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More school violence predicted

May 19, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A psychologist who does consulting work for the FBI and is chief psychologist for the Baltimore Police Department predicts there will be more school violence of the type that hit Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

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James McGee, who spoke at a public forum on school safety at Jefferson High School Wednesday night, has completed a 36-page article that examines the students and circumstances surrounding the 13 incidents of fatal school shootings across the country since 1993, including the Columbine massacre.

McGee, who is director of law enforcement and forensic services at Sheppard Pratt Hospital in Baltimore, said school shootings have escalated in violence and sophistication. Because students often copy behavior of their peers, the attacks are likely to continue, he said.

"The copycat phenomenon is very powerful with kids. I don't think it's over with," said McGee, who predicts students who "try to out-do" the two boys who killed 13 people at Columbine before taking their own lives.

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Superintendent of Schools David W. Markoe told those at the forum that he wants to form a task force to study ways to prevent school violence here.

"A lot of us wonder if this could happen in our schools," Markoe told school board members, teachers and others affiliated with school safety.

Unlike school shootings that are related to juvenile gangs, turf warfare or drugs, the shootings at schools in Columbine, Springfield Ore., Edinboro, Pa., and other towns appear to the crimes of vengeance, McGee's study suggests.

McGee described the assailants as classroom avengers, similar to workplace avengers, who shoot co-workers and supervisors.

McGee agreed to participate in the forum to help people identify students who may be prone to violence.

For instance, almost every student involved in such acts warns people about what he or she will do, McGee said.

"We need to take advantage of that finding," he said.

All the students who have been involved in the 13 shootings are male and McGee's profile says the assailants often come from dysfunctional families marked by divorce or intense episodes of friction between parents, McGee said.

Classroom avengers typically have a "negative body image," and often are perceived by other teenagers as geeks or nerds, according to the study, which he co-wrote with Caren DeBernardo, a post-doctoral fellow in forensic psychology and law enforcement at Sheppard Pratt.

McGee agreed with Jefferson High School Principal Richard A. Keeler, who said many students who have problems dealing with anger have been kicked out of their homes. As the students try to juggle school and a job, they become tired and angry over the increasing pressures, Keeler said.

McGee said there may be problems within a family that someone on the outside may not detect.

"Nobody knows about it until the gun goes off," said McGee.

Reverberations from the Columbine High School shooting have been felt across the country and in the Tri-State area in the form of bomb threats and other problems in schools.

Unlike the student shooting suspects, the ones who make bomb threats do not fall into certain profiles, said McGee.

"With bomb threats, everyone has gotten in on the act," said McGee.

Bomb threats are called in by pranksters or by students who are depressed and use the event to call attention to themselves, said McGee.

Fortunately, bomb threats rarely result in violence, he said.

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