KREMMLING - It was a call to kindness in West Grand on Thursday night - even more than arms.
Citizens nearly filled the 500-seat auditorium to hear presentations and share ideas on how to prevent extreme school violence in the community. And what rose to the surface more than any specific solution was the expressed importance of support for students at home, at school and in the community.
"Kids are dying to know they're not alone," said keynote speaker Larry Scott, the uncle of Rachel Scott, who died in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.
"Everything starts in the home, everything," he said. "Until we get a grip on that in our nation, we're going to continue to have violence."
Scott's presentation was a compelling video and speech narrative about his niece, a young lady who was the very first victim in the heinous Columbine crime. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot her four times as they entered the school before continuing a shooting spree that ultimately killed 12 students and a teacher and injured 27 other victims.
Rachel Scott's younger brother Craig had been in the library that day. While under a table, he witnessed 10 of his friends murdered. His life was spared only because the sprinkler system turned on from the smoke of the gun fire, causing the two shooters to flee.
Six weeks after the tragedy, the family discovered in Rachel Scott's room an essay she had written entitled "My Ethics, My Codes of Life," that has since become a manifesto for kindness, fueling a series of student empowering programs reaching thousands of communities in the U.S. Her story and the journal writings she left behind have become the source of inspiration for millions of people, having helped to discourage school violence and bullying. Her legacy has captured the attention of two U.S. presidents and many celebrities.
"It's not an anti-bullying program, but a pro-kindness program," Larry Scott said, who shared Rachel's Challenge of looking for the best in others, dreaming big, choosing positive influences, speaking with kindness and starting one's own chain reaction of kindness, as well as her brother Craig's message to end prejudice.
The details of the Columbine tragedy and Rachel's story were introduced at the West Grand forum after Robert Gaskamp, special agent with the FBI, shared statistics and details of extreme school violence in the U.S. Although the FBI does not have an official profile of such killers, all share the "common goal of retribution," Gaskamp said, and 93 percent of school shooting perpetrators planned their sprees out in advance and 80 percent told at least one person prior to their crimes.
Another common thread: "Most of these incidents start at home, problems in the home," Gaskamp said. "We need to take time and pay attention to what is going on. ... Nobody knows what's normal with these children but the parents." The FBI special agent also pointed out the Newtown, Conn., crime took place in spite of that school's attempts to prevent one. Newtown Elementary School "had every type of security measure in place you could ask for, and it didn't work," he said.
The odds one child might be exposed to an extreme violent act in a school is one in 2 million, Gaskamp twice said. "School is still the safest place," he said.
Prior to his talk, West Grand Superintendent Terry Vanderpan listed the measures West Grand has been taking to beef up security at the district's schools, such as limited entries, 30 video cameras at both buildings with plans for more, strong presence and security involvement of local police, easy messaging for emergencies, radios on buses, student, faculty and police security drills, and plans for being the first school in the state to acquire alert necklaces that can notify police immediately.
But the forum, presented by The Forward Motion Committee and sponsored by the West Grand Community Education Foundation and other businesses, was held to discuss if more should be done.
"National and state leaders have failed our schools on this critical issue," said Forward Motion Committee member Perry Handyside.
Citizens shared their views about whether additional measures should be taken, while three individuals on the auditorium stage recorded comments to be compiled and presented to the West Grand School Board "to empower them to make decisions," Handyside said. The committee also invited community members to write suggestions on backs of programs and drop in a box or email them to the committee.
Guns and guards
One of the first citizens to speak, Carl Wood, advocated for concealed weapons in the hands of school personnel "who desire to," a suggestion supported by Duane Scholl, who spoke later.
Both their comments drew applause from some in the audience. On guns in schools, FBI Special Agent Gaskamp warned much later in the program, "it may be introducing a gun to a situation where there wasn't one," he said. "I'm not advocating one way or the other, just giving you something to think about."
He made the point that not everyone would have the fortitude to use it properly in the correct situation.
Debbie Wood, a bus driver at West Grand, then took the microphone and said she if she were allowed a weapon, she wouldn't hesitate to shoot anyone who tried to harm the children on her bus.
Other comments called for more police presence and security guards in schools.
But Kelly Weimer of Grand County Juvenile Services said it may be an overreaction having law enforcement stationed in schools. If perpetrators wanted to do harm, their plot would include knowing "where the cop is," she said.
Meanwhile, there's a general breakdown in societal priorities, said Grant Burger III, such as how the fortress of the Denver Mint compares to the extent we protect our children in schools.
Later, Burger addressed a question to Gaskamp about school emergency procedure: "Hide under the desk? Is that the best we can do? Lock the door?"
Gaskamp said it's best to empower faculty members to make decisions during crises about how to bring students to safety.
Bullying, mental health
Of those who spoke publicly, most touched on the essential need to support young people in the home and in every step of life. Doing this takes the entire community, said Linda Sherman. "Point out their strengths, point out their gifts," she said.
Troubled behavior in youth is usually "a manifestation of what is going on in the home," Weimer said.
"What happens at home is where solutions need to start," said Grand County Commissioner Merrit Linke, who also talked about the need to work on "the prejudices" concerning "the East-West division" in Grand County.
Others touched on needing a broader culture of spirituality in raising and educating children.
And several who spoke called for addressing the mental health side of the issue. Laurie Lang suggested implementing a crisis intervention hotline for troubled youth, while another speaker said she could help introduce therapeutic horseback riding to young people.
"Bring these guys back, get them in to talk to the kids, that's where it starts," said Kenny McNichols about introducing the Rachel's Challenge empowerment program to West Grand Students.
And the last citizen to address the crowd brought up special mental-health training for teachers to help them recognize and give attention to troubled youth. Moreover, a professional "mental health assessment" could be conducted at West Grand. "Mental health is the key issue," she said.