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Rumors of Miller's 'Doom' dispelled
4/29/1999
By Alicia Manley

Rumors of Miller's 'Doom' dispelled
Thursday, April 29, 1999

A mini-whirlwind of post Littleton anxiety touched down in Aberdeen this week.

Word about an Internet "Doom" game using the Miller Junior High floor plan became grist for a good-old fashioned game of "Telephone."

In the slumber-party version, one person whispers a phrase - "My sister likes cats," for instance - into the ear of the person next to her ... and so on around the room.  The last person blurts out what she heard, such as "Nine zippers hikes to Kansas."

It can be pretty funny.

This week, it got pretty scary before the facts emerged.

Miller Principal Jerry Salstrom was at the end of the telephone line, fielding calls from concerned parents about a supposed bomb threat and evacuation at the junior high.

As in the party game, the original message lost a lot in the translation.

Salstrom said he was a bit befuddled when his vice principal informed him that callers were saying the school had been evacuated.

This was news to Salstrom, who had spent the morning observing a fairly serene art class.  The vice principal, likewise, knew nothing of such an event.

In fact, there was no evacuation.

The Aberdeen High School student who had created the Web site and helped a friend with the Doom game years before was also confused Tuesday afternoon when Salstrom called him into the principal's office at AHS.

"I don't think he'd ever been called into the principal's office in his life," Salstrom said Wednesday.

Asked if he knew why he was there, the teenager said he had no idea.  He never suspected he was being interrogated about something he'd put onto his personal Web site years before, according to Salstrom.

The youth is not in trouble, Salstrom emphasized, adding that there was nothing sinister about his actions.  The floor plan originated a few years back as part of eight-grade multi-media student project to create a virtual tour of Miller.

It had been Salstrom's idea.

But in the wake of the Littleton massacre, where a Web site featured hateful messages and an annotated floor plan of Columbine High School was discovered among one of the shooter's belongings, anxiety is high among teachers, students, and parents.

The junior high principal asked the student to remove the site from the Internet to alleviate concern.

The student complied immediately, telling Salstrom he hadn't even touched the site or the game in at least six months.

Spread like wildfire
While the news of the game had spread like wildfire through the community this week, the game has actually been on the Internet since January 1997.  In fact, the computer club at AHS played the game regularly.

"I'm not even sure if anyone saw the site or knew the background of it," Salstrom said.  "They just started spreading rumors.  That kind of hysterical reaction doesn't help."

"I think it's kind of unjustified," said the other teenager involved.  His junior high project four years ago is the reason the Miller map exists.  "People are catching the paranoia craze."

Apparently, the anxiety began to percolate after an Aberdeen resident searching through Techline's member pages discovered the high school student's Web site.  It featured a version of the popular game "Doom" played out in a computer simulation of Miller Junior High.

That person called The Daily World, and a reporter called Salstrom.  The junior high principal immediately logged on to the Web site with another teacher and they recognized what it was: Remnants of the eighth-grade project from almost four years ago - before the schools were wired for the Internet, and before the outbreak of school shootings in America.

Orientation tool
The principal said the virtual tour was meant to be a sort of orientation tool for incoming seventh-graders.  One of the youths caught up in this week's anxiety had enlisted the other to help on the project during winter break in 1995.

The project was on display at a science fair in Hoquiam that year.

And just like any homework project, Salstrom said the student got to take his work home when he finished.

The two students said the virtual tour was originally created in the Doom format, through that wasn't their first choice of programs.  They pointed out that because their creation is an added level, it could be played only by computer-users who had a registered version of Doom on their computers - not those who simply downloaded the game.

The students, like many computer aficionados, were fans of the computer game - a detailed cartoon video game with a theme basically not unlike Nintendo's Mario Bros. or thousands of other status-gathering, villain-conquering animated games - except they usually feature better graphics.

The big difference?  Doom is an "open-code" game that can be downloaded from the Internet or shared with friends.  It allows enthusiasts who understand a bit of computer code to go in and create their own new "level."  That means the game can go on forever if a person chooses.

The game can also be networked via modems, serials or local area networks to allow several players to compete against each other from all over a school or all over the world.

The students said they think it's funny people pick on Doom so much, as there are many more violent computer and video games on the market.

No menacing threat
Salstrom said he and the teacher at Miller agree that the former students had no menacing intent toward the junior high.  The principal said that when he tried to log on to the site Wednesday morning after talking with the student Tuesday, "it was already gone.

" The possibility of the site being used as a strategic device for an attack on the school had never occurred to the student - and probably never would - and probably never would have occurred to anyone except for recent events, Salstrom added.

The principal said he was impressed with the cooperation throughout the community in getting to the bottom of the controversy.  Salstrom said he feels that with better communication between the community, parents, and the school, they are more likely to avoid tragic incidents.

"The best thing about this is the cooperation and sharing that happened," Salstrom said.  "It took a day to work through it, but resolved it."

Alicia Manley
DAILY WORLD WRITER
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