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MILFORD Conn. (Reuters) - Children as young as 10 years old have been caught making bomb threats to local schools in Bristol, Connecticut, that have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars, authorities said.
Public schools have received eight such threats in the last 10 days in the suburban community, 20 miles (32 km) from Hartford and 90 miles (145 km) northeast of New York City.
Bristol police arrested two 10-year-old girls on Thursday on charges they made bomb threats to two elementary schools, one day after a 13-year-old girl was accused of making a bomb threat at a middle school.
The students are believed to be making "copycat" threats, although it was possible the events were linked, officials said.
"We have not ruled out the possibility of a connection between these students, but so far we haven't found evidence to support that," said Police Chief Thomas Grimaldi on Friday.
Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne said he was shaken by the age of the pupils arrested.
"It was hard enough as a parent when they arrested a 13-year-old, but I was really shocked by the two 10-year-olds,” he said. "I think these kids see these things happening in the news and don't comprehend at all the impact of making a bomb threat."
Cockayne said the threats have cost the city tens of thousands of dollars and vowed to seek monetary restitution from the families of anyone convicted.
Deputy Superintendent of Schools Susan Moreau said authorities need to make clearer to children how seriously such threats are taken.
"But 10-year-olds don't comprehend the consequences, and the future is very vague," she said. "They live in the present."
The 10-year-olds confessed to making the threats, police said. They and the 13-year-old are charged with falsely reporting an incident, threatening, breach of peace and reckless endangerment. All three students have been expelled.
More arrests are expected, police said.
The first bomb threat, found on a written note inside Bristol Central High School on May 27, appeared to have sparked the copycat threats, police said.
Writing by Ellen Wulfhorst; editing by Doina Chiacu