the human race, 33 schools in Michigan were closed. Terroristic threats and fears of the Maya calendar prophecies actually occurring caused schools to be closed or saw students arrested, suspended, and/or questioned by police in at least a dozen states across the US.
In early December, NASA scientist David Morrison made international headlines when he emphasized the importance of minimizing the ever-increasing amount of talk about doomsdays and apocalypses. He didn’t advocate cutting back on all the Maya calendar prophecy hokum simply because there was no archaeological or factual evidence pointing to Dec. 21, 2012 as the date for the end of the world. He was appealing to all the doomsayers, the true believers, those just having fun with the idea, and those trying to make an extra buck off the idea, hoping to stave off suicidal tendencies and who knows what kind of psychological damage that could potentially be engendered in children and young adults by the general discourse about doomsday.
Taking his cue, USA.gov, the government website dedicated to young people, posted a blog assuring everyone that the world would not end on Dec. 21, 2012.
Morrison said he was getting hundreds of letters per week regarding questions about the Maya apocalypse and other doomsday scenarios, but the emails and letters coming in from 11- or 12-year-olds contemplating suicide (about two each week, he said) were the most disturbing.
But if there were those who felt that Morrison and those that seconded his worries were simply being alarmist, it must be pointed out that young people process information differently and what seems like a myth, fantasy, or long-shot odds on a plausible end of the world scenario can be of immediate importance in the lives of the impressionable.
And so we see either the work of the overly mischievous and a way to possibly get out of going to school for a day or two or the end result of the stress of hearing an unending barrage of information about the coming apocalypse as a reason to go out, guns a-blazon’, in a revenge scenario, settling some grudges.
“Given the recent events in Connecticut, there have been numerous rumors circulating in our district, and in neighboring districts, about potential threats of violence against students,” Matt Wandrie, superintendent for Lapeer Community Schools, wrote on his website, according to NBC News. “Additionally, rumors connected to the Mayan calendar predicted end of the world on Friday have also surfaced.”
Wandrie decided to err on the side of caution and closed down all Lapeer County schools, 33 schools comprising five districts.
But the Michigan reaction to the Mayan calendar prophecies and the violence was the most extensive.
States including Idaho, Pennsylvania, Maine, Illinois, California, Utah, Texas, Oregon, Washington, and Oklahoma.
The San Antonio Express-News reported earlier in the week that several rumors and threats led to two arrests at an area school. Both young people were expelled from their school. Several other threats of violence were investigated but were deemed without merit.
A few schools were closed in Connecticut, according to the Pottstown (Pa.) Mercury, which also reported that in Pennsylvania, a teen was arrested for threatening to come to school on Dec. 21, 2012 and commit a shooting. A subsequent check of the young boy’s home yielded two handguns.
Lake County School District in Florida had to fight rumors that they were closing, the superintendent issuing a statement, according to the Orlando Sentinel, that classes would be held as scheduled on Dec. 21. (And they were.)
In Louisiana, where the state did not report any closed schools, a student was arrested a few days ahead of doomsday, according to WVLA in Baton Rouge, after making threats of coming to school, shooting it up, and killing a teacher. He allegedly said that the teacher didn’t like him and it was the end of the world. The student would later tell police he was joking, Police didn’t get the punchline and arrested him for terrorizing.
Teenagers and smaller children process information differently than do adults. But when the adults and many of those around them only offer portents of doom, where mock (read: people looking for an excuse to have casual sex) or realistic (think: doomsday preppers and apocalyptic preachers) warnings can lead to a general sense of fatalism and hopelessness, some cope by gaining as much control in the uncertainty as they can through the most effective means they’ve been taught — violence or the threat of violence. Of course, there are also the impressionable that are susceptible to finding escape by ending their own lives.
It is as yet unknown if any young people committed suicide due to not being able to bear the idea of the world’s demise.
Still, NASA’s Dr. David Morrison warned that there were dangers in filling children’s heads with images of doom…