- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

More than half of the youths involved in school violence threatened others, wrote notes, got into fights or took other actions to signal their deadly intentions, says a study in today's Journal of the American Medical Association.

This points to the need for parents and school leaders to redouble their efforts to spot warning signs of violence and neutralize events before they happen, said Dr. Mark Anderson of the division of violence prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the five-year study.

Since the early 1990s, the number of fatal school incidents has declined, Dr. Anderson and his colleagues found.

However, because the number of incidents with two or more victims went up in recent years, "total homicide rates for students killed in school-associated violent death events have increased in recent years," they said.

But violent school-associated deaths represent "a small fraction" of homicides and suicides among school-age children, the researchers found.

Nationally, during the study period, 12,376 students aged 5-18 died in homicides, and 8,165 died in suicides. Of those deaths, 155 homicides, or 1.3 percent, and 28 suicides, or 0.3 percent, were associated with schools.

"These findings verify that our schools are very safe, and that few people become homicide victims on or near schools," said Education Secretary Rod Paige.

Still, schools and communities should develop school-safety and emergency plans for crime prevention and response, as well as pay "close attention to threats" and "bullying behavior," Mr. Paige said.

The CDC study examined 220 school-associated violent events that resulted in 253 deaths between July 1, 1994 and June 30, 1999. Incidents were counted if they occurred on campus, on a school trip, or if the victim was on the way to or from school. Of the 220 incidents, 172 were homicides, 30 were suicides, 11 were homicide-suicides, five were police-related and two were unintentional shootings. Firearms were used in three-quarters of the events.

Students accounted for 172, or 68 percent, of the deaths, resulting in an average annual incidence of 0.068 deaths per 100,000 students, the study found.

Male students had death rates more than twice as high as those of females; black students had death rates more than three times higher than those of white students; and urban schools had death rates almost twice as high as those of rural schools. Almost half of the fatal events involved "interpersonal disputes" about such things as boyfriends or girlfriends, money, property or sporting events.

About a quarter of the violence was gang-related, while five were "racially or hate-crime related." The rest were crime-related or had no identifiable motive.

In 54.5 percent of events, there was a threat, note, journal entry, argument, fight or other clue that violence was brewing, the researchers found.

They also found that assailants were more likely to have been in fights, been reported to school authorities, been bullied by peers, joined gangs, expressed suicidal behaviors, have histories of criminal charges, have used drugs or alcohol, associated with "high-risk peers," or been "considered a loner."

Most violent events occurred "during transition times" the start of the school day, lunch periods or the end of the school day, researchers found. The 2 to 4 p.m. period was slightly more dangerous than other times.

Schools should be able to reduce violence by reducing crowding, increasing adult supervision and addressing disputes during these intervals, the study said.

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