Feel relieved, but not complacent
- Gresham Outlook - Opinion
Springwater Trail High School did not become the next Thurston or Columbine on Tuesday.
And for that, we all can be extremely grateful.
The 15-year-old boy who fired two rifle shots through school windows shattered the feeling of safety at Springwater Trail, injured 10 students with flying glass and metal and irreversibly scarred his own life. As deadly serious as those consequences were, they fell well short of the carnage created by another 15-year-old Oregon boy - Kip Kinkel - who went on a rampage nine years ago. Kinkel first killed his parents and then shot two students and injured 25 others at Springfield's Thurston High School in May 1998.
No one in Oregon can think of school shootings without considering the indelible pain that Springfield experienced following the Kinkel shootings.
And while Gresham's outcome is vastly different from the shooting in Springfield, the two cases have some surface similarities - including a boy angry with his parents and the availability of firearms.
Shootings follow patterns
In the years since the Thurston shooting and an even more deadly 1999 rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado, the frequency of school attacks has decreased. We would like to believe that such tragedies are waning because school officials throughout the nation have become more adept at detecting signs of a youth bent on destruction.
And indeed, the education system did change in response to the previous shooting sprees. Many high school administrators and teachers today have undergone special training around the school-shooting issue. They are more aware of the potential for such violence, and they are better at identifying the warning signals. All that work may have reduced the number of shootings, but there are other factors at play as well.
Publicity is one such influence. Highly impressionable young people are prone to copycat behavior. With that possibility in mind, all area school districts should be on alert for the next few months. While there is no universal stereotype or profile of a 'school shooter,' there are definite patterns that lead up to these shootings.
According to research done by the U.S. Secret Service, most school attackers make plans and they tell others - a friend, classmate or sibling - about those plans. Another common thread is easy access to guns. In nearly two-thirds of such incidents, the shooter obtains his gun at home or from a relative.
Bullying also can be a factor that pushes some boys to retaliate with gunfire. And in most cases, the attackers engage in behavior before the attack that is cause for concern or further investigation.
Lock up guns; act on warnings
Educators already know about these patterns in school attacks. But they could use the help of parents and students in preventing the type of terror that erupted at Springwater on Tuesday.
Young people must be encouraged to step forward with troubling information. They must be reminded that their safety is the most important thing - not some code of silence that exists between them and their classmates.
And parents also must be attentive to behavioral changes. Depression is one common symptom of a child on the edge.
But perhaps the single most significant step that adults can take to reduce the odds of another school shooting is to lock guns away in a place that's inaccessible to young people.
Serious damage was done on Tuesday to students who were injured and to the educational atmosphere at Springwater Trail. But this attack could have been much worse. Gresham has much to be thankful for - the fact that no one was killed, the composure and behavior of students and parents who were affected by the attack, and the response of police and school authorities.
Now, those same stakeholders - students, educators, parents and police - must do what they can to ensure that this shooting is the only one that an East County high school ever has to endure.