Massachusetts Dealing With School Killings

ALONE runner jogs around the Dartmouth High School baseball diamond on a sunny afternoon. Except for cars passing by on the street, all is quiet at this sprawling red-brick high school in southeastern Massachusetts.

At about 2:05 p.m., doors swing open and students stream outside toward the school buses. It looks like a typical scene here, but these young people have endured an unusually long, sad, and tumultuous week.

Residents in this corner of the state are struggling to come to grips with a spate of random school violence.

At the school April 12, three teenagers stormed into a classroom while one of them allegedly stabbed to death a freshman for no apparent reason, except that he was a bystander in a feud. The victim was a friend of a student who fought with the boys earlier that day.

The next day, in the nearby town of Acushnet, a middle-school nurse was shot to death by a mentally disturbed man with a shotgun. Many students were witnesses to the scenes.

Later in the week, three incidents involving students using knives at school were reported in neighboring cities New Bedford and Fall River.

Residents of Dartmouth, a mostly white middle-class community, are shocked. Violence and drug trafficking are not uncommon in the nearby cities, but somehow Dartmouth has remained clear of these problems, residents say. "Everybody thinks there's just violence in New Bedford," says Kerrie Chase, a friend of the victim. "But it's here in Dartmouth, too."

Customers at a downtown eatery, the Stone Soup, shared few insights as to why the tragedy occurred. "Everybody is shocked that this could happen at Dartmouth High," says Olive Santos, whose son teaches math at the school. But she adds: "The kids are dangerous you know."

The three white assailants were members of a group that shared an interest in skateboarding. Although the school is not known to have gangs, the group had been feuding with another group of kids there.

Stone Soup owner Carolyn Michaud says the boys were apparently settling a score after a party the evening before.

Both incidents are drawing attention to lax school security. State education and public-safety officials, as a result, are working on an array of initiatives, including the creation of new security plans for all schools.

But for some residents, the problem stems from troubled home lives and violence on TV and in movies. Ms. Michaud says: "People see this on television and they see some guy retaliate and they say: `Why can't I?' "

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