After Littleton

School shooting: Counselors, programs needed to address sickness beneath the volatile symptoms.

April 24, 1999

NEW PIECES keep turning up in Colorado, but the puzzle is still scrambled.

Could Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold have transported so much ammunition, including two propane-tank bombs, without help? How did their bomb-making in a garage go unnoticed?

And a larger question: Are adults capable of detecting true danger in teen-agers?

The staff at Columbine High missed ominous signals that did not go unnoticed by the killers' peers, including a video depicting a massacre the suspects are said to have produced for a class project. In an interview, the school's principal lamented that he wasn't sufficiently attuned to the rumblings. Yet even court officers assigned to assess the suspects' mental state after their conviction for a misdemeanor judged both intelligent with great potential.

Tuesday's massacre is awakening the nation. Officials and tipsters were alert to other incidents involving guns and bombs at schools this week. Even as more unfolds in Littleton, do not expect a road map for society. The signs keep changing.

Many school systems adopted dress codes years ago outlawing baseball caps, which now seem innocent compared with trench coats. In Baltimore County years ago, the penalty for phoning in a threat about a bomb was more harsh than for detonating one, perhaps because the latter was inconceivable. Some schools aggressively filter out Internet pornography, but what about information on making explosives?

Misanthropic musicians, angry movies, anti-heroes will change. The constant is the hate festering in some kids. Add guns and disaster can result. Guidance counselors are usually too few -- assigned to scores of children, even hundreds. More investment is needed in counselors and other resources to address these conflicts earlier.

The ultimate responsibility, of course, lies with parents, not schools. Unfortunately, the lives and educations of innocent children can't rest on the uncertainty of their response.

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