School Climate & Safety

Student Tips Help Authorities Nip School Violence

By Michelle Galley — March 14, 2001 4 min read
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The shooting at Santana High School near San Diego last week came amid a series of recent incidents involving students’ alleged plans for violent acts on school grounds. But most of those potential episodes were averted when students reported threats or plots to authorities.

And at least 32 students at schools across the country were arrested for threats of violence or actual shoot-ing in the four days following the incident at Santana High, according to police and press accounts.

Two 17-year-old boys in Twentynine Palms, Calif., were arrested March 6 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit murder after police detectives found a .22-caliber rifle in one boy’s home, and an apparent hit list in the other boy’s home of 16 students allegedly targeted to be killed.

A classmate told her father she had overheard their conversations about the hit list during recent bus trips to Monument High School, a 100-student alternative school for students with academic or behavioral prob-lems. Her father reported the conversation to police, said Robin Haynal, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

The girl may have taken the conversations more seriously as a result of the shooting just the day before at Santana High. “I can’t say for sure, but I would think that in light of what happened in San Diego, that may be why she came forward,” Ms. Haynal said.

William Modzeleski, the director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Safe and Drug-Free Schools Pro-gram, told The New York Times: “If there is any good to come out of Santana, it is that more students understand that it is important that when they hear about another kid’s plan to carry out attacks, they tell an adult.”

Santana Reopens

Students at Santana High, located in Santee, Calif., some 10 miles north of San Diego, returned to campus on Wednesday of last week to an increased presence of law-enforcement officers, as well as some 200 counselors and mental-health professionals to help them through the aftermath of the incident that left two students dead-Randy Kerchner Gordon, 17, and Bryan Zuckor, 14-and 11 other students and two staff members injured. Police were dispatched to guard every San Diego-area school last week in a bid to pre-vent copycat incidents.

The reopening of the school two days after the March 5 shooting came as the alleged student gunman, Charles Andrew Williams, 15, was charged with two counts of murder, 13 counts of attempted, premedi-tated murder, and 13 counts of assault with a firearm. At the request of Mr. Williams’ lawyers, both public defenders,

a San Diego County Superior Court judge delayed the boy’s arraignment until March 26.

The lawyers have said they may challenge a California law that mandates that Mr. Williams automatically be tried as an adult. The teenager is being held without bail in the San Diego County Juvenile Hall.

Grossmont Union High School District officials barred four Santana High School students who had heard Mr. Williams’ threats but failed to report them from returning to campus for the rest of the year. District officials said the move was for the students’ safety and that they would help them find other schools to attend.

Meanwhile, several students at other Southern California schools were arrested last week on charges relat-ing to threats they made at their schools.

Three students at Woodcrest Junior High School in Ontario, Calif., for example, were taken into custody after allegedly threatening to place a bomb on a teacher’s desk. The principal of the 510-student school learned of the threats through the school’s rumor mill and called police, Ontario police officials said.

A 16-year-old boy in the same city also was arrested last week after allegedly threatening a school police officer at the 3,250-student Chaffey High School.

And at the 2,500-student Perris High School, in Perris, Calif., a 14-year-old freshman and an 18-year-old senior were arrested in separate incidents after allegedly making threats.

Other Incidents

Several other tragedies-in-the-making were apparently averted as a result of student reports last month.

In Elmira, N.Y, an 18-year-old student was charged with 11 felony counts of weapons possession after three of his classmates reported his planned violence. Police said the student had carried 18 homemade bombs and two loaded guns into the 1,100-student Southside High School.

In Hoyt, Kan., three students at the 260-student Royal Valley High School were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated arson last month after police uncovered a stash of weapons and 400 rounds of ammuni-tion at the students’ homes. The search came after a classmate informed school officials that the three suspects were making bombs.

Meanwhile, schools were the scene of several other actual or potential incidents of violence last week. Among the incidents:

o A 14-year-old girl allegedly shot a classmate in the shoulder on March 7 at Bishop Neumann Junior-Senior High School, a 230-student Roman Catholic school in Williamsport, Pa.

o At Camden High School in New Jersey, a 15-year-old honor-roll student allegedly threatened to shoot 10 students on March 6.

o Police recovered a .22-caliber revolver from a 12-year-old student at the 1,000-student Thomas G. Mor-ton elementary school in Philadelphia last week.

Editorial Assistant Vanessa Dea contributed to this report.

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A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Student Tips Help Authorities Nip School Violence

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