|San Diego Union-Tribune
School safety chiefs focus on prevention
Mar 27, 2001
By JOE CANTLUPE
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
ATLANTA -- The recent shootings at San Diego County schools have prompted a wave of
reports of suspicious conduct across the country, breaking a "code of silence" among
students and parents about troublesome behavior, school security officials said yesterday.
"Students are reporting about their friends, and parents are even reporting aberrant
behavior and asking questions, many for the first time," said Jack Martin, head of security
for Indianapolis schools. "There really has been a code of silence. I hate to say it, but
thanks to Santee, we may be breaking that."
While many law-enforcement officials are applauding the surge in reporting, they say they
are swamped with increasingly bogus rumors as they try to track evidence of potential
violence on campus.
San Diego schools Police Chief Tom Hall said he and his officers pored over 200 complaints
about potential violence following the March 5 shooting at Santana High School in Santee.
As a result, there were 19 arrests for inappropriate comments, but no real threats, Hall said.
About 50 school security chiefs from across the country gathered for their annual meeting
sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. They vowed to work with federal officials
to find ways to thwart threats before they become realities, such as the school shootings in
Santee and El Cajon this month.
Officials said in interviews and in roundtable discussions that districts are evaluating
everything from metal-detector systems to high-tech online security profiles and threat
management programs to help more readily identify potential threats.
Law enforcement officials warned that the system only can do so much in the face of a
myriad of potential problems affecting school districts.
Authorities say they continually are having to deal with potential "copycat" offenders and
hints of increasingly violent incidents involving the nation's youngest children.
"There are going to be a number of kids who don't come forward with problems, who fall
through the cracks, no disciplinary problems, who aren't on anybody's radar screen," said Bill
Modzeleski, head of the U.S. Department of Education's Safe and Drug-Free Schools
Program, which organized the session in Atlanta.
"Andy Williams can be the poster boy for falling through the cracks," Modzeleski said in an
interview, referring to Charles "Andy" Williams, the 15-year-old Santana High freshman
arrested after a rampage March 5 at the Santee campus that left two students dead and 13
In the days before the shooting, Williams appeared suicidal and warned fellow classmates he
would shoot others, his friends said. Williams had been bullied for months, his friends said.
Williams also was despondent after moving 18 months ago from Maryland, where he earned
good grades and had many friends, to California, where he often was seen as an outcast.
"There are a lot of Andy Williamses out there," Modzeleski said. "There's an Andy Williams in
every community. Every school has one. The question is: How do we foster those
connections to build confidence and trust in these kids so they come forward?"
Santana and Granite Hills High, in El Cajon, have become instantly well known among
security officials nationwide.
Granite Hills senior Jason Hoffman, 18, allegedly opened fire Thursday on campus, wounding
five people. Prosecutors say Hoffman's target was the school's dean.
Before the outbreak of violence at San Diego area schools, federal education officials and
the Secret Service had begun trying to help identify potential threats based on a study of
previous school shooters.
Melissa DeRosier, a psychological consultant based in North Carolina, told authorities
yesterday she is developing a threat- assessment computer program that focuses on
teasing, bullying and rejection by fellow students.
"Years of research shows peer reports of social problems to be vastly more accurate than
adult reports," DeRosier said. "Teachers miss 80 percent of children who experience severe
Although crimes across the board generally have decreased nationwide, "multiple targeted
shootings are of concern because of the tremendous impact, not only to the school, but the
community and the nation," Modzeleski said.
About 3,000 guns were taken from students last year, he said.
"Lord knows how many we haven't found," Modzeleski said.
But Hall said he was concerned about emotion-charged responses.
"People in the community are angry, they say we need metal detectors, we need
bomb-sniffing dogs, and let's put fences around our school," Hall said. "Their reaction is: This
cannot happen in school. The reality is that it does. But yes, we can do a better job in the
schools looking for indicators of violence -- working on the kids who are isolated -- to