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Jewish World Review March 7, 2001 / 12 Adar, 5761

Thomas Hargrove

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Consumer Reports

Pattern of teen shooters is known but unaddressed -- THE fatal violence at Santana High School in suburban San Diego this week proved yet again that even though teenagers who go on shooting sprees follow well-known patterns, schools are unable to effectively identify them.

Suspect Charles Andrew Williams, 15, had many of the classic characteristics of the so-called "classroom avenger," one expert said, when he brought a .22-caliber revolver to school Monday and reportedly smiled as he shot two students to death and wounded 13 other people.

"He is a diminutive Caucasian male who was taunted and teased by his school mates, had access to guns at home and made threats to commit school violence in advance. Yes, this definitely fits the pattern," said James McGee, Baltimore's chief police psychologist.

"As far as our schools are concerned, there is still a lack of a consistent way of responding. Many schools are reluctant to report an incident or a potential problem because they don't want their reputations sullied," McGee said.

George Petersen, associate professor of education leadership and policy analysis at the University of Missouri, agreed: "The way that we train people to prepare is problematic. This is an organizational issue and we are taking it in a very piecemeal way."

The patterns that Williams fit have become well known since McGee co-authored the widely distributed "Classroom Avenger" paper two years ago. He and Caren R. DeBernardo made a statistical study of the backgrounds of 17 teenagers who killed 45 students and teachers and wounded 85 others in a series of school-centered murders that have stunned the nation during the past eight years.

All of the killers saw themselves as social outcasts subjected to unfair teasing and victimization by other students or their teachers and principals. All were white males from middle class or blue-collar families.

All but one expressed suicidal feelings, and four took their lives after their attacks. All showed an unusually strong interest in weapons, the occult or the military and 14 had access to guns in their homes.

"The challenge is how, in a systematic way, to evaluate a kid who has made a threat," McGee said.

Petersen said schools also face a challenge in designing a curriculum and creating a campus environment less likely to turn adolescents into gunmen. He conducted an extensive study of violent incidents and the response to them in 15 school districts in 12 states.

"First, parental involvement is critical," Petersen said. "Ideally, both parents would be involved both with their children and with their school. It's important for schools to encourage parents to come in and be involved in the school."

Schools must develop lessons on positive inter-personal skills, work to help children have a positive self-image, and have effective conflict mediation programs.

"And most importantly is something I call media literacy," Petersen said. That means not allowing television or movies to define a child's self image or to mold his ideas of justice or the appropriate use of power.

"What is happening is that students - particularly white, suburban male students - are feeling disenfranchised and out of control," Petersen said. "They look at violence as a way to get power and control."

(Note: Copies of "The Classroom Avenger" are available for free by writing Dr. James P. McGee at: Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, 6501 N. Charles St., P.O. Box 6815, Baltimore, MD 21285-6815. It is also available on the Internet at: )

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