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June 3, 1998, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Why Kids Kill: Behind the school fear, by Julie Irwin and Kathleen Hillenmeyer,

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June 3, 1998, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Why Kids Kill: Behind the school fear, by Julie Irwin and Kathleen Hillenmeyer,


(Glenn Hartong photo)

Felicity Police Chief Ron Hesler reassures students at Felicity-Franklin Elementary School the day after a false rumor predicting violence kept half the students home.



A spate of school shootings across the nation that has left 13 students or teachers dead this school year continues to echo throughout the Tristate.


About 500 Felicity-Franklin students stayed home from school last week after false rumors of violence. Students in Madeira, Campbell County, Hamilton, Fort Mitchell, Morrow, Glen Este, Edgewood and Fairfield have been suspended or arrested this spring for threatening classmates or teachers or possessing guns in school. And countless parents and educators worry whether faraway violence could happen here.


In an effort to understand how shootings hundreds of miles away are affecting local schools, theEnquirer talked last week with dozens of area students and teachers and with national experts who study juvenile violence.


Students say they are not afraid to go to their schools but admit that violence could easily happen there. Teachers acknowledge they are disciplining children for acts they might have ignored at the beginning of the school year. And both students and teachers puzzle over the central question: Why?


"I'm embarrassed that this would happen. It's beyond me. I cannot fathom what goes through these people's minds -- that you would feel the need to kill somebody," said Allison Gideon, a 15-year-old freshman at Wyoming High School.




May 26, 1994

Clay Shrout, 17, of Boone County shot his parents and two sisters at their suburban home before going to Ryle High School and holding a classroom hostage. No one at school was injured. Mr. Shrout is serving a life sentence at a prison in Eddyville, Ky.


May 21, 1998

Kipland Kinkel, 15, of Springfield, Ore., killed two students and injured 22 others after killing his parents.


April 24, 1998

Andrew Wurst, 14, of Edinboro, Pa., killed a teacher and injured three people at a school dance.


March 24, 1998

Mitchell Johnson, 13, of Jonesboro, Ark., killed four students and a teacher and injured 10 others.


March 24, 1998

Andrew Golden, 11, of Jonesboro, Ark., participated with Mr. Johnson in the shootings.


Dec. 1, 1997

Michael Carneal, 14, of West Paducah, Ky., killed three girls and injured five other students.


Oct. 1, 1997

Luke Woodham, 16, of Pearl, Miss., shot ex-girlfriend and another girl and injured six others.


"It's one of those so-close-yet-so-far-away things. Like it's so close in America that it could happen anywhere, yet it's still so far away that you think it could never happen to you."


Students at New Richmond High School, Wyoming High, Chase Elementary School in Northside and a selection of Boone County schools said the shootings had not changed their attitudes toward school, which they see as a safe place.


"There's so many schools in America and this happened at (only a few) -- even if it's 10 schools, you don't think there's much of a chance of it happening at your school," said Peter O'Shea, 13, an eighth-grader at Conner Middle School in Boone County. "There's so many schools in America, what's the chance"


But others admitted the shootings had affected the way they think about the places they spend long hours every day.


"I'm not afraid to go to school now, but it's that little thought in the back of your mind: What if someone's there, what if we had a fire drill and there was someone in the woods," said Jenny Bradley, 16, a junior at Conner High School. "It's not that I'm scared to sit in the classroom, it's just the little voice in the back of your head that says it could happen."


Marcus Weber, 11, a fifth-grader at Chase Elementary, said school shootings across the country are making schools take threats more seriously.


"I've seen it happen on TV," the Winton Hills boy said. "That's giving people ideas on how to kill other people. It makes me think I might get killed."


Perry Denehy, who teaches health and sports medicine at Sycamore High School, said the recent spate of school violence has not preoccupied his co-workers.


"Our awareness has always been present," he said. "It's not the talk in the teachers' lounge or the fear of teachers coming into school. . .We all feel that it could happen at our school any day, but we can't dwell on it."


Mr. Denehy acknowledged, however, that educators' sense of threat to their safety has changed markedly.


"Ten years ago, we were afraid some outsider would come into the building and harm our students or teachers; now it's apparent the students themselves might be the offenders. That has changed in a fairly short time."


Some teachers and students noted that shootings have occurred in urban schools for years without this sort of attention or fear. Ralph Jackson, a 25-year veteran in his first year of teaching at Silverton Paideia School in the Cincinnati Public Schools, sees suburban schools reacting to threats of violence that urban schools are used to.


"Urban schools have dealt with this problem for a decade now," the fifth- and sixth-grade math and science teacher said. "This thing with guns has not been new with urban districts. That's one of the reasons we went to metal detectors.


"Now some of the suburban districts who may not have had problems with guns are now finding themselves threatened with the same kinds of things we've endured for a decade."


No easy answers


When discussions turn to a search for reasons, students' theories ranged from biology to poor parenting, from broken families to a thirst for attention, from a lack of fear to the pressures of adolescence. Several high-school students bemoaned the fact that younger kids had changed in the past few years.


"I think with kids now, especially lately in the past couple years or so, are thinking they've got a lot more power and think they can control adults," Casey Coslett, 17, a New Richmond junior, said. "It's like across the country -- a lot of kids everywhere hear on TV something's happened and they can do it, so why not try. A lot of kids think they can do stuff and they don't think about the consequences. They just do it."


Little Miami Junior High School teacher Madge Schrenk, who teaches seventh- and eighth-grade language arts, made comparisons too, to her days as a student, and also came up dumbfounded. Two eighth-grade boys at her school were expelled last week for threatening to shoot classmates on the last day of school.


"What is happening to our world?" she said. "What is going on that students now have access to guns and they have these thoughts? When I was in school, I wouldn't have begun to think of bringing a gun to school. We wouldn't even say it in a joking manner, now students say it in a joking manner."


But several students blamed age-old problems for the violence.


"The first thing that comes to my mind are where are the parents and why don't the parents know anything about them? . . . Especially with a little kid who has bombs!" said Olivia Esslinger, 16, a New Richmond sophomore.


"Some of these kids are home alone, and that really doesn't need to happen . . . I know not everyone has a cooperative family that is willing to help out but there are alternatives."


Miss Esslinger and others also thought the teen killers had craved attention -- and the media spotlight had given them exactly what they wanted, perhaps prompting other troubled youths to copy the crimes.


"These kids are getting exactly what they wanted. They're on the cover of Time and Newsweek. They're getting the attention from the people around them, they're getting the so-called revenge or justice what they wanted, and they're going to prison for five years and they're going to be out in the prime of their life," Miss Bradley, the Conner High junior, said.


(Enquirer file photo)
Students at Boone County's Ryle High School comforted each other the day Clay Shrout was arraigned in 1994.


Search for solutions


Most students had ideas for preventing future shootings. Most common: better discipline and stronger punishment. From teachers buckling down in the classroom to adult jails and even the death penalty, students thought their peers need more limits.


"I think the death penalty should be an option, especially when (the teens) are older," said Fred Wolfinger, 15, a New Richmond sophomore. "(Some argue) they're little and they're troubled, but every criminal is troubled. That's why they commit crimes."


For every student who thought gun control was the answer, there was another who thought guns had nothing to do with the problem. For every advocate of metal detectors, there was another who didn't like the siege mentality that detectors might produce.


Some mentioned changes at their school -- a ban on big coats in the classroom, doors that were locked during the day. Nicole Freeman, 11, a fifth-grader at Chase Elementary in Northside, was enthusiastic about a police presence in school.




 Experts debate nature, nurture


 Q&A with the experts


"It helps protect the kids," she said. "I think every school should have at least five police officers."


John Arceci, 18, a Wyoming senior, thought the problem -- and solution -- begins long before students are capable of bringing a gun to school.


"Some people instantly think violence is an option and natural progression is, I'm angry and I'm going to act in a violent way. That kind of feeling needs to be curbed," he said. "The message needs to be that violence is not something that should be condoned or promoted."


Perhaps the best hope is that everyone calm down, finish out the school year and begin anew in the fall, said Deloris Rome Hudson, a teacher at Hamilton High School and president of the Hamilton Classroom Teachers Association.


"We're not panicking or going to extreme measures because of (the shootings)," she said. "After one more week of school, we'll have a breather and start a new year with no new incidents. Maybe that's wishful thinking."


Tanya Bricking, B.G. Gregg and Marie McCain contributed to this report.


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