Danny Hellman

Just as Benson Polytechnic High School's lunch hour wrapped up on Tuesday, May 22, four friends converged in a hall in the electronics wing of the school. One, Justin Kohl, had a lumpy bundle wrapped up in a hoodie.

Kohl—a student in Benson's automotive program—had recently found a car horn in the tool room. "We thought that it'd be funny if we connected it to a car battery and stuck it somewhere in the school."

That day—the last day of school—"[Kohl] has the car battery and the horn hooked up and it's going off for a while," his friend Michael Bivins says. "It was like a continual waaaaaaaa noise."

"So I opened up my locker and they put it in there," adds Alfred Bennard, who'd just returned from lunch at KFC. "They turned it on, threw a padlock on it, and took off."

Stephen Garriz saw what his buddies were up to. "I knew about the 60-day rule"—any senior pranks in the last 60 days of the school year can get you banned from the graduation ceremony—"so I tried to get away. But I didn't move fast enough." After his friends secured the lock, the students parted. Once they were around the corner and in another hall, they could barely hear the horn.

Bivins and Garriz went to a government class to take a final. Partway through the test, they heard sirens outside. "Looking out the window, we saw cop cars pulling up," Bivins says. "I thought, 'I hope that has nothing to do with us.'" The students later heard that a teacher cut the padlock, but had to call the office to find out the locker's built-in combo—and officials in the school's office opted to call the cops.

Since the device was in Bennard's locker, he was the first one called down to the administration office.

"I was straightforward with them, and said it's a car horn, nothing else," he says. Then the police began to question him. "Once the police got involved, I didn't want to play games at all. I told them everything I knew," including the names of the other students, who were pulled out of class.

First Garriz was called out of his government class. "Maybe 10 minutes later they came and got me," says Bivins.

"And as we were walking down to the office, they put the school into lockdown," Kohl says. A series of bells alerted teachers and students to stay in their classrooms.

A police officer read Kohl his Miranda rights. He explained that it was just a car horn, attached to a 12-volt battery. "It's not a bomb," he adds. "If I wanted to blow up a wing of the school, why would I make a bomb that makes noise?"

Indeed, the students were surprised that the prank—which "wasn't even really a senior prank, it was just something to do," Bivins explains—resulted in a call to the police, a school lockdown, suspensions, and disorderly conduct citations for all four of them. Now, they face up to a year in jail, and a maximum $2,500 fine.

The four are also barred from walking in the graduation ceremony—a punishment that is unfair, says Kohl. Other students say another senior recently made death threats against a fellow student, but will be allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony. And "there's a Lincoln High student who sold coke to a student who died, and he still gets to walk," Kohl points out.

Portland Public Schools Public Information Officer Matt Shelby "can't discuss ongoing or specific student disciplinary issues," but says the district-wide 60-day rule is "a way to discourage senior pranks." However, the school district can only discipline students for activities that happen during the school year—the Lincoln student "was arrested and charged with something that occurred over the summer," Shelby says, adding that he understands why "it does seem a little unfair."