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Police visible at schools after threat of beheadings

A police car is parked outside Winsor Hill Elementary School, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.
A police car is parked outside Winsor Hill Elementary School, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.
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Police had a very visible presence Wednesday at schools in Cranston, Johnston and Warwick.

Officers will be present all day after a letter threatening beheadings at the elementary schools in the three communities was received by the Johnston Police Department on Tuesday. Police said the handwritten letter was one page, and it is being analyzed at the state crime lab at the University of Rhode Island.

Police departments said they would cover every school in the three communities.

"When these threats come in, we take them very serious. But at the same time, we don't want these threats to disrupt our daily life, including important work that they do here educating students," Cranston Police Col. Michael Winquist said.

The police presence calmed the fears of some parents.

"I noticed that they have extra police presence here, so I thought it would be safe for them to go to school today. You know I monitor, I'm here. I walk my daughter to school every day," said Giovanni Carpenter, of Cranston.

But schools felt the effects. Absentee levels in Johnston and Cranston were more than 30 percent as parents exercised an abundance of caution.

"Our teachers are coming to school. They're preparing lessons for our students," said Johnston superintendent Bernard DiLullo said.

"I was in constant communication yesterday with the other superintendents. We decided we would open. We would have a normal day," Cranston superintendent Judith Lundsten said.

The communities were taking no chances, assuring parents that law enforcement will be present as long as needed.

"We're in constant communication. It's absolutely critically important from a law enforcement standpoint, but most importantly for the schools and the administrations, because we want to ensure that there's a safe environment for our students as they're going to our schools, not only just today but throughout the entire period they are in school.," Cranston Mayor Allan Fung said.

In a related development, state Rep. Deborah Fellela, who represents Johnston, said she plans to introduce a bill in the next session that would make it a felony to threaten students in Rhode Island with physical harm.

The legislation provides for a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and $100,000 in fines. A judge also could order that restitution be paid to any municipality that responds to a threat.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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