Forum to ponder school gun incidents
Fraser will discuss the situation nationally and locally.
Meiling Arounnarath, Staff Writer
HILLSBOROUGH - In April a high school student with a shotgun took a teacher and a fellow student hostage at East Chapel Hill High School.
Four months later, an Orange High School graduate fired shots into a crowd of students eating lunch and later confessed to the murder of his father.
Tonight, a group of people will gather at A.L. Stanback Middle School to try to figure out why.
Mark Fraser, a John A. Tate Distinguished Professor for Children in Need at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Social Work, will speak at the Mental Health Association in Orange County's annual forum.
The discussion will "look at school violence and school shootings, what's been happening in the country, then draw it down to Orange County," he said in an interview Monday.
Fraser, who has written several books on the topic, wants to help parents, students, community members and professionals identify the risk factors for school violence. These include students showing signs of depression, getting angry easily and showing heightened interest in sensational violence.
The topic of youth violence is hot right now, especially locally, said Mark Sullivan, executive director of the local Mental Health Association. One of the association's goals is to provide accurate information and help dispel some of the myths about mental illness and violence, he said.
William "Barrett" Foster is accused in the East Chapel Hill High incident, while Alvaro Castillo has been charged in the shootings of his father and at Orange High.
Both young men had been hospitalized before the incidents. At a hearing, Foster's father testified his son had stopped taking antidepressants and antipsychotic medication without telling his parents, according to court officials.
The Mental Health Association began holding the forums in 1998, about three years after Wendell Williamson went on a shooting spree in downtown Chapel Hill, killing two people and injuring a third. He, too, had been treated for mental illness.
"North Carolina schools, although they're making good efforts, need to prepare," Fraser said. Schools need to strengthen themselves in terms of school resource officers, communication and video surveillance equipment, he said. They also need to increase prevention activities, such as programs that focus on character education, social skills training and conflict resolution in grades K-12, he said.
Schools also should work more closely with community groups and local authority figures.
"One of the messages of Columbine is that school shootings are simply a type of youth violence," Fraser said, "so that means schools should be closely connected to community resources, including mental health services, juvenile justice authorities and [local] law enforcement."
Staff writer Meiling Arounnarath can be reached at 932-2004 or firstname.lastname@example.org.