Wisconsin School Shooting Highlights Pattern as Victim Becomes Perpetrator
> 8/2/2007 9:58:07 AM

The trial of Eric Hainstock, accused of murdering the principal of his Wisconsin high school, will conclude today and be sent to jury. Hainstock's actions on September 29th, 2006, made national headlines as part of the broader picture of school violence. Though only 15-years-old, Hainstock is being tried as an adult, and faces life imprisonment for the death of principal John Klang. No matter how the court rules at this juncture, the trial has made it clear that the violence at Weston High School that day was part of a larger tapestry of bullying, abuse, intimidation, and fear. While it is for the court to decide Hainstock's fate, there is much to be gleaned from this situation, for other schools and communities that hope to prevent similar violence.

Much of the trial has focused on what Hainstock did and didn't do on the morning that he arrived at his high school carrying a loaded shotgun and revolver. One aspect of the crime that does not seem to be in question however, is that Hainstock led a troubled life. His defense has focused largely on the bullying he received at school as well as the abuse�sexual, physical, and emotional�that he suffered at home. The victim, principal John Klang, has even been referred to as a confidant of Hainstock's, someone the boy trusted, but the defense has argued that even he was helpless to stop the torment. On the prosecution side, the DA has tried to highlight Hainstock's own bullying behavior. As we've seen in the past though, those who bully are more often than not victims themselves, so this should come as no shock.

Court arguments have centered around the issue of intent: did Eric Hainstock shoot his principal with the intent to kill him? In the larger picture of preventing school violence, this question may be the least helpful. Hainstock's actions mesh with many of the key findings of the U.S. Secret Service's Safe School Initiative report. While some in the school, including Klang, tried to help Hainstock, in failing to account for the seriousness of the warning signs these same individuals failed to grasp the gravity of the situation. Of the Secret Service's ten findings, Hainstock's attack meets at least half: he did not threaten violence; his behavior indicated a troubled youth; he had difficulty coping, even going so far as to attempt suicide; he felt persecuted; and he had access to weapons.

The accounts of his trial have illustrated just how poor that outlook had become for Hainstock. His actions on September 29th, as seen through the evidence presented in court, were not part of a grand plan for revenge. Instead, he was boy at the end of his rope. Like other shooters before him, he was a victim, but he was also a bully. Hainstock had been identified as troubled, and attempts were made to help him, but in the end it was not enough. Schools need to learn from this incident: violence like this is preventable. State and local governments must act to put operations in place that can help troubled teens, especially those with home lives as horrible as Hainstock. John Klang, the victim here, was one of the good guys. He tried to do right for Hainstock, but without the proper support in place, his actions came to naught. This week a jury will decide the extent to which Eric Hainstock committed a crime, but that will not undue what he has done. Action needs to be taken now to assure that John Klang's life was not lost in vain, and that future Eric Hainstock's can receive the help they need before it's too late.

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