Warning Signs and Preventing School Violence

In Santee, Calif., a student's threat went ignored — and a community paid the price.

But the tragic and painful lesson has not gone ignored. In Perris, Calif., a 90-minute drive from the Southern California scene of Monday's tragedy, four teens were overheard Tuesday talking about their desire to murder.

Were they joking, or was this another Columbine, another Santana, in the planning stage?

“There’s no such thing as a joke anymore as it relates to violence or threats of violence or saying you’re going to get the gun,” said Sgt. Mark Lohman of the Riverside County, Calif., sheriff’s department. “We can see what happened if somebody doesn’t take it seriously.”

Deputies in Lohman’s department found a knife in the backpack of one of the students in question, and guns in his home. And that’s not the only case his department is dealing with. A student at Perris Community Day School, a continuation school, allegedly threatened to shoot everyone if transferred.

“That’s something you don’t joke about,” said Lohman.

Taking Threats Seriously, Across the Nation

Outside of Little Rock, Ark., faculty members locked down the students at Bryant High School and used metal detectors to search the campus for weapons at around 8:30 Tuesday morning.

A note that contained threats against a faculty member was found by another faculty member and reported immediately, according to Bryant police.

Just a day after the Santana High School shooting, it was another reminder of the threats schools can face, and administrators say the lockdown was standard procedure.

The suspect in the shooting at Santana High told other students and a family friend that he planned the shooting. Friends said they searched the teen but didn't check his backpack.

Both cases once again highlight the growing concern over school violence, and raise questions about faculty response to questionable behavior and statements made by students. Suburban and rural educators have been asking these questions a lot more since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went of a suicidal shooting spree at Colombine High School almost two years ago.

"Since Columbine, schools have made an attempt to create an environment that allows kids to come talk to their counselors and staff," said Mark Kuranz, president of the American School Counselor Association and a guidance counselor in Racine, Wisc. Across the country, counselors mostly rely on school administration and principals in pointing out potential problems. Police are usually then contacted by administration.

"Every school is different but if they respond to their students needs at every level these kinds of things could be avoided, or at least the feelings of depression and suicidal feelings can be confronted," said Marla Brassard, associate professor of psychology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University.

Preventing Columbine and Santana

In many cases, the increased concern has paid off. Over the past few months, potential Columbine-style massacres have been prevented by people who noticed red flags, took them seriously and notified authorities immediately. In January, a photo lab clerk's tip to San Jose police led to the arrest of 19-year-old Al DeGuzman on weapons and explosives charges for allegedly planning an attack on De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif.

In February, high school students in Fort Collins, Colo., and Hoyt, Kan., prevented similar attacks by telling authorities about their classmates' plans.

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