IPSWICH — The close-knit community of Ipswich has been sent spinning by malicious emails circulated this week rating 22 high school girls without prom dates, detailing their interests, looks and dating experience.
The messages, sent to numerous Ipswich High students on Sunday, are under investigation by the Ipswich police. The sender gained access to student email addresses through a Facebook account set up by junior class officers related to next month's prom.
The junior class officers, who alerted Principal Barry Cahill about the emails Monday morning, did not send the messages, according to a statement the schools released yesterday.
"We're trying to determine where the emails began. Whether it's a criminal matter at this point, we're not sure," said Ipswich police Lt. Dan Moriarty.
School Resource Officer Shawn Smith is working to trace the origin of the messages, Moriarty said. It's possible the sender could be charged with making threats or criminal harassment.
"We'll have to see if any of those (charges) apply at all," said Moriarty, "Or, it could be dealt with internally at the school."
According to the school's statement, the first email claimed to help juniors who might be looking for a date to the junior prom. It contained a list of 22 female students from several grades at Ipswich High, giving their age, interests and body type. A second email rated their dating experience level, assigning one to three asterisks for each student - three being the most experienced.
"My initial reaction to it was as the father of a daughter," said School Committee Member Jeffrey Loeb, whose daughter, an Ipswich High junior, saw the emails. "My focus was more personal, asking my daughter if she was a target. ... The fact that negative things were said about kids bothered her.
"What I sensed from her was that there were some comments about kids that ranged from positive to benign to cruel," said Loeb, who said he had not seen the messages about the 22 students.
On Monday, Cahill spoke to the entire student body and sent an email to parents condemning the emails, explaining that the messages were not sent by the junior class officers and that an investigation was underway.
"We have made it clear that none of this information (from the emails) maybe be copied, duplicated or posted in the building," Cahill wrote in his email to parents.
Loeb said, as a father, he appreciated Cahill's proactive communication to parents about the situation.
"Barry (Cahill) let us know, and that's typical Barry," said Loeb.
Superintendent Rick Korb was out of the office and unavailable for comment yesterday, but released a six-paragraph statement to media outlets. Cahill did not return two phone calls seeking comment before the Salem News deadline yesterday.
Ipswich Middle School Principal Cheryl Forster cautioned students not to talk to the media yesterday, as television news crews swarmed the High Street campus shared by the middle and high school.
"We are all safe. I am receiving calls asking why the (news) trucks are here because, of course, parents who see them would be worried," Forster wrote in an email to parents. "This will soon become old news, and we do hope that those who made the poor choice (to send the emails) will be consequenced and learn from this."
Moriarty said the police are working closely with the schools in their investigation. The district attorney's office had been notified of the situation but was not investigating as of yesterday, he said.
The Ipswich Schools' detailed anti-bullying policy, adopted last year, states bullying is prohibited on school grounds or at school-related functions.
Cyberbullying — using technology, including the Internet and email — is also prohibited off school property if the acts create a hostile environment at the school, infringe on students' rights or disrupt the educational process, according to the policy.
Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SNewsBethany.