entertainment industry suits, they thought that pointing fingers at others in the community was inappropriate.

Michael Breen, the lawyer for the families, countered that it was exactly this unwillingness to pay attention to problems that had caused the tragedy in the first place. In Breen’s view “accountability is always painful,” but by bringing attention to those at fault, schools, parents, and the entertainment industry will become aware of their responsibilities, which may help prevent future shootings.

Thus far the courts have found overwhelmingly against the victims’ families. With the exception of a $42 million dollar judgment against Michael Carneal himself, all of the other cases were dismissed by the judge before trial and are on appeal.20 The quick adjudication of these cases has reinforced the sense of many in the community that the suits were groundless, but the victims’ families say that there have been positive results from the publicity that their suits have generated. As an example, they point to the fact that some large national retailers no longer sell point-and-shoot video games, and education professionals are paying close attention to prevention of school violence.

Preventative Changes at Heath High School

There were a number of changes at Heath High School and Heath Middle School in response to the shooting. While the principal at the time of the shooting said that before 1997 school shootings were “not even on the radar screen” of issues that principals needed to worry about, elaborate mechanisms are now in place to prevent and react to potential shootings in McCracken County. Because school shootings are such rare events, it is very difficult to tell if these changes are “working” or even what sort of indicators might be used to judge their success. We limit our analysis here to what students, parents, faculty, and administrators think of their effectiveness.

Beginning the day after the shooting and continuing to the present day, Heath has posted teachers at the entrances to the school in the morning to search students’ bags for weapons. Some of the teachers expressed considerable ambivalence about this role. One said that on the first day she apologized to each and every student for the invasion of privacy and lack of trust that the searches embodied. Students are also required to store their bags in their lockers once in the building. Over time, these procedures have become routine, and most students and teachers said that they make them feel safer, even if they do not think the searches are thorough enough to stop a determined criminal.

Other changes, which originated from the school board and not the site-based committee, have met with a much less positive reception, in

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement