It's an exaggeration, to be sure, but sometimes it seems like going to school is akin to playing Russian roulette. Which kid will go ballistic and shoot up his classmates? When will it happen and where?
Last Monday it happened in Santee, Calif., when, according to police, scrawny often picked-on 15-year-old Charles "Andy" Williams indiscriminately opened fire in his high school with a .22 revolver killing two students and injuring 13 people. It was the most grisly school shooting tragedy since April 1999 when two suicidal students killed 12 classmates and a teacher at Colorado's Columbine High School.
For a change, reaction to the Santee shooting is not focused only on knee-jerk calls for gun control. California gun-control laws are among the nation's toughest.
Instead, much of the focus has been on young Williams' disconnectedness. He lived with his inattentive, career-tracked father; seldom had contact with his mother; having moved only recently to California he had no roots in the community. Then he was warehoused in a huge 1,900-student high school where he had trouble making friends because he was often the target of bullies and mean-spirited teasing.
It's clear in hindsight the youngster was deeply depressed but, as is so often the case, there was little evidence of that. Among his small circle of friends "Andy" was good-natured and something of a teaser himself.
One of the things he teased most about - particularly leading up to the fatal day - was that he would "do a Columbine" himself. He talked so much about it that at one point his friends actually frisked him.
What they didn't do, however, was tell authorities - a school counselor, teacher, police - someone who would take the threat seriously and intervene. Indeed, in the eight serious school shooting incidents since Columbine - the perpetrator almost always signaled his intentions before acting on them.
So what's the lesson to be learned here? Gun control won't stop a troubled teen bent on killing. Emotional turmoil is often not obvious and even when it is, it's no predictor of violence. It's the killer's own words. He tips his hand, virtually crying out - "Stop me before I kill."
Just as airport security detains passengers who joke about hijacking, so should anyone, especially young people, take seriously - and report - any classmates who talk about taking firearms to school. Every school in the nation should keep pounding this message home. Killing is no joke.