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Remarks by the President at Thurston High School

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary
(Springfield, Oregon)

For Immediate Release June 13, 1998


Thurston High School
Springfield, Oregon

3:25 P.M. PDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. First of all, I want to thank all of youfor coming today and I want to particularly thank the families who just metwith me, whose children were wounded, and in two cases, killed.

I thank Mr. Bentz and Superintendent Kent and Mr. Petersen of theSchool Board, and Mayor Morrisette. I'd like to thank the members of yourcongressional delegation who came down with me today, Senators Wyden andSmith, and Representatives Hooley and Blumenauer who came with me, and ofcourse, Congressman DeFazio who represents this community.

I was, frankly, glad but somewhat concerned when you -- some of yourleaders were kind enough to invite me to come down here today because Ididn't want to do anything to add to your burdens, and I was afraid all Icould do was to tell you that your country has been thinking about you andpraying for you and pulling for you. But after I had the chance to spendthe time I did with the families, I'm very, very glad I came. And I thankyou for giving me the chance just to meet all of you and to listen to you.

Let me say that this has been not only a horrible and traumaticexperience for you, this has been a traumatic experience for all ofAmerica. As all of you know, there have been a series of these schoolshootings, with terrible consequences -- in Paducah, Kentucky; in Pearl,Mississippi; in Edinboro, Pennsylvania; and in my home state, in Jonesboro,Arkansas.

The first thing I'd like to tell you is that I am immensely impressedand proud of you for the way you're coming back from this and going on, theway you're determined to rebuild your communities, the way the school beganto function again, the way you held your commencement and started yourathletic competitions again.

The second thing I would say, that I know from my own experience withthe community in Arkansas, which I know very well and I know a lot of thepeople who were involved there -- you should feel good about your communityand good about your school. And you should know that these terrible actsof violence are occurring at a time when the overall juvenile crime rate isactually going down in America; where our young people on the whole aredoing better, and doing better at staying out of trouble, getting into morepositive endeavors.

I think we have to be honest, though, and see, as so many of thefamilies said to me today, including the fathers of Michael and Ben, wewant something constructive to come out of this. Well, we have toacknowledge the fact that what we have is in America a very small number --nobody knows how many -- of kids that are really troubled and disturbed andmay have a lot of rage. But the easy access to guns in a culture wherethey've been exposed to lots and lots and lots of violence, and there areliterally scores and scores of serious studies which show that the youngeryou are and the more you're exposed to it, the more kind of desensitizedyou are to it. And those three things can be a combustible combination.

So what I hope we can do is to do a better job of kind of alertingourselves and identifying kids that may have problems before these thingshappen, and then acting with greater strength and discipline to go forward.Many of the parents today gave me a lot of specific suggestions. I thankyou for those. I know that Senator Wyden and Senator Smith just yesterdayintroduced a bill that said that any young person who brought a gun toschool, which is in violation of federal law, should be held for a 72-hourperiod of evaluation. And I think that's a very good suggestion.(Applause.)

Today I instructed the Secretary of Education and the Attorney Generalto prepare a guidebook to be ready when school opens next year in everyschool in America, for teachers and parents and for students as well, todescribe all the kinds of early warning signals that deeply troubled youngpeople sometimes give -- not just bringing a gun to school, but maybe theother things as well.

Not to scare our people all across America or to trouble them, buteverybody who has looked at you knows that this is a good community thatthey'd be proud to live in, and, therefore, it could happen anywhere. Sowhat we have to try to do is to, all of us, learn more about the peoplewith whom we live and the kinds of signals that are coming out. And thenwe've got to make sure that we have the capacity to actually do somethingabout these problems if we can find them out before they get out of hand.

And I know that -- I believe, at least, that's what your commitmentis. That's what a lot of people have told me, as I worked my way aroundthe room today, as I met with your officials at the airport.

And so all I can tell you is, we'll do our very best to continue tohelp with whatever residual challenges you have here. And I'll do my verybest to listen to what you have said to me today, and then to makesomething really positive happen in the country to increase our ability toprevent such things in the future.

I hope you will go on with your healing and go on with your lives, andtake a great deal of pride in the way your school and your community haveresponded to a terrible thing, in a human, strong, very positive way. Forme and for all the people who came here with me today, this has been agreat inspiration that we will never, ever forget.

Again, I thank all of you for coming out. And more than anything, letme say again to all the families who came to meet with me, I know itcouldn't have been easy, but it meant more to me than I can possiblyconvey.

God bless you all and good luck. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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