Question of the Week

March 28, 2005


You have no doubt heard the news...

"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.

"Mourning continues in Littleton, as investigators scrutinize gunmen"

"Diary reveals Colorado massacre was planned for year"

In 1998, even before Columbine:

"[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 13.
"He had been making threats that week..."
The threats were not taken seriously.
"We 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 save lives.

"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 time..."

"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?

"[P]ositive effects 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."

"...others knew beforehand that the student was considering a violent attack on the school."

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

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