[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1997, Book II)]
[December 6, 1997]
[Pages 1723-1724]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

The President's Radio Address
December 6, 1997

    Good morning. Yesterday the community of West Paducah, Kentucky, 
came together to remember the three young girls struck down at school in 
a terrifying act of violence. Our entire Nation has been shaken by this 
tragedy. West Paducah, on the southern shore of the Ohio River, is at 
the center of our circle of prayers. America has lost three beautiful 
daughters. We mourn deeply with the Steger, James, and Hadley families, 
with those students who were wounded and their families, and with all 
those whose lives were changed forever by a 14-year-old with a stolen 
    We may never know what drove the son of a respected church elder to 
extinguish the lives of classmates bowed in prayer. But in the aftermath 
we've seen great heroism, generosity, and love: a courageous act by a 
classmate to head off more violence, an outpouring of understanding for 
the sister of the alleged killer, the donation of organs for patients 
desperately in need, an entire nation reaching out in support. One 
terrible act could not poison the deep well of goodness West Paducah has 
drawn upon in this moment of grief.
    Now the rest of us must do everything in our power to prevent such 
things from happening again. At a time when we're trying to prepare our 
children for the opportunities of the 21st century, high school seniors 
are more likely to take weapons to school than to take calculus in 
school. This is unacceptable. We simply cannot educate our children, and 
they cannot learn and live up to their full potential, when violence and 
drugs threaten their safety in school.
    One thing we must do right away is to gain a much clearer view of 
the problem. Sadly, our national picture of school violence is neither 
complete, nor up to date. We know more about the overall patterns of car 
theft in America than we do about the harm that comes to our children at 
    So today I'm directing Attorney General Reno and Education Secretary 
Riley to launch a major initiative to produce for the first time an 
annual report card on school violence. This report card will contain the 
data we all need in order to boost efforts to prevent violence from 
happening in the first place.
    School safety is a challenge not only for police and parents, 
teachers and school officials; the scourge of young violence poses a 
challenge to every American. It demands that we do everything possible 
to find safe places for our children to learn and play and grow. It 
demands that schools follow a policy of zero tolerance for guns. It 
demands that we teach our children basic values, the unblinking 
distinction between right and wrong. It demands that we exercise 
responsibility when we create images for our

[[Page 1724]]

children to see. Most urgently, it demands that whenever possible, we 
reach out to those who may be troubled, angry, or alone before they do 
something destructive and perhaps irreversible to themselves or others.
    Youth violence represents an insistent, angry wake-up call to every 
parent, every teacher, every religious leader, every student. If we 
answer that call, we can ensure that the memory of Kayce, Nicole, and 
Jessica will help us to prevent other such tragedies. In the words of 
the girls' final prayer, we can ensure that their light will shine 
    Thanks for listening.

Note: The address was recorded at 5:18 p.m. on December 5 in the 
Roosevelt Room at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on 
December 6. In his remarks, the President referred to Kayce Steger, 
Nicole Hadley, and Jessica James, Heath High School students killed by 
gunfire following a prayer meeting; Michael Carneal, the alleged gunman, 
and his sister Kelly; and Ben Strong, a student who acted to end the