Fresno State prof, officials respond to Virginia tragedy

Monday’s horrific shooting massacre at Virginia Tech left many college officials all over the nation wondering how they would respond to such a tragedy.

In the midst of mourning, Fresno State officials discussed how campus police have prepared for a possible shooting and how to recognize the signs of a troubled student.

Dr. Tamyra Pierce, a Fresno State mass communication and journalism professor, has studied the influence the media have of increasing the chances of copycat school shootings. Pierce said the more TV coverage the media provide of a school shooting, and the more details released on the shooters — such as characteristics of the shooter and knowing if the person was bullied — the more likely that certain individuals will identify and may attempt to repeat a similar tragedy.

“There’s the possibility the viewer can relate to it,� Pierce said. “All that information lends to an increased chance of copycatting.�

Through her research, Pierce found that since a 1997 school shooting, an increased amount of violent words and images have been repeated in TV coverage of more recent school shootings.

She said the repetition of TV coverage of these tragedies, including the one at Virginia Tech, can trigger an already perhaps aggressive and depressed individual to commit similar acts of violence.

“If you hear aggressive words,� Pierce said, “it cues aggressive thoughts in certain people.�

Pierce said unlike high schools, identifying the warning signs of a troubled student in college requires the work of all of the student’s teachers and peers.

“It’s a little more difficult on a college campus,� Pierce said. “I think it takes all teachers’ awareness. We need to be aware of our fellow students and what’s going on in their lives.�

Pierce said all that campus instructors can do is refer suspected troubled students to counselors. “We as teachers can’t counsel a student, because we don’t have that background, but we have the facilities on campus,� Pierce said. “You hope they will seek what they obviously need.�

In her research, Pierce studied high school shootings, but not any that occurred on college campuses. “I just think a college campus is a place to learn,� Pierce said, “and it doesn’t happen here.�

President John Welty issued a statement to the campus community Monday after the Virginia Tech massacre. “The campus community at Fresno State is deeply shocked at the tragedy of the shooting incident at Virginia Tech University.

“While no plan can completely prevent the efforts of a determined evil person, our university does actively work to prevent and deal with violent incidents. When the tranquility of a campus is shattered by crime… we need to remember how important universities are to our society and that we must protect the free exchange of ideas and the search for knowledge.�

Fresno State Police Chief David Huerta said local law enforcement, including officers at Fresno State, would handle a similar situation in a similar manner to the response at Virginia Tech.

According to Huerta, law enforcement agencies have been preparing for incidents like the shooting at Virginia Tech since Columbine.
In what is called an “active shooter response,� officers would attempt to engage the suspect so the individual was dealing with officers rather than injuring other people.

To keep students up to date in an emergency situation, the campus police department would contact faculty and staff through infomail and use e-mail and other methods to contact students.

Since the police pursuit on Barstow and Cedar avenues in August 2006, Huerta said the police department has been investigating a new technology that would allow it to send messages directly to students through their cell phones.

According to Huerta, the complication comes in “how could we get our students to voluntarily register their cell phones with the system.�

Huerta said no real procedure for lockdowns of a campus of a college or university are in place, and that “architectural challenges� arise at college and university campuses.

“You could have air horn at one end of this campus and never hear it halfway across,� he said.

Huerta said he believes Fresno State has a competent system that is good at the basics and one students can count on, and that people learn from every incident that occurs.

“However, no one knows when it’s going to happen and for sure it’s going to happen again. Unfortunately, history repeats itself.�

Kirstie Hettinga contributed to this report.

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