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Recent shootings should make us more diligent

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We are very grateful that Gresham's Springwater Trail High School last week did not become the next Thurston High or Columbine, or approach the horror that struck Monday at Virginia Tech.

We can make no sense of either occurrence - the chilling, senseless carnage in Virginia or the seemingly random violence at an East Multnomah County high school. We only know that schools are supposed to be places where students, faculty and staff are safe. No longer, it seems, is that safety guaranteed.

The 15-year-old boy who fired two rifle shots through a school window shattered the feeling of safety at Springwater Trail, injured 10 students with flying glass and metal, and irreversibly scarred his own life. But after the sobering story from the college campus in Blacksburg, Va., this Portland-area incident seems almost trivial. And it fell well short of the carnage created in Oregon by another 15-year-old 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.

In the years since the Thurston shooting, the frequency of school attacks had decreased. We would like to believe that such tragedies waned for a while because school officials have become more adept at detecting signs of a youth bent on destruction.

Attacks follow patterns

Indeed, the education system did change in response to 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.

If college administrators aren't receiving such training, they should do so immediately. So should campus police and security officers at Portland State University, Portland Community College and at private colleges, such as Forest Grove's Pacific University or Portland's Lewis and Clark College.

Special training and other forms of preparation may reduce the number of shootings, but there are other factors, 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 attacks.

According to research done by the U.S. Secret Service, most school attackers make plans - as was the case in Gresham. And they tell others - a friend, classmate or sibling - about those plans.

Another common thread between the Gresham case and other similar incidents is easy access to guns.

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.

Secure guns; share information

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 Trail last week.

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.

Teachers and parents also must be attentive to behavioral changes and not be afraid to seek professional assistance, including help from counselors, medical personnel and law enforcement authorities. 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.

While everyone should be relieved that the attack in Gresham did not result in loss of life, this isn't a time for local complacency. Students, educators, parents and police must do what they can to ensure that no Portland-area school ever has to endure the tragedy experienced at Virginia Tech or the risk that occurred in Gresham.