The most serious threat to a "safe school" is complacency and the idea that "it could never happen here."

FTLComm - Tisdale - April 29, 1999

It was Wednesday of last week when the tragic shooting took place at Columbine High School in the Denver Colorado suburb of Littleton. Since then the event has been on our minds and not just because the new has been full of reports on the incident. Those reports exist be cause we want to know about this event and try to rationalise in our own minds what had happened. There is an odd tendency to blame the messenger and even suggest that the reporting of such events glamorise the situation and makes it more likely for others like it to take place. However true that is, this incident affected us all and every one us knows and has known people who could easily give the situation see their own lives as without worth and decide to destroy others. So it was that yesterday a fourteen-year old boy shot two grade eleven students in Taber Alberta's high school.

Just as last Wednesday I was at TMSS briefly and was planning to do an article on the great manners and good behaviour of Tisdale's young people, I shot a picture of them at work in their library just about the time that students in Littleton were losing their lives in their library. Yesterday, I was looking out at the largest high school in Saskatchewan (Prince Albert's Carlton High School) as its students left for lunch and I was wondering what sort of security system and plans this school had. As I was taking this picture the Taber incident was about to take place.

This morning I received this fax from a Tisdale mother and I feel it is important to read this over and appreciate the concern she expresses.

I must apologize for my email, the most advertised email address for me is not functioning right now but I do receive email at

As we have seen the coverage on the Littleton incident we know now that the students had planned their assault on the school for a very long time and had made elaborate plans, building a lot of really serious explosives and placing them in the school well ahead of the time then set about their main attack. The facts of this situation are only slowly coming out and no doubt we will all know much more about it when the investigators have had a chance to finish their work and report what they have found. I am convinced that from their work we will see specific procedures developed to attempt to curtail the repeat of such incidents.

You will have seen on television various psychologists and experts explain that we have to increase our vigilance in the school setting to be aware of disaffected and upset students. As a person who was in the field of student counselling for a long time, I can tell you there is no shortage of unhappy children and there always will be a plentiful supply. It is the very nature of human beings to experience rebellion during their adolescent years and sometimes violence can be part of that passage. This is a reasonable reaction to prevent such incidents but the profile for violent individuals who pose a possible threat is not yet developed and it will take considerable research to get this into the hands of counsellors and teachers. What we know is that for a person to act in such a manner is that :

  1. They must be at, or approaching the point where their desperation exceeds their will to live
  2. They must have access to weapons
  3. In one form or another they will have told others of their extreme discomfort and dark plans.

The Littleton incident even had an armed guard exchanging gunfire with the attacking students as they entered the building so that even armed guards will not act as a deterrent to such incidents and it still remains to be explained as to why the SWAT teams took five hours to bring an end to that incident.

However, it still remains the responsibility of our schools to have some measure of security and emergency plan in place. In the incident yesterday in Taber the school reacted to the incident once it had begun and though the young boy was able to shoot two students he was captured "alive" and because he was using a small calibre weapon we are blessed that the death toll was a single student. The school had closed itself up during the incident keeping the students in their classrooms and out of the line of fire, the teacher the boy encountered acted coolly and ordered the armed youth from the building then alerted the school of the threat. This was good stuff.

The difference between the incidents of course is that the boys in Colorado had so much planning time to place their explosives and amass the weapons that made them very hard to stop, while the Taber incident looks like a single youth attempting to follow their example.

Once again I must state, and not to do so as an alarmist but out of simple practical awareness :

The most serious threat to a "safe school" is complacency and the idea that "it could never happen here."