GO Kids GO Family GO Money GO Sports GO Home

About GO Network
Sign in
Free E-mail

Sponsored by Music Boulevard














     World News
     This Week






Warning Signs Ignored

Wednesday, April 21, 1999
(This is an unedited, uncorrected transcript.)

DIANE SAWYER The word being used over and over again these past two days is “senseless.” But in fact, when you take another look, a close look as Cynthia McFadden did, at the disturbing number of recent school shootings, an astonishing pattern of behavior, of missed warning signs begins to emerge.

CHOIR (Singing) This is the day, this is the day that the Lord

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, ABCNEWS (VO) They were towns most of the country had never heard of—god—fearing places like Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; tranquil places like Jonesboro, Arkansas; safe places like Springfield, Oregon. But in each of these towns, in a blinding second, all of that changed. Now, the names of these towns have become hauntingly familiar. And yesterday, Littleton, Colorado, was added to the macabre list.

WOMAN OUTSIDE COLUMBINE HIGH I just keep thinking that this does not happen at our school and that I’m going to wake up and this will be over. Because—God, not at Columbine. You know, it happens in some other school somewhere else. It doesn’t happen here.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (on camera) In all of these cases, people asked, “why?” It seemed a senseless, gruesome pattern. All the shootings happened in school. The shooters well all adolescent boys with a whole cache of weapons. And yet, questions remained. Was there something deeper, something that could have predicted the violence?

GAVIN DEBECKER, VIOLENT BEHAVIOR CONSULTANT We want to believe these events are unpredictable, because then we have no duty to have predicted it.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Gavin DeBecker consults with the CIA and Supreme Court as one of America’s leading experts on predicting violent behavior.

GAVIN DEBECKER There are commonalities to these cases—100 percent are Caucasian, 100 percent made a threat first, 100 percent felt rejected or outside the group, 100 percent talked about weapons and had access to weapons.

DR HOWARD SPIVAK, PSYCHIATRIST Most if not all of these kids showed signs that they were in trouble.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Psychiatrist Dr Howard Spivak has studied violence for 15 years.

DR HOWARD SPIVAK Poor peer relationships, isolation, withdrawal, loners, often the victims of bullying.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Warning signs clear in retrospect. In Pearl, Mississippi, prosecutors say Luke Woodham, a lonely misfit and Grant Boyette, a brash outsider, had planned a takeover of this high school for over a year—a plan lots of kids knew about but quickly dismissed.

TEEN He’d been picked on all his life. And there were several times where he said that one day people would regret picking on him and one day people would regret underestimating him.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) In Jonesboro, Arkansas, 11—year—old Andrew Golden and 14—year—old Mitchell Johnson had stolen a cache of weapons from a family member for their meticulously planned attack. Fellow students knew the boys were up to something.

FEMALE JONESBORO STUDENT Me and a friend were standing in the gym. He came up to us and said, “Tomorrow you’ll find out if you live or die.”

REPORTER (interviewing) Why didn’t you tell anyone?

MALE JONESBORO STUDENT I didn’t think that he would, you know.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Dr Harold Koplewicz, an expert in adolescent and child psychiatry, says that in all of the killings there were warning signs that, if detected and treated, could have averted tragedy. (interviewing) But how do you account for the fact though so often the neighbors, the friends, say, Oh, such a nice boy.

DR HAROLD KOPLEWICZ We always hear things weren’t so bad. Then the history comes out. We find out there was cruelty to animals. That when the child was a little bit older, he beat someone up in elementary school. Then in junior high school, he seemed to be attracted to a very strange group of people or he started listening to very alternative music. The signs are there. The red flags were going up.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Listen to convicted killer Luke Woodham from Pearl, Mississippi.

LUKE WOODHAM, CONVICTED MURDERER I didn’t feel like I really had any friends, no one I could really trust. So I kept everything inside. Finally life got to the point where it wasn’t worth living. But I want to die. I just want to kill myself every day when I woke up.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Most school shooters seem to have a great deal in common with Luke Woodham. Most are depressed, some are suicidal. A depressed, suicidal child is one thing, a gun can make him a lethal weapon.

GAVIN DEBECKER People are seemingly reluctant to the blame these things on guns. We want to identify all the other issues that are at play. But the fact is that guns bring permanence to hostility and anger that would otherwise be transitory.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Consider young Andrew Golden, seen here at age 6 with his Christmas present—a real gun. Not a toy, a real gun with live ammunition. Five years after these home movies were taken, he was convicted of murdering four classmates in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Or Kip Kinkel, the freckled 15—year—old from Springfield, Oregon, who went on a shooting spree, murdering his parents and a schoolmate. He was arrested carrying a .22—caliber rifle, a .38—caliber pistol and a Glock semiautomatic handgun his father had bought him.

SPRINGFIELD STUDENT He had an—not an obsession with guns, but he was into guns. He always has to have a gun. I don’t know if it gave him some kind of inner, you know, feeling that made him feel like he was complete.

DR HOWARD SPIVAK So they’re basically saying in an unconscious way to themselves, I feel bad about myself, so I’m going to pick on you or hurt you or do something violent to you because that will make me feel better or make me feel in control, make me feel powerful.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Sadly, the signals missed in Jonesboro, Pearl and Paducah were also missing in Littleton, including cold, calculated planning.

DR HAROLD KOPLEWICZ I think it’s very troubling that they found the time and had the ability to plan this massacre and no one noticed that something bad was going on.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) There have been many red flags missed over the last two years. Perhaps had they been seen, dozens of school children might still be alive tonight. One critical red flag that Gavin DeBecker hoped will be noted this time is that these episodes of school violence tend to have a copycat quality to them. Sometimes, he notes, incidents cluster in geographic areas.

GAVIN DEBECKER As a person who predicts violent behavior, if I had to make a prediction today, I would be particularly alert to the area around Littleton and over the next five or six weeks because students in those environments now are seeing all the time on television and in newspapers this way to resolve their problems.

DR HAROLD KOPLEWICZ These are not normal children. Normal children do not do this. Parents can be reassured that their children are not going to snap tomorrow and bring a gun to school. But parents have to be aware that maybe their children have a problem that they’re not paying attention to.

CYNTHIA MCFADDEN (VO) Luke Woodham will never be forgotten in Pearl, Mississippi, for the day he destroyed a town’s innocence. Any more than Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold will be forgotten in Littleton, Colorado. But Woodham may also offer us a legacy of a different sort, an insight into a soul troubled enough to commit such violence. Hear what he wrote in his last will and testament—“I do this to show society, push us and we will push back. I suffered all of my life. No one ever truly loved me. No one ever truly cared about me.”

SAM DONALDSON Diane, we’re also going to have to figure out anew, if we can, why these things are happening today when they didn’t years ago. There’s something different in society, perhaps the family, perhaps the lack of a sense of mission nationally, perhaps what they see on television and in the movies.

DIANE SAWYER And, of course, the increased viability of guns. But it’s worth pointing out the Centers For Disease Control issued a report that reminding everyone that less than 1 percent of all homicides among school—aged children take place on school grounds. We keep that in mind for perspective, even as we search our souls tonight about what all this says.