Thursday, April 29, 1999

Students still rattled by shootings

'Are we safe?' common fear after Littleton

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        CARLISLE — Students at Chamberlain Middle School had a burning question Wednesday for Carlisle Police Officer Doug Lanier: Are we safe in our school?

        Officer Lanier, the school's resource officer, met with about 200 eighth-grade students Wednesday in this rural northern Warren County district to try to ease their fears.

        He talked to them about an April 22 lockdown of all the district's buildings, persistent rumors and concerns about the Littleton, Colo., massacre.

        Carlisle school buildings were locked down that day after an anonymous call was placed on a school hot line reporting a rumor of one or more students going to the middle school to assault teachers, Mr. Lanier said.

        More than a week after the Littleton shooting, some Tristate students are still rattled by the shooting spree.

        Educators and law enforce ment officials are still trying to quell and address rumors and threats while addressing students' anxiety.

        Across Ohio, threats in the past week have shown up in graffiti, electronic mail, phone calls and conversations between students as young as second-grade. Some schools were evacuated briefly and a handful of students have been charged, remain in detention centers or have been expelled.

        “It's happening all over the country, and Cincinnati's not alone,” said June Arnette, associate director of the National School Safety Center in Westlake Village, Calif. “You just can't escape it right now. I imagine kids are experiencing the raw emotion that we feel.”

        Some students are experiencing something akin to post-traumatic stress syndrome following the string of national school shootings, Ms. Arnette said.

        Constant media coverage of the Littleton shootings is keeping their fears fresh, she said.

        Students involved in copy-cat threats are simply trying to get attention, she said.

        “They're just trying to cash in on some of that exposure. I

        also think it's immaturity,” Ms. Arnette said. “After what we experienced last week, every threat is considered real because our consciousness has been raised.”

        So when students asked Officer Lanier whether such a shooting could occur in Carlisle, he tried to answer honestly.

        “I told them everyone has feelings, so unfortunately, yeah, the incident could happen at any school,” he said. “I told them over and over they're the eyes and the ears of the school.” He implored students to reach out to their teachers, parents, police or counselors if they hear about anything that would jeopardize their safety.

        Officer Lanier also reassured students that their community is concerned about keeping them safe. “My job today was to go in there and make them feel more comfortable,” he said. “A lot of them felt terrorized, felt something terrible was going to happen.”

        The shootings have been on the minds of many youths, said Scott Mussari, youth minister of the Community of the Good Shepherd Church in Symmes Township.

        “It's just one of those things that brings reality to them: disaster can happen anywhere, anyplace,” Officer Lanier said.

        The shootings made Tracy Ellspermann realize how open and trusting her school, Ursuline Academy, seems. Tracy, a senior from Symmes Township, said students are used to hearing about adults carrying out terrorist activity.

        “When it's kids our age, it's a lot different,” she said. “It's hard to imagine that any of the comments that I or any of my friends could make could be taken to the extent ... that their reaction would be so extreme, so violent.”

        So it gave Tracy pause when a friend jokingly said she wanted to kill her teacher Tuesday because she made her so angry.

        “Instead of laughing, moving on in the conversation, I stopped, looked at her and made sure she realized what she just said,” Tracy said.

        Her friend immediately “took it back” and didn't mean it, but Tracy admits she pays more attention to those kinds of comments.

        Adults also need to pay attention and make sure youths are held accountable for their actions, said Katie Poitinger, a school psychologist in Warren County.

        “I think the situation was so horrifying in Colorado, it has left all of us shell-shocked,” Mrs. Poitinger said.

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