Disturbing news, important lessons for our time

News item: La Grande, April 15, 2016 – Two boys, age 14 and 15, appear in court accused of threatening mass violence, plotting to kill their principal and others.

News item: Nyssa, March 30, 2016 – The Nyssa Police Department hosts a training at the local school aimed at helping law enforcement officers respond effectively to active shooter situations.

These are two stories with no direct link, but there’s a common reason behind the headlines: the repeated incidence of mass violence in U.S. schools over the past two decades. The news about school shootings is sobering not just for the content, but for the face that such horrific events have started to seem almost commonplace.

Schools targeted in the past are household names – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech. Closer to home, we have added to the list: Thurston High in Springfield, Umpqua Community College in Roseburg. These are not odd places with dark auras and foreboding pasts; they are small cities and school communities much like our towns, where residents wouldn’t imagine tragedy could strike – until it did.

Certainly, we don’t want to think it could happen here. But as with any trend in crime, awareness is a critical resource. The training held last month in Nyssa provided not just valuable role-playing sessions but new information on strategies for agencies to deal with such incidents. There’s no way to cover all the possibilities, but for law enforcement, these kinds of updates are well worth the time, and the department deserves credit for making the effort. For the community, it’s good to know that local police are training and getting the latest strategic information, should the unthinkable occur.

It’s also important to note that in the recent La Grande incident, the alleged plot came to light when other students did the right thing. They heard boasting about “something like Columbine” and they didn’t brush it off or hush it up. They told someone, and responsible people reported it.

Was it just a couple of boys talking tough, as one defense attorney contended? We’ll let the court figure that out. In the meantime, our young people need to know that threats of violence are serious business, and we hope they will be open about what they hear. It’s not about living scared; it’s about living smart.

This is a lesson for all of us. We are partners in keeping our schools safe. As the police and school employees must hone their skills for coping with violence, the rest of us also have a role: to foster awareness in our youth and in our community. – SC