NPR

When Teens Threaten Violence, A Community Responds With Compassion

After years of being beaten up, this teen decided to take justice into his own hands. A school district in Oregon showed him a better way to solve his problems.

Psychologist John Van Dreal has spent almost 30 years working with troubled kids. Still, it's always unsettling to get the kind of phone call he received one morning eight years ago as he was on his way to a meeting.

"I got a call from the assistant principal at North [Salem] High, reporting that a student had made some threats on the Internet," remembers Van Dreal, the director of safety and risk management for Salem-Keizer Public Schools in Salem, Ore.

Threats of violence in a Facebook post

"There were a number of statements about hitting people with pipes, breaking knees, bashing heads with pipes and looking for help in doing so," Van Dreal says.

And there was more.

"F*** North Salem High School," the student had written. "Seriously, it's asking for a f***ing shooting or something."

Van Dreal says students who saw the post were frightened. They told their parents, who called the school administration. Faculty and staff were worried, too, he notes. This particular student had been in trouble before, but this time it felt different.

"They were definitely concerned and afraid," Van Dreal says.

The signs were serious enough, Van Dreal knew, that he needed to convene his entire — including representatives of the school administration, mental health professionals and police.

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