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.

"The biggest change is that kids around the country have a better appreciation that they have some responsibility for letting people know when they find out dark things about other kids," said James Garbarino, human development professor at Cornell University.

Some of the warning signs to look for include poor coping skills, signs of depression, drug and alcohol abuse, alienation, narcissism, inappropriate humor.

“The best way to determine whether or not a student might be in path to attack is to examine recent communications and recent behavior,” said Bryan Vosselkuil of the Secret Service.

"A kid whose grades are changing and dress is changing is someone parents and teachers should talk to," said James Copple, former principal and vice president of the National Crime Prevention Council. "There are patterns that can't be neglected. If a kid is abusive to other siblings or animals they are most likely acting out their aggression."

What About the Counselors?

"Counselors can play a big role in keeping kids safe and preventing violence," said Kuranz. The days of the school counselor just preparing the college-bound kids with applications and resources are antiquated. "Part of our job is to judge the climate of a school and to provide a place that kids can go to when they need to talk to someone."

But, it is not always the case, Kuranz admits. "If they are allowed to do their job, counselors can have a huge impact," he said. "But sometimes the climate is not that supportive." Kuranz said that sometimes schools see guidance counselors as extras on a set and are relegated to banal administrative duties.

"The role of the guidance counselor has been changing, especially since Columbine," Kuranz said. "We are trained to look at the social, emotional and educational development of children. So, everything we do could prevent these kinds of disasters."

Screening children for depression is something that schools are able to do better than families sometimes, according to Brassard. "It is important to screen kids for depression and to find ways to hook them up with counselors they can relate to," he said.

Copple's main concern about schools today is overcrowding. He said crowded classes and high schools make it easy for troubled kids to slip through the cracks.

"The size of American schools and learning environments need to be more intimate," Copple said. "These are developmental years and kids need to know adults are listening. We need to get kids involved in our communities and in school programs. We need organized efforts to thwart school violence problems."

Urban school districts have been coping with violence and weapons for years. And, partly are more prepared because of experience.

"Mainstream and suburban America hasn't been that interested in hearing about urban school violence, but now they might be interested," Brassard said.

ABC station KABC in Los Angeles contributed to this report.