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SANTEE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

Arrests Reflect Fear of More School Violence

March 08, 2001|MARTHA GROVES and MICHAEL KRIKORIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

In the jittery two days after the deadly shootings at Santana High School, at least 11 California students were arrested and several more suspended for reportedly making threats against classmates or bringing real or fake weapons to schools.

Arrests--in Orange County, the Inland Empire and elsewhere in the state and nation--were made as teachers, students, parents and authorities sought to head off copycat violence after Monday's shooting in which a 15-year-old freshman killed two and wounded 13.

In Pennsylvania, an eighth-grade girl was arrested after shooting and wounding a classmate at a small parochial school 180 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Police said the episode stemmed from a long-standing grudge between the two girls.

On campuses in California and nationwide, the threats and arrests put students on edge.

"I have a feeling they are going to shoot up the school," said Randa Brinkley, 14, a freshman at a Riverside County high school where an arrest was made. "I'm kind of worried."

Psychologists and school officials said they were not surprised that the shooting at Santana High School might have spawned "copycat" threats or increased reporting of such threats.

But experts said a shooting like the one at Santana alone is not likely to make a child turn violent unless the youngster is already on the edge of despair.

It "opens the gate for those already thinking about walking through it," said William Pollack, a psychologist who teaches at Harvard Medical School.

Peter Sheras, associate director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia, said: "The desire to be known and visible promotes some of these copycat cases."

The 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado spawned hundreds of copycat threats. In the four weeks after the shootings, more than 350 students were arrested on charges relating to threats against schools, school officials or students.

Among the incidents reported by authorities in California and elsewhere:

* At Perris High School in Riverside County, a 15-year-old boy was led off in handcuffs Wednesday afternoon after threatening to outdo the Columbine assailants. Officials said he had a 6-inch knife in his pocket. They said the student had boasted that he had learned to make bombs on the Internet and had scrawled swastikas on churches.

"He was a skinhead type who had told another student that 'the only difference between Columbine and Perris is that I will leave no survivors,' " said Riverside County Sheriff's Sgt. Mark Lohman.

* On Tuesday at the same high school, Luis Benavides, 18, was arrested after a teacher overheard him telling at least one student that he wanted to kill someone, authorities said.

Grant Bennett, principal of the 2,100-student campus, summoned a campus police officer, who quickly rounded up three students. The blade portion of a knife was found in Benavides' backpack, and two small-caliber rifles were found in his home. Another student was suspended.

Students who knew Benavides said he spent hours in class on the Internet. "He was a loner," said sophomore Lorraine Aguilera, 16. "He never went out at lunch."

* At Perris Union High School District Community Day School--a school for troubled youths--a 14-year-old boy who was upset at being enrolled went into a tirade Tuesday. He screamed at school officials that "he didn't want to go to the school and if they forced him he would get a gun and come back and shoot everyone," said Sheriff's Sgt. Lohman.

* In Twentynine Palms, two students were arrested Tuesday after a classmate at Monument High School reported that they had been threatening for more than a week to kill several students.

After the classmate told her father, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department charged the boys with conspiracy to commit murder and civil rights violations.

At the home of one, investigators found what they described as "a hit list" with the names of 16 students. At the other's home, they found a .22-caliber rifle.

"I don't know if [the Santee shooting] is why she came forward, but we are glad she did and that her father took it seriously," said Robin Haynal, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

* At Woodcrest Junior High in Ontarioin San Bernardino County Tuesday, two 12-year-olds and a 13-year-old were taken to juvenile hall after threatening to place a bomb on a teacher's desk. Classmates alerted the principal.

* At Chaffey High School in Ontario, a student was arrested Wednesday after officials learned that he had made written "terrorist threats" against a campus security guard, authorities said. The student may face hate-crime charges.

* In Garden Grove on Tuesday, a student was arrested and two friends were suspended from school after a campus aide spotted the 17-year-old in the Garden Grove High School parking lot holding a reproduction of an M-16 rifle, police said.

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