[Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: William J. Clinton (1998, Book I)]
[June 13, 1998]
[Pages 960-961]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office www.gpo.gov]

Remarks at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon
June 13, 1998

    Thank you. First of all, I want to thank all of you for coming 
today, and I want to particularly thank the families who just met with 
me whose children were wounded and, in two cases, killed.
    I thank Mr. Bentz and Superintendent 
Kent and Mr. Petersen 
of the school board and Mayor 
Morrisette. I'd like to thank the members of your congressional 
delegation who came down with me today, Senators Wyden and Smith and Representatives 
Hooley and Blumenauer who came with me, and of course Congressman 
DeFazio, who represents this community.
    I was, frankly, glad but somewhat concerned when you--some of your 
leaders were kind enough to invite me to come down here today, because I 
didn't want to do anything to add to your burdens, and I was afraid all 
I could do was to tell you that your country has been thinking about you 
and praying for you and pulling for you. But after I had the chance to 
spend the time I did with the families, I'm very, very glad I came. And 
I thank you 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 traumatic 
experience for you; this has been a traumatic experience for all of 
America. As all of you know, there have been a series of these school 
shootings 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 
impressed and proud of you for the way you're coming back from this and 
going on, the way you're determined to rebuild your communities, the way 
the school began to function again, the way you held your commencement 
and started your athletic competitions again.
    The second thing I would say, that I know from my own experience 
with the community in Arkansas, which I know very well and I know a lot 
of the people who were involved there, you should feel good about your 
community and good about your school. And you should know that these 
terrible acts of violence are occurring at a time when the overall 
juvenile crime rate is actually going down in America, where our young 
people on the whole are doing better and doing better at staying out of 
trouble, getting into more positive endeavors.

[[Page 961]]

    I think we have to be honest, though, and see, as so many of the 
families said to me today, including the fathers of Mikael and Ben, we want 
something constructive to come out of this. Well, we have to acknowledge 
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 and may 
have a lot of rage, with easy access to guns, in a culture where they've 
been exposed to lots and lots and lots of violence--and there are 
literally scores and scores of serious studies which show that the 
younger you are and the more you're exposed to it, the more kind of 
desensitized you are to it. And those three things can be a combustible 
    So what I hope we can do is to do a better job of kind of alerting 
ourselves and identifying kids that may have problems, before these 
things happen, and then acting with greater strength and discipline to 
go forward. Many of the parents today gave me a lot of specific 
suggestions. I thank you for those. I know that Senator Wyden and Senator Smith just yesterday 
introduced a bill that said that any young person who brought a gun to 
school, which is in violation of Federal law, should be held for a 72-
hour period of evaluation. And I think that's a very good suggestion.
    Today I instructed the Secretary of Education and the Attorney 
General to prepare a guidebook to be ready when school opens next year 
in every school in America, for teachers and parents and for students as 
well, to describe all the kinds of early warning signals that deeply 
troubled young people sometimes give, not just bringing a gun to school 
but maybe the other things as well.
    Not to scare our people all across America or to trouble them, but 
everybody who has looked at you knows that this is a good community that 
they'd be proud to live in, and therefore, it could happen anywhere. So 
what we have to try to do is to, all of us, learn more about the people 
with whom we live and the kinds of signals that are coming out. And then 
we've got to make sure that we have the capacity to actually do 
something about 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 commitment 
is. That's what a lot of people have told me, as I worked my way around 
the 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 to 
help with whatever residual challenges you have here. And I'll do my 
very best to listen to what you have said to me today, and then to make 
something really positive happen in the country to increase our ability 
to prevent such things in the future.
    I hope you will go on with your healing and go on with your lives 
and take a great deal of pride in the way your school and your community 
has responded to a terrible thing, in a human, strong, very positive 
way. For me and for all the people who came here with me today, this has 
been a great inspiration that we will never, ever forget.
    Again, I thank all of you for coming out. And more than anything, 
let me say again to all the families who came to meet with me, I know it 
couldn't have been easy, but it meant more to me than I can possibly 
    God bless you all, and good luck. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 3:25 p.m. in the gymnasium. In his remarks, 
he referred to Larry Bentz, principal; Jamon Kent, superintendent, and 
Alan Petersen, school board chairman, Springfield Public Schools; Mayor 
William W. Morrisette of Springfield; and Michael Nickolauson, father of 
Mikael E. Nickolauson, and Mark Walker, father of Benjamin A. Walker, 
whose sons died as a result of a May 21 attack in the high school