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Speaker urges Pa. audience to work on reducing violent crimes

Retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel says, 'These are the most violent times in peacetime history'

February 18, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com
  • Dave Grossman
Photo by Jennifer Fitch

WAYNESBORO, Pa. — Saying that the mass casualties at Sandy Hook Elementary School are “just the beginning,” an authority on violent crimes told police and school officials Monday that they need to act with urgency.

“Now is the time for all good men and women to come to the aid of their country,” said Dave Grossman, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.

The Franklin County (Pa.) District Attorney’s office hosted Grossman for a seminar about violence in schools. Held in the Waynesboro Area Senior High School auditorium, the event drew a couple hundred police officers, sheriff’s deputies, school board members, principals, superintendents and fire officials.

“Unfortunately, it can be a scary world. What I’m trying to take from this is thinking about what we can do to improve,” said C. Gregory Hoover, superintendent of the Greencastle-Antrim School District.

Murder rates per capita might be down from decades past, but that is because modern medicine is saving more victims, Grossman said.

“The number of dead kids out there completely underestimates the magnitude of the problem. ... These are the most violent times in peacetime history,” he said.

Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, professor of military science and an Army Ranger, provided the crowd with his suggestions to curb violence in schools. One of his main points was that the violence portrayed in television, movies and video games can be the first phase (fantasy) before a child plans, prepares and executes a real attack.

Grossman, who has testified before Congress, presented brain scans showing how violent video games affect a child’s fight or flight response. He said the military uses a human-shaped target for soldiers to develop a stimulus response, and he said video games do the same thing.

In other, more traditional forms of games, someone gets hurt and play stops, Grossman said. Young people, who have trouble differentiating between reality and fantasy, continue to “shoot” targets in the video games as they go, he said.

Waynesboro Area School District Superintendent Sherian Diller said she knew video games could shape a child’s thinking, but said the information presented by Grossman really emphasized that.

“I think that message needs to get out to parents,” she said.

“This is an outstanding event today,” said Waynesboro Mayor Richard A. Starliper, who noted he was thankful for good attendance.

Starliper said he appreciated information about video games, metal detectors and dress codes. He said he expects some ideas to be more feasible than others to implement, in part due to finances.

“These are the items that will be helping cut down on violence in schools,” Starliper said.

Grossman assisted families during a March 1998 school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark., where he was living at the time. He relied on his training in post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We applied the lessons of the battlefield ... at the school that day,” he said.

Grossman urged early intervention, saying teachers should not accept writings or artwork that contain violent themes. He said communities should participate in events that call for televisions to be turned off for days at a time. He suggested busloads or classrooms of students randomly undergo scans with metal detectors.

Waynesboro Area Senior High School Principal Chris Dennis said the seminar reiterated that safety and security should be the utmost priority in schools.

“I’ve appreciated the opportunity to balance things and see them from an educator’s perspective and law enforcement perspective,” Dennis said.

Franklin County District Attorney Matt Fogal told those gathered to put into action some of the suggestions.

“Today is a failure if all we do is sit and listen and nod our heads,” he said.

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