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Students ponder school shooting

March 07, 2001

Students ponder school shooting

By ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Richard SantiagoMonday's shooting at a California high school made Amanda Voglesong reflect.

"It can happen anywhere. It's unexpected," Amanda, a freshman at North Hagerstown High School, said Tuesday.

"It crosses everybody's mind," she said.

Charles Andrew "Andy" Williams, 15, accused of killing two fellow high school students and wounding 13 others at Santana High School near San Diego.

Some students and an adult reportedly heard Williams, who formerly lived in Knoxville, Md., make violent threats over the weekend, but thought he was joking.

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That gives educators pause for thought.

"Any time that happens, it reinforces the fact the world has changed and school has changed," said North High Principal Dave Reeder. "We have to be more cognizant of what kids say and do."

There is no such thing as a harmless threat anymore, said Tom Moriarty, the director of health and emergency services at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa.

"Any time students or parents hear kids (make threats), absolutely they must take it seriously," he said. "That is not a joke. Anybody who jokes about it needs help."

Schools must emphasize that frustrated students can vent their anger to a guidance counselor, a police officer or any trusted adult, said Moriarty, who helps school districts create crisis plans.

Each Washington County school has a safety plan. Each school shooting "adds to the emphasis," Reeder said.

Washington County and Berkeley County, W.Va., operate hotlines where tips or concerns about violence can be phoned in anonymously.

Mary Jo Brown, a spokeswoman for Berkeley County schools, said Tuesday that only one call has come in to the district's hotline since Christmas, and that was for a situation unrelated to violence.

"This is not just a school problem. It's a community problem," Moriarty said, urging local government and business leaders to get together to talk about violence and prevention. Everyday confrontations, threats and bullying all bear examination, he said.

He called bullying "terrorism in its simplest form."

South Hagerstown High School senior Tiffany Breeding said bullying goes on at her school.

She and senior Brandy Price said there have been a few fights this school year. Usually, the confrontations center on relationship jealousy, Tiffany said.

The school still seems safe, though, "as long as you're not involved" in the dispute, Tiffany said.

Junior Richard Santiago said many classmates don't think a major violent act could occur at their school, but he hasn't ruled it out.

"It just takes one person," he said.

North High junior Lauren Voglesong, Amanda's sister, said the California shooting worried her.

It got her thinking about students who are isolated from their peers and who are left alone by teachers, and what these students think about.

"It just really makes you wonder," she said.

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