Red Lake Shooting

Sam Chaltain, Molly McCloskey
March 29, 2005
Have we learned nothing since Columbine?

It has been six years since the mass murders in Littleton, Colo. It has been one week since the school shooting in Red Lake, Minn. But Jeff Weise's desperate decision to extinguish the lives of nine innocent people, and then his own, makes the memory of Columbine and other violent episodes at American schools feel eerily familiar.

We still have a chance as a nation to respond to this tragedy better than we did six years ago. But we must resist the urge to reach for quick fixes and instead begin a deeper discussion about the role schools play in students' mental health and social acclimatization.

Experts say assailants are typically disaffected, socially handicapped, bitterly angry young men. "This is someone who is a failed loner," says Princeton University sociologist Katherine Newman, editor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. It is someone "who is repeatedly trying to gain access to peer groups that reject him." That was certainly true of Weise. As a neighbor told a reporter, "nobody took the time to get to know him."

Now, everyone knows Weise's name in death, even as his local community and the national media scramble to learn more about who he was in life. (Investigators arrested a second student on Sunday.)

Problems widespread

Every school in America has students who feel invisible, alienated and alone. So when will one child's murderous quest for attention alert us to the inadequacy of past responses to our other most vulnerable and disaffected young people?

Clearly, cameras and metal detectors — both present at the Red Lake school — are an insufficient response. Such security measures may be necessary initially, but in the long-term, communities are not built on fear and mechanical interventions. And although physical violence of this nature is extremely rare in schools, the conditions that led up to the shooting are not.

"With every interaction in a school, we are either building community or destroying it," says James Comer, founder of the School Development Program.

Scott Poland, director of psychological services for the Cypress-Fairbanks school district in Houston, agrees. "We need to work a lot harder on prevention," Poland says. "We can introduce all the complicated security technology imaginable, but in the end it comes down to how well we know our students."

Click the link below to read on in this op-ed.