- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 7, 2000

The FBI yesterday pointed out dozens of potential risk factors educators can use to help identify school children prone to violence, but warned that it cannot pinpoint those children likely to attack classmates or teachers.

Despite a checklist of danger signs, the FBI concluded in a 45-page report there is "no research" at this time that has identified "traits and characteristics that can reliably distinguish school shooters from other students."

In a two-year, nationwide study of 18 school-shooting cases by the bureau's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, the FBI said risk factors identified by investigators "will help those children who show a propensity for violence" by giving school officials various warning signs.

Attorney General Janet Reno also warned in the report that the specific threat assessments by the FBI were to be used "judiciously" to avoid "the risk of unfairly labeling and stigmatizing children."

She said the FBI's report could be used by school officials to help students who show a propensity for violence and "protect innocent school children before they become senseless victims."

FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard said the information would help school officials "identify and deal with high-risk threats that are a major concern."

The FBI has taken a lead role in helping educators and others, including state and local law enforcement authorities, determine the best ways to predict and prevent school violence. The bureau's involvement began in May 1998 and has included more than 200 seminars on school violence.

The report listed more than three dozen warning signals, which include recurrent themes of destruction or violence in a student's writing or artwork, students who nursed resentment over real or perceived injustices, those fascinated with violent entertainment, and families that kept weapons in the home.

The report also pointed to students who show hopelessness, despair, hatred, isolation, loneliness, nihilism or an "end-of-the-world" philosophy.

The report also focused on students who are easily angered, who are in a failed love relationship, who have an attitude of superiority, who are rigid and opinionated, who show an unusual interest in sensational violence, have poor coping skills, show signs of depression, abuse drugs or alcohol, express inappropriate humor, and have no limits or monitoring of television and Internet use.

Investigators also said news coverage of school shootings had given the incorrect impressions that school violence has reached epidemic proportions, that all school shooters were alike and that the shooter always was a loner.

Although the 18 schools examined in the report were not identified, the report said the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., gave added urgency to the FBI's research efforts. The Columbine shooting, in which 12 students and a teacher were killed, was the deadliest in U.S. history.

Since that much-publicized shooting, demand for the FBI's expertise concerning school violence has grown so much that bureau officials in Washington have been unable to keep up with requests for assistance. In response, the FBI set up teleconferences throughout the country to share as broadly as possible what the bureau has learned from experience in investigating violent incidents at schools.

"One of the greatest contributions we can make is bringing people together to talk," said Supervisory Special Agent Joseph A. Harpold, a member of the FBI's behavioral sciences unit who teaches at its training academy in Quantico, Va. "Once you experience something like this, the community is never going to be the same again."

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