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April 25, 2007
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Officials pack FBI seminar on school violence, threats

By Kimberly Vetter
The Advocate

EAST BATON ROUGE, LA. — Every school shooter is unique, but many share personality traits, a behavioral science expert told Louisiana educators and law enforcement professionals Monday during a seminar on school violence and threat assessment.

Those responsible for school shootings across the United States are usually easily frustrated and have low self-esteem and an exaggerated sense of entitlement, FBI Special Agent Terri Royster said.

They also lack empathy.

"There's a beginning and a middle to school shootings but there is never an end," she said. "They rarely think about the consequences of their actions."

Royster, who teaches in the behavioral science unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., drew an audience of 250 people, more than expected, following the recent massacre at Virginia Tech University.

Classes at the school resumed Monday, a week after Seung-Hui Cho gunned down 32 people then killed himself.

"We had to turn some people away," said Sgt. Markus L. Smith, a spokesman for Louisiana State Police, which sponsored the seminar at its headquarters on Independence Boulevard. "The response has been overwhelming."

Royster said she could not talk about the incident at Virginia Tech because it's still under investigation. Instead, she discussed several other school shootings, including the 1997 shooting spree at Pearl High School in Mississippi that left two girls dead and seven others wounded.

Luke Woodham, whom Royster interviewed after the killings, was convicted of two counts of murder and seven counts of aggravated assault.

In a separate trial, the 17-year-old was convicted of murdering his mother before the school shootings.

"It was perfectly OK for him to take someone's life," said Royster after showing her audience a tape of Woodham's confession. "He wanted to be a martyr for all of those people who are picked on and bullied."

Although it's hard to prevent such incidents, Royster suggested that communities create threat assessment teams.

These teams, she said, would be composed of law enforcement professionals, educators, social services representatives and probation and parole officers.

When a threat is made, no matter how big or small, the team would get together and discuss the threat, its validity and whether the person making the threat has the means to carry it out.

"Even if it's not a vital or true threat, you have to do something," she said.

Chris Trahan, communications director for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the system doesn't have threat assessment teams per se, but principals meet monthly with the system's security team.

Principals also have a security procedures handbook that details what they are supposed to do during a major event, and there are crisis management teams at each school designated to handle such events.

"If you make a threat you are taken out of school," Trahan said. "We take threats very seriously."

Five people from the school system, including its security director, attended Monday's seminar. Meanwhile, members of the system's crisis management teams are going through a four-day seminar on school safety conducted by Sandra Ezell, a school safety coordinator and trainer with the Attorney General's Office.

Beth Compton, with Jefferson Davis Parish's school system, said she has heard Royster's message before but it's good to hear it again.

"Interest is renewed every time there is an incident," she said, referring to Virginia Tech. "Luckily, we've never had one of our own."

Copyright 2007 Capital City Press
All Rights Reserved

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