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On Aug. 23, a teen here in the Las Vegas valley received an e-mail from a Henderson 14-year-old asking “Would you be up for some Columbine-like (expletive).”
“Like what we talking?” asked his admirably articulate correspondent.
“I can’t talk to you online about it,” responded the original sender, showing some tardy discretion. “But how can I hit you up offline?”
A relative of the teen who received the message phoned police. At 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 23 Henderson police went to the home of the 14-year-old who sent the original message, arrested him, and took him to the Clark County Juvenile Detention Center, where he was booked on charges of making threats or conveying false information concerning acts of terrorism.
The teen, who has not been identified, had surveillance footage of the Columbine High School shootings -- easily found on the Internet -- on his home computer, according to Henderson police spokesman Todd Rasmussen. He had named his MySpace.com Web page “R.I.P. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,” for the two teens who killed 12 students and a teacher before committing suicide at the Colorado high school in 1999.
Detectives learned the boy has been suspended from school in years past for fighting, threatening other students, and “using slurs.” At the time of his arrest, he was wearing a shirt that bore the words “Kill Hate Destroy.”
“The detectives took this seriously because in their minds this wasn’t a hoax,” Rasmussen said. “This was a very early stage in the thought process of a disturbed child that needed help. ... He displayed tendencies that were parallel to those of other suspects in other school shootings.”
Yes, it does sound like the young man needs some serious talking-to, and perhaps a change in environment. But is jail really the place he’s likely to get that “help”? And -- while it’s good the message wasn’t ignored -- what other “tendencies” can now land a kid in jail? Wearing too much dark clothing? Listening to heavy metal? Failure to toast marshmallows and sing “Kum-ba-ya”?
Some of those sound like jokes, till we recall that, in today’s Alice-in-Wonderland government-school environment, kids have actually been suspended from school (I’ve never quite grasped that -- are inmates punished for minor infractions by being sent home from prison?) and forwarded for psychological counseling for the offense of doodling cartoons of fighter jets strafing platoons of scrambling stick figures.
Wow. Good thing no one inspected MY notebooks when I was 12 or 13.
In 2002, Steven Spielberg made a successful film -- starring Tom Cruise -- of the Philip K. Dick short story “Minority Report,” depicting a science fiction world in which “criminals” are arrested before they’ve committed their crimes, based on the testimony of psychics who are able to read their minds and see the future.
Perhaps fortunately, this world has no such psychics available, and so we empower our police to jail people only when they’ve committed some palpable wrongful act.
No, that doesn’t mean everyone has to sit by till a massacre occurs. But “would you be up for some (expletive)?” is not a threat by any known definition. No guns or explosives were found, no maps or other detailed plans.
Fourteen-year-old adolescent males often talk big, fantasizing about war and violence. Endless hours playing bloody video games can’t help -- though it should be noted that earlier generations of youths thrilled to campfire tales that could be almost as gory.
Yes, responsible adults can and should ask why some kids seem so focused on violent fantasies. Parents come first to mind, though a teacher or coach or pastor or grandparent can always pitch in.
A grown-up encouraging a boy to voice his concerns and frustrations, perhaps even some of his guilty fantasies -- assuring the lad that such stuff is perfectly normal, and discussing alternatives if school itself is the problem -- can do a lot to convince a troubled youth that he’s not nuts, that he has options other than a spectacular suicide.
It’s the ones who keep everything bottled up who seem most likely to finally “lose it.” So do we really want to teach them that speaking up will land them in jail?
Meantime, given that crimes like Columbine would have been unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago, it may be past time to ask whether there’s something about the way our teen-age boys are held and treated in today’s compulsory yet far-from-intellectually-challenging government schools -- as many as 50 percent of them doped up on Prozac or Luvox or Ritalin to curb what sure looks like a “fight-or-flight” response -- that may lie at the heart of this problem.
Are these behaviors rarer among boys whose fathers spend more time with them, taking them camping and shooting, hunting and fishing? They seem to be virtually unknown among home schoolers and those attending private schools.
The vast majority of such youths are not and never will become killers or criminals. Toying with bad or even ugly thoughts is not a crime. If it were, we’d need a lot more jails for all those video game designers.