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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
school and allowed the Heath community to come together following the tragedy. Attendance was 90 percent. Counselors were brought in for the students, parents, and teachers. After a few days, school officials decided to ask counselors from outside the school district to leave. Students responded best to adults they knew well, and teachers became informal counselors. Over the next week, the school day gradually returned to its regular schedule and instruction resumed. Yet teachers reported that it was not until the next school year that the school returned to anything approaching normal.
Many in the community united against the presence of the media, particularly the national media, who bore the double onus of being outsiders to the community and reporting on the worst incident in the town’s history. The national media outlets, in fierce competition with one another, staked out the school, the local barbeque spot, and the courthouse, generally disrupting already fraught daily routines. Even more egregious, in the view of many we talked to, was the badgering and harassment of students to give interviews, often without parental consent and sometimes without even the students’ own consent. One student described how a reporter refused to accede to his request not to be interviewed and chased him across the school parking lot. In one response to the media onslaught, neighbors who lived on the street of the Carneal home built a blockade to keep the media away from the beleaguered family.
The Carneals were also a subject of much sympathy in the community. Many of those we talked to spoke movingly about what they imagined it would be like to be the parent of a child who had done something so horrendous, saying that in some ways it would be worse to be the parent of the shooter than of one of the victims. The parents’ previous reputation in the community and Kelly’s all-around success shielded the family from many of the negative judgments that otherwise surely would have emerged. Numerous people reported that on the morning of the shooting, before she learned the identity of the shooter, Carneal’s mother raced to school with blankets to see if she could help. The Carneals had roots in the community that went back several generations, and the family attended the church that Michael’s grandparents attended. For all of these reasons, many in the community, even those who did not know the Carneals personally, extended their web of empathy to include the Carneal family.
Civil Suits and the Second Life of the Shooting
The parents of the three slain girls had little sympathy for the Carneal family, however. They commented that the Carneal parents were given a