School Violence. Who is At Risk?
|By Annette Steinmetz|
Schools are supposed to be places of learning, safe havens where the young mind is scholastically molded and challenged. But more and more news of violence in the schools leaves images of something I would only consider to be a horrible movie scene. School shootings. Teenagers are armed with vengeance and whole arsenals ready to commit mass murders.
Rage over a traffic accident caused one Lynville, Tennessee teenager to open fire in a school hallway, killing one student and a teacher last November. In Blackville, South Carolina, a 16 year old student shot two teachers before turning the gun on himself. Another 16 year old boy wounded seven in a school cafeteria and killed two in Pearl, Mississippi last October.
With more news of teens going on shooting rampages at schools, it seems that everyone may be affected by this outrage. Parents must now consider possible violence in an institution that should protect and nourish their children. Educators are aware that their positions may encompass more than just teaching. They must now be alert for signs that may warn them of potentially dangerous students. The students themselves are fearful they might become victims. The National Institute of Education Safe Schools Study found that eight percent of urban junior and senior high school students missed at least one day of classes a month because they were afraid to go to school. Law enforcement must also be prepared to confront the mayhem that may occur in any school.
There are no clear profiles of the assailants. In the recent December, 1997, Kentucky shootings, Michael Carneal, a 14 year old boy gunned down three girls during a prayer group. His classmates described him as a prankster, not a gangster. He was not bullied in school and during his shooting spree, he did not seem to target anyone in particular. Afterwards he was immediately sorry for his actions.
Barry Loukaitis, on the other hand, seemed to be more disturbed than Michael. In February 2, 1996, Barry, then also 14 years old, shot and killed one teacher and two students, as well as critically injuring another. He targeted one boy in particular who had teased and bullied him. Barry’s family life was very unstable as his mother revealed numerous times her plan to commit suicide due to a bad marriage.
One thing they might have had in common was the influence of movies and books. Michael Carneal admitted a similar scene in the 1995 movie Basketball Diaries in which the “hero” shoots student and a teacher with a shotgun, may have influenced him.
Barry Loukaitis may have been thinking of the movie Natural Born Killers which a video store shows his household had rented seven times. Furthermore, he had 28 Stephen King books in his room. One of them called Rage about a boy who kills his teacher and holds his classmates hostage, was found on Barry’s night stand. After he shot his teacher in the back, Loukaitis, turned to one of his classmates and quoted a line from the book Rage—“This sure beats algebra, doesn’t it?” Finally, Barry, who also had the movie Fistful of Dollars in his room, dressed the part of a western villain. He wore all black, including black boots and a black cowboy hat. Two full ammunition belts were slung across his chest. A handgun was worn in holsters on each hip. He was ready for war.
Police who were called to the scenes have found that these kids were prepared to go the distance. They were heavily armed. Michael Carneal carried a .22-caliber pistol, two rifles and two shotguns which were apparently stolen from a neighbor, as well as 700 rounds of ammunition concealed in a blanket and his backpack. Barry Loukaitis was equipped with two loaded handguns and a rifle which he held under his black trenchcoat through a cut pocket.
These crimes did not happen in a crime infested, seedy section of a large city. These murders were committed in unexpecting small communities. The town of Moses Lake, Washington, where Barry Loukaitis lived, had a population of 13,000. Likewise, Paducah, Kentucky, where Michael Carneal slaughtered his classmates, is a town with a population of 27,000.
What can parents, schools, police and the public do to prevent such tragedies? Solutions aren’t so simple. It’s easy to say that parents must try to ingrain morals, the value of human life, and decency in their children despite outside influence, but they must first and foremost be examples themselves. Barry Loukaitis did not have a good role model. The public should be concerned enough to vote for tax money to be spent on school safety, but don’t we have other needs for our tax money, too? School faculty must take indications of morbid behavior seriously, such as the poem (see below) that Barry Loukaitis wrote about murder for his English class. But is it a teacher’s job or within the teacher’s capability to assess the mental stability of each of their students in each of their classes? Maybe it’s time to have a police officer set up at each high school, but is that feasible?
Many school districts around the nation have been working with programs that deal with crime and education. In 1993 the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Safe Schools Legislation, which were a series of measures to decrease the problem of school violence. In Jefferson City, Missouri, the governor is proposing safe-school acts that would crack down on violent students. In Tallahassee, Florida, State Education Commissioner Frank Brogan, plans to ask the Legislature for money to help with the training of teachers guidelines of reasonable force against students.
NASS, the National Alliance for Safe Schools, was established in 1997 to provide technical assistance, training and research to school districts interested in reducing school-based crime and violence. NASS is a non-profit organization which believes schools need to take back control. They offer school security assessments, educational programs for troubled youths, and positive training programs for teachers and student with topics that include:
? How to Deal with Crimes Against People and Property Offenses
? Dealing with a School Bully
? How to Develop a User-Friendly Crisis Plan
You can contact NASS at:
PO Box 1068
College Park, MD 20741
Peter Blauvelt, from NASS suggested that law enforcement coordinate with school principals before any incidents occur as to the language or specifics schools need to give the police during a disruption. Calling 911 to tell the police that there is a “disruption” at the school could mean anything from a fist fight to a gun fight. Law enforcement needs to be apprised of the weapons involved and the victims or suspects involved. It is not merely enough to state that a student or teacher has been injured. Police need to know if firearms are involved.
We must be aware that school violence may now include school shooting sprees. Whether influenced by movies, books, home life, or their own delusions, the kids who come to school armed are not bound by ethnic, religious, or cultural backgrounds. It can be any student, even an honor student, like Barry Loukaitis was, who has just snapped. They come heavily armed with grandiose ideas of making dramatic scenes with no regard to life. These shootings can happen in urban communities as well as metropolitan areas. School districts and law enforcement can work together to try and reduce response time by constructing an emergency dialog between principals and police precincts before any incident occurs. Finally, schools can contact organizations such as NASS to set up programs that may even prevent such horrendous acts.
Poem By Barry Loukaitis (Moses Lake Murders)
It’s my first murder
I’m at my point of no return
I can’t let him live now
He’d go to the cops for sure
So I finish.
I look at his body on the floor
Killing a bastard that deserves to die
Ain’t nothing like it in the world
But he sure did bleed a lot
School Shooting Since 1995
12-1-97 Paducah, Ky. 14 year old Michael Carneal killed three students and wounded five.
10/22/97 Norwalk, CA. 21 year old Khoa Truc “Robert” Dang fatally shot his 16 year old ex-girlfriend on her high school campus.
10/1/97 Pearl, MI Luke Woodham, 16, opened fire on his classmates, killing two and wounding seven more in the school cafeteria.
2/19/97 Bethel, AK After making multiple threats, 16 year old Evan Ramsey gunned down his high school principal and one student.
1/27/97 West Palm Beach, FL Tronneal Mangum, 13, shot and killed a
student on the sidewalk in front of his middle school.
10/31/96 Los Angeles, CA High school junior Yahao Albert Rivas, 18, shot
and wounded two classmates on a stairwell on campus.
10/21/96 St. Louis, MO A student with a gun critically wounded another student in a second-floor hallway.
2/29/96 St. Louis, MO Mark Boyd, 30, fired into a school bus after its door swung open, killing a pregnant 15 year old and wounding the driver.
2/2/96 Atlanta, GA David Dubose, Jr., 16, shot and killed a teacher in a
2/2/96 Moses Lake, WA 14 year old Barry Loukaitis shot and killed his
teacher, as well as two teenage boys and seriously wounded a girl.
10/30/95 Richmond, VA Edward Earl Spellman, 18, shot and wounded four
students outside their high school.
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