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Pearl, Mississippi Still Struggling With Pall Cast By School Violence

Aired September 6, 2000 - 2:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: ... real or perceived, a fascination with violent entertainment, and racial intolerance. That report was two years in the making and given new urgency after the Columbine shooting. Experts caution the guide is not meant to be a profile of potential shooters. They say teachers must be careful not to unfairly label the students.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS KNEIR, DEPUTY FBI DIRECTOR: This monograph is offered in the hope that it may help refine and strengthen efforts by school administrators and law enforcement officials across the country who are developing policies and procedures for dealing with threats or acts of violence in our school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATERS: Years after the bullets, anonymous towns that were shoved into the national spotlight are still struggling over peace of mind.

Here's CNN's Brian Cabell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): October 1, 1997, a day that traumatized the town of Pearl, Mississippi. Two students shot to death, seven wounded as they arrived at the high school, 8:00 in the morning.

The gunman, 16-year-old Luke Woodham, a boy who had been picked on for much of his life, a boy who said he was angry at the world. He stabbed his mother to death at home, then took a gun to school and shot his classmates.

Pearl hasn't been the same since. One official says this town of 24,000 has lost its innocence. Police Chief Bill Slade says everyone is now listening more closely to what young people say.

CHIEF BILL SLADE, PEARL, MISSISSIPPI POLICE: Kids make comments. One person hears it, they run with it. By the time it goes around, it's been greatly, greatly blown out of proportion and we have to get involved, whereas before, oftentimes, these little comments -- well, kids talk.

CABELL: More police man hours are spent on school matters now. An officer watches the school full time while classes are in session.

But the just-released report on school shootings clearly indicates this is not just a law enforcement problem. It's a problem of alienated young people caught up in a violent culture.

Psychiatrist Krishan Gupta has treated some of the young people from Pearl, but says far more help is needed.

KRISHAN GUPTA, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST: In my experience, there are only one or two counselors in the school handling 150 to 200 children, which is unrealistic.

CABELL: Former school superintendent William Dodson agrees, but he knows money for public schools is limited. Instead, he says, more emphasis should be placed on building children's values in the elementary schools. He instituted a character-building program in Pearl's schools. Churches, he says, should also play a greater role. He welcomes the greater awareness of teenagers and their problems, but says no plan of action, like the FBI's report, is going to be foolproof.

WILLIAM DODSON, FMR. PEARL SCHOOL SUPT.: For counselors to recognize some danger or warning signs or cautions certainly would be good, but there's no way to tell on 100 percent accuracy about which student would commit these acts.

CABELL: For example, he points out that Luke Woodham, prior to the shootings, was never sent to the school office for disciplinary reasons.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Pearl, Mississippi.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATERS: As for Luke Woodham, he's now serving three life terms in a state penitentiary in Mississippi.

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