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who bears responsibility for bullying at school

Pushed over the edge
Who is responsible? The target who is pushed over the edge? Or those who pushed him over the edge? Or those who stood by and failed in their duty of care and allowed him to be pushed over the edge?


16 August 2001 © AP

A California teenager who killed two classmates and wounded 13 others in a school shooting rampage tearfully apologised yesterday as he was jailed for 50 years to life. Charles Williams did not tell the court why he opened fire with his father's handgun at Santana High School on March 5, 2001, but he said he felt "horrible about what happened". "If I could go back to that day, I would never have got out of bed," the 16-year-old said, his voice breaking.

Judge Herbert Exarhos called the attack vicious and fiendish, but noted that Williams had endured a difficult life at home and had no previous criminal convictions. He said the question of why Williams committed the attack remains unanswered." In all likelihood, it is a question the defendant will be struggling with daily to answer for himself," Exarhos said.

Prosecutors had asked the judge to impose the maximum sentence of 425 years, saying Williams coolly planned the assault at the suburban San Diego school and shot classmates as they ran in terror. The teenager's father has said his son, then 15, was the victim of frequent bullying after moving to Santee from Twentynine Palms, a desert community east of Los Angeles. But Deputy District Attorney Kris Anton said the harassment Williams said he suffered, such as having his skateboard stolen or being punched in the chin, did not justify the shooting rampage."

"The defendant is the bully. He took a gun to school and shot innocent kids," Anton said during the sentencing hearing. In June, Williams pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and 13 counts of attempted murder. The assault at the 2,000-student campus killed two boys, aged 14 and 17, and wounded 11 other students, a teacher and a campus monitor.

Yesterday's sentencing came after an emotional day of statements from victims. Ray Serrato, a student who still has a bullet lodged in his back, said he has forgiven Williams, but continues to suffer emotionally. "I not only lost my best friend, Randy Gordon, I lost my innocence, my security," Serrato said. "Fifty years is not enough." The attack, which came nearly two years after the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, was the first of two shootings in two weeks at schools in San Diego suburbs. On March 22, 2001, Jason Hoffman, a student with a history of mental illness, wounded five people at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and assault, then hanged himself in jail. He was 18.

[More at BBC News Online]

Excerpted from Bullycide: death at playtime, an expose of child suicide caused by bullying by Neil Marr and Tim Field

Chapter 17

The happiest days of your life

A nation without a conscience is a nation without a soul. A nation without a soul is a nation that cannot live.
Winston Churchill

Never again should anyone be in doubt about how it feels to be the target of bullying.

To wake up each day knowing that you have to go to school, knowing thereís no way of avoiding it, knowing that the moment you set out for school the bullies are there, waiting for you to arrive, waiting to call you names, to tease you, torment you, humiliate and mock you, embarrass you in front of friends, push you, punch you, slap you, pinch you, spit on you, kick you, and ... you darenít think about the rest, or the possible consequences.

Donít the bullies behave like perfect darlings whenever a teacher approaches? Arenít they polite and deferential, until the teacher is out of sight, then the kicking, punching, spitting, tormenting starts over, school books are damaged (how am I going to explain that again?), homework defaced (ditto), projects sabotaged, food spoilt, possessions pilfered, personal items desecrated, clothes ripped, school uniform torn, dinner money stolen, pocket money extorted. Just another normal day. Like yesterday. And the day before. Like tomorrow. And the day after that.

Why have my friends deserted me? They used to support me, now they join in with the bullying. Canít they see the hurt they cause? Are they too frightened? Donít they realise that if we stood together we could defeat the bullies?

Not one teacher takes the slightest interest, preferring to believe the glib excuses and assurances of the bullies. Why are they taken in so easily? No point in telling teachers, they donít care, theyíre under enough stress as it is, anyway. Itíll just make the bullying worse and the bullies more covert then itíll be even harder to be taken seriously. How can the head teacher tell parents that "we have an effective anti-bullying policy" when the head is the biggest bully in the school? How do these people get to be in positions of power? I canít escape school for at least four years. I have to attend otherwise Iíll be treated as a truant, the authorities will give me hell, my parents will give me hell, the head will give me hell, the teachers will give me hell. Who will believe me anyway when I say Iím being bullied? Thereís no escape. What I need is a permanent solution so that I donít have to endure this never-ending pain. Ever.

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