School Shooting Leads to Rash of Threats

ByABC News
April 4, 2005, 11:18 AM

April 11, 2005 -- -- Since the shootings last month that left 10 people dead in Red Lake, Minn., there has been a rash of threats of violence at schools across the country. While such threats are disturbingly common, officials in Kansas, Texas, Michigan and Oklahoma said these incidents were more serious than usual.

Several of the threats have led to arrests, in two cases of children as young as 14, one of whom is being charged under a terrorism statute that could put him behind bars for up to 20 years.

While such "copycat" behavior by adolescents is very common, it may seem baffling that kids would emulate a behavior that, at the very least, is likely to land them in jail and get them generally disliked, and at worst will end with them dead.

"We have the sense with troubled adolescents, among a subgroup, that there is tendency to engage in copycat behavior," said Nadine Kaslow, a professor and chief psychologist at Emory University in Atlanta. "We get it in suicide epidemics, we see some of it with school shootings. Some of it is the media attention. Sadly, it is a way to get noticed. These are often kids who have been neglected, whose voices haven't been heard. This is a way to be heard."

For some of these youngsters -- the ones who generally make the most serious threats or actually carry them out -- the anger likely to be provoked by the way they choose to make themselves heard is not something that disturbs them.

"They're kids who feel so isolated, typically they don't care that nobody will like them afterward," Kaslow said. "Nobody likes them anyway."

There is no reason to expect the fact that Jeff Weise, the 16-year-old blamed for the shootings in Minnesota, ended the rampage by shooting himself, would deter other youngsters who because of bullying at school, neglect or abuse at home, or other factors, feel pushed to the edge, she said.

"Partly, just like kids drive their cars really fast, they have a feeling of being invulnerable, they don't really appreciate their own vulnerability," she said. "Partly, it's life isn't worth living. They don't care. Part of it is that they think they're noble, they're almost like suicide bombers, they're dying for a cause."

If events like what happened in Red Lake put ideas in some kids' heads, they should also make police and school officials a bit more vigilant, police and administrators around the country said.

"In the day and age we live in, and we just had a recent school shooting, you can never look at these things as, 'Well, some kid just popped off' or 'Some kid was just blowing off steam,' " said Michael Pomarico, the superintendent of USD 260 in Derby, Kan.

In Derby, it began with strong words at a church youth group meeting, and ended with a 16-year-old boy in a juvenile detention center.

"We took a report from some individuals about some criminal threats," Derby police Lt. Jimmy Queen told ABC News affiliate KAKE-TV in Wichita. "Earlier in the evening, a juvenile male, 16 years old, had made some threats toward certain individuals and toward the Derby High School and the Derby Middle School."

Police interviewed several witnesses and then took the boy into custody on March 30. The district was notified and has launched its own investigation.

"You have to take it seriously and we are," Pomarico said.