Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of May 10, 1999
Taber shootings too close to home
In wake of high school shootings, students look for a place to hide
By ANH HOANG
WCR Staff Writer
The reality of Littleton, Colo., seems only 500 kilometres away.
The April 28 fatal shooting of a high school student at W.R. Myers High School in Taber has turned into an incident too close to home for local students.
The day after the Colorado incident, Daisy Jiminez went to her classes at St. Joseph's High School feeling more cautious than usual.
In the back of her mind she was thinking about all the places in the school she could hide if a similar attack happened at St. Joseph's. The Taber incident a week later suddenly brought those hiding places to the forefront of her mind.
"I went to check out all those hiding places," said the Grade 12 student. "I know all the good places to hide now.
"It's scary, but you can't help but think of these things."
Some considered the Taber incident a copycat of Littleton's and fear it will hit other cities in North America.
"There's a 50/50 chance it will happen here," said Konrad Miechowicz, 17. "It's the new generation. Kids will see this and want to copy it."
St. Joseph's principal Ron Woytiuk agrees that such incidents not only induces fear among students, but possibly lead to similar actions.
"There are linkages built with the media exposure of these events. There are students who see this and build a bridge with those other students. They see the problems these kids face and see it in themselves too."
The mood in Taber has been sombre. A chilling air and grey clouds hovered over the small farmtown the day of the shooting and in the days following.
At St. Mary's Catholic High School, Taber's other high school, additional counsellors were on site to comfort some of the school's 283 students. Some students chose to stay home that day, said associate principal Val Leahy.
"It's quite calm here. We're trying to get things back to business as usual."
Business as usual for teachers and students at St. Joseph's the day after the Taber incident included a display of community organizations in the school gym.
Twenty-eight local organizations, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and YWCA, set up posters and handed out pamphlets informing students of local resources available to them. The event had been planned prior to the shootings.
"We have to let students know that they have access to all these support groups," Woytiuk said. "Whatever problems they have, they have to know who they can go to for help.
"We don't spend enough time in students' lives. We don't want to have to look back and talk about the signs we should have seen."
Andrew Nolan said the Littleton and Taber incidents have shone negative light on his generation.
"It's sort of saying that kids are bad," said Nolan, 16. "It says that we're all like those guys."
Woytiuk is not looking at his students like they were the next triggerman, but the incidents have prompted additional discussion on school safety and preventive programs among his staff.
The school presently has several ways to monitor its students, Woytiuk said.
"We've instituted teacher advisors; each of our students have contact with a teacher everyday, they check in with them everyday.
"Every one or two weeks, students meet with that teacher for an extended period. This personal contact is to really keep a better pulse of what's happening in a student's life."
Woytiuk added the school is looking at "a proactive way of helping students deal with anger."
In the wake of the tragedies, there is a struggle to find the source of such a deed.
In hindsight, all the signs were there - possible depression, mockery from their peers, social outcasts.
"There were teachers saying they have to pay more attention to the signs," said Robyn Keoughan, 17. "Or that some saw the signs and didn't take it seriously.
"I think people will need to pay more attention to anything suspicious."
This may cause a small flurry of paranoia among teachers and parents, even students, all keeping an eye out for the signs that could turn into a fatal rage.
Even what were once seen as minute signs of depression or changes in behaviour will likely prompt suspicion. But paranoia or not, it needs to be a focus, said Jiminez.
"Even if parents have to look through their kids' rooms, that might be spying. But if they think something is going on, they have to check it out," Jiminez said. "Everyone has to pay more attention."