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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
tion group. But the tragedy also left psychic scars on those closest to the shooting. Many students went to individual and group therapy for years after the shooting, including some who are still in treatment, and at least one went abroad for a semester in part to escape the memories of the horrible event.
When asked what they regretted about their handling of the aftermath of the shooting, the school administrators noted that they did not give enough support to the teachers and other school staff. Teachers were expected to be there for their students but also needed time to grieve and heal. Many teachers have children of their own attending the school and live in the community, so they were some of the most affected by the tragedy.
Of course the greatest loss is to the lives of those who were shot and to their families. The students who survived have been remarkably resilient. Of those who have had media accounts published about them, Melissa Jenkins went to college, Hollan Holm was a valedictorian, and Shelley Schaberg, unable to fulfill her lifelong dream of playing college basketball because of nerve damage that affected her hand-eye coordination became a varsity college soccer player. The families of the victims who died, by contrast, have been devastated by the loss of their daughters. Whatever the result of the civil suits, the families said, there will always be a huge void in their lives that nothing can replace. And the personal rejection they have encountered in the community as a consequence of the civil suits has left them isolated from some former friends.
In the course of our interviews with adolescents, we are reminded once again of how “adolescent society,” as James S. Coleman famously dubbed it 40 years ago,24 continues to be insulated from the adults who surround it. While many of the values of adults and children are shared and the hierarchies of the adult world are mirrored in the adolescent world, the social dynamics of adolescence are almost entirely hidden from adult view. The insularity of adolescent society serves to magnify slights and reinforce social hierarchies; correspondingly, it is only through exchange with trusted adults that teens can reach the longer-term view that can come with maturity.25 No one knows this better than the teachers at Heath; we could not put it better than the words of a beloved long-time teacher: “The only real way of preventing [school violence] is to get into their heads and their hearts. Everyone in the building needs to have one person on their side.”