March 28, 2005
You have no doubt heard
"RED LAKE, Minn.
- In the days after 10 people were killed by a lone shooter at
a high school here, there is more speculation about the incident
than facts. Jeff Weise, 16, walked into the high school and shot
seven people before turning a gun on himself."
As of Monday, March 28,
2005 -- just one week after the reports filled the various media
sources -- a search on Google for: "red lake" "school
shooting" turned up "about 63,100" results. Six
years ago, the nation was rocked by Columbine. The headlines were
different, but just as devastating.
in Littleton, as investigators scrutinize gunmen"
"Diary reveals Colorado
massacre was planned for year"
In 1998, even before
"[F]ive were killed
by two heavily armed boys who fired on them from nearby woods
while students and teachers stood outside the school during a
false fire alarm. ... Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden,
11, were captured behind the school shortly after the shootings.
They each face five counts of capital murder and 10 counts of
battery. ... [C]hildren in the boy's youth group told him that
Johnson had been making threats about teacher Sara Thetford for
months. Thetford, 42 was injured during the shooting and is hospitalized
in stable condition. Johnson also reportedly made threats about
people dying at school the day before the shooting, and reportedly
threatened one boy with a knife. ... 'He had been making threats
that week that "If you break up with me I'm going to kill
you and I'm going to kill everybody in this school. I'm sick of
getting detention," stuff like that. We all thought he was
blowing off steam.'"
The boys were 11 and
"He had been making threats that week..."
The threats were not taken seriously.
all thought he was blowing off steam."
Listen. Pay attention.
If you are concerned (even a little), talk. Make sure someone
hears you. No one wants to be a bad friend.
No one wants to be a
"tattletale." But, a good friend also listens, hears,
and responds to a cry for help, even if that means talking.
Being a good friend can
"When teens in Marshfield,
Mass., started fantasizing about a massacre in their high school,
a few began to have doubts. Fortunately, there was an adult they
trusted, a school resource officer, who was alerted to details about the
plot last fall. The officer quickly investigated. Police later
found maps, lists of guns and ammunition to buy, and bomb-building
instructions. ... Instead of a headline-grabbing tragedy, the
Marshfield incident is simply one more tale of what might have
been if someone had not talked and someone else had not listened.
... [P]reventing attacks often comes down to the same things that
helped at Marshfield: good relationships, listening, spotting
warning signs, and persuading students to overcome the hallway
code of silence - that it's OK to report threats. 'These shootings
are not spontaneous. They're not random. This happens over time...'"
"This happens over
"Harris [1999 -
Columbine] had drawn complaints for threatening behavior, which
resulted in a Sheriff Department report of a 'suspicious incident'
... More than a year before the April 20 massacre at Columbine
High School, police and school officials were warned that one
of the gunmen, Eric Harris, was detonating pipe bombs and talking
about killing people on his Web site. ... [I]t is apparently not
illegal to post threats on the Internet, said Lt. John Kiekbusch
of the Jefferson County Sheriff's
Department. ... But in the wake of the Columbine tragedy, local
police are now tracking down and investigating any similar threats
they receive, Kiekbusch said. 'We all learned a lesson on the
20th of April. Part of that is that we need to take these things
in a more serious fashion,' he said."
"[W]e need to take
these things in a more serious fashion."
"Since fellow students
are often the ones to say afterward that they had heard about
plots but didn't take them seriously, schools are making efforts
to convince them that notifying a staff member isn't 'snitching.'
It's a way to save lives. In many of the cases in which plots
were uncovered before an attack - from Cedar Park, Texas, to Lovejoy,
Ga. - the key was students who came forward. ... 'One concern
is that after a shooting like this [Red Lake, MN] there will be
a backlash in schools. They'll tighten up zero
tolerance, and begin expelling or suspending students who make
any kind of threatening statement,' he says. 'That would be counterproductive,
since it closes off communication.' Indeed, many experts note
that the threats and interest in violence are often cries for
help that go ignored. Weise is 'part of the tragedy,' says Viollis.
'He's not just the villain here, he's a victim.'"
How can the cries for
help be heard, the lines of communication kept open, and the other
students kept safe?
have been seen in school districts across the country. In Wayne
Township, a roughly 15,000-student district on the west side of
Indianapolis, school officials installed closed-circuit cameras
at every school and created a voice mail system where students
can anonymously report other students threatening violence. 'We
won't be in denial; we know it could happen here...' Many experts
believe a key is simply providing students with an anonymous outlet
to report potential incidents. The Secret Service reported in
a 2002 study of school shootings that in almost all the incidents,
others knew beforehand that the student was considering a violent
attack on the school."
beforehand that the student was considering a violent attack on
The school shootings
are a last resort. The bullying has not stopped. The need to fit
in has not been met. The cries for help have been ignored...
Questions of the Week:
What can school officials do to keep the students safe while keeping
the lines of communication open -- and not turning away students
who are "crying for help"? What policies or programs
would you like your school to have in place to make it easier
for people to share their concerns about possible threats? Who
could you talk with if you heard something that concerned you
(even a little)? Where is the line between being a friend and
being an accomplice? How can you keep yourself safe, while not
turning your back on a friend (or classmate) in need? What is
a "cry for help"? What can it look like? What could
you say or do if someone came to you with an obvious, or subtle,
"cry for help"?
Beyond waiting for "a
cry," what can the rest of the school do to help those who
are in need before they reach that point? If people are in need
of help, and they feel that no one is listening, what are some
things that they can do to get the help and attention they need
without hurting themselves or others?
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum