By MSNBC analyst & former FBI Profiler
updated 4/14/2005 2:13:56 PM ET 2005-04-14T18:13:56
COMMENTARY

This is the final installment of two parts.

We continue reviewing last month's "Profiler's Perspective" for an update on the cases studied.

The month of March continued to keep crime and criminals in the headlines. Young Jessica Lunsford was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered; while a school shooting rampage in Red Lake High School in Minnesota brought back painful memories of Columbine. 

How much more is at stake when children are at risk, and what as a nation are we willing to do?


File photo of Jessica Lunsford
Reuters file
Jessica Lunsford

Goodbye Jessie
A tearful Florida community bid goodbye to 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford last week. This, after her body was found near the residence that she shared with her paternal grandparents and her father. As an FBI Agent for 25 years, I had to investigate the kidnapping and, many times, murders of a number of children. The photos of the smiling little boys and the happy little girls who are no longer with us tend never to leave my head.

We know that 46-year old convicted sex offender John Couey, a man who lived not much more than a football fields’ length away from Jessica’s home, had entered her residence through an unlocked front door. He kidnapped young Jessica, and within a day or two eventually sexually assaulted her and murdered her by asphyxiation. Couey, as a known sex offender, should have advised authorities that he was living with his sister, his niece and her boyfriend— all alleged drug users— a few doors away from the Lunsford residence. But of course, like many other similar offenders, he chose to ignore the law. 

We now know that the three other people in Couey’s residence were interviewed twice by law enforcement officers the same day that Jessica went missing, and none of them told officers that Couey, a person known to have committed illegal acts against children, was at that time hiding in their residence, possibly with Jessica still alive!  The authorities had no reason to know that Couey was there with Jessica, nor did they have any reason to search the home of Couey’s sister.

It is now suggested that Couey was in a “drug haze” at the time of the kidnapping and murder, his current defense. Haze, fog, or stew, his actions against Jessica are beyond measure and the fact that three other adults might have done something to save Jessica but chose to remain quiet defies both reason and humanity.  

There are approximately 530,000 known, and countless unknown sex offenders in the United States. Upwards of 20 percent of these monsters are flying under the radar of the authorities, meaning we don’t know where they are or what they’re up to. The state of Florida could not find 1,800 of its known sexual offenders at the time of Jessica’s kidnapping, 800 of who were on parole and were “required” to be in some kind of regular contact with their parole officers.

In a recent MSNBC.com column , I suggested that we need consider a “one or two-strike” rule for sexual predators. What this would mean is that after one or no more than two offenses, such an offender would never get the chance to molest or murder another child or person. I also noted that some child molesters are believed to have victimized dozens or even hundreds of children before they are identified.

My friend Mark Klaas, father of 12-year-old Polly Klaas who was kidnapped from her California home on October 1, 1993 by yet another unspeakable monster, Richard Allen Davis, has suggested that as a nation we cannot financially afford to incarcerate the over half a million sexual offenders, predators, and molesters that walk our streets today. Instead, he believes we should consider making them all wear GPS ankle bracelets, like that currently worn Martha Stewart. This would give us some way to track these offenders.

We’re also told that to monitor only 1,700 of the 29,000 known sex offenders in the state of Florida alone would cost about $13 to $15 million dollars per year. This, while Florida’s House and Senate have only offered to fund 20 percent to 33 percent of Governor Jeb Bush’s request for $125 million dollars to build new prisons to house additional felons. Another elected representative from another state has suggested that all such predators should somehow be taken away and housed together for the collective good of the nation.

What is the answer? How do we affect the current national statistic that suggests that a child is kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered almost every other day— and thousands more are molested on a yearly basis by sexual predators? One strike, two strikes, satellite ankle bracelets, or a new Devil’s Island? 

As we ponder this decision, our children are all potential victims of the likes of Richard Allen Davis and John Evander Couey, and the question to each of us appears to be, “How much do you want to spend?”

The Red Lake rampage
“The entire school was covered with blood and bullet holes were everywhere,” these were the words of a deputy sheriff who responded to the March 21st mass murder at the Red Lake, Minn. High school .

We now know that the shooter, 16-year old Jeff Weise, was probably stopped in his rampage by police officers who learned their lesson from the April 1999 shootings at Littleton, Colorado’s Columbine High School— one that left 15 dead and twenty wounded by two students wearing black and carrying guns and bombs.

The Red Lake officers did not wait for the shooting to stop, but instead entered the fray as soon as they arrived. They engaged the shooter in a gun battle, thereby diverting Weise’s attention from other potential victims, wounding him twice, before he retreated into a classroom and shot himself to death. It was a painful lesson that was learned through the Columbine loss, one that is now applied in law enforcement training, and one that undoubtedly saved many lives at Red Lake High.

This 2005 class photo shows Jeff Weise,
Polaris
This 2005 class photo shows Jeff Weise, who went on a shooting rampage at Red Lake Senior High School 21 March, 2005, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota.
Weise was said by students to be best friends with 16-year old Louis Jourdain, son of tribal head Floyd Jourdain, Jr. It’s also been reported that both Weise and Jourdain were members of a club or group known as the “Darkers,” this because they dressed in dark clothing and had other characteristics that bonded them together. Although FBI investigators initially stated that they believe that Weise acted alone, FBI behaviorists quickly countered that this was a planned, not a spontaneous assault, and that other students would have both known about and possibly participated in the planning of this massacre.

Investigation will determine if other students knew about the planning but failed to tell school officials or the police. It will also tell us if other students were not only involved in the planning, but may had agreed to participate with Weise but dropped out or otherwise changed their minds at the last second— leaving the lone shooter to carry out their deadly plan by himself.

In an e-mail concerning the shooting, the deputy sheriff indicated that Weise first shot the unarmed security guard in the chest and then in the back. He then began to shoot at a 62-year old female teacher from about 20 yards away, but missed her as she ran. Weise followed the teacher into her class room where he shot and killed her and wounded some students. He then transitioned from the shotgun to a Glock 40 semiautomatic pistol, probably stolen from his grandfather, a tribal police officer whom Weise had murdered earlier that day. He walked around the room shooting students in the head and firing through the doors of other rooms. This is when Weise was confronted by tribal police officers who shot him, leading to his suicide with his shotgun.

It’s been six years since the Columbine shootings. Jeff Weise was only 10 at the time. What links Columbine and Red Lake High School together other than bullets, teens and funerals? Well, for one, both of the Columbine shooters and Weise were somewhat loners, boys who may have felt persecuted by other students. They may have provided signs of depression and may have believed themselves alienated from the school and the student body. There may have been limited monitoring of the shooters by their parents, noting some reports suggest that the Columbine shooters had constructed explosive devices at home.  Weise’s father had committed suicide four years ago and his mother was confined to a nursing home after she was brain damaged in an auto accident. Shooters from both schools apparently had access to weapons within their homes; they may have shared a lack of respect for their teachers and peers; and their individual small social groups may have shared a common fascination with violence or violence-related groups.

Revenge, problem solving, and attention-seeking may also have been significant motives for these gun-carrying students. Few school shooters are believed to have a single motive for their murderous actions. I’m the first to concede that many of these indicated emotions may be present in thousands of students across the country, so these and other pre-incident behavioral indicators are in and of themselves insufficient to positively identify a potential school shooter.

So how do we prevent another Columbine or another Red Lake disaster? Any student that writes about or is otherwise preoccupied with thoughts or fantasies concerning violence, particularly revolving around the idea of revenge that targets his school or his peers, should be consider a high risk individual. If the student is an animal abuser, involved in the abuse of drugs or alcohol, has a history of aggressive behavior, and/or has an uncommon fantasy concerning firearms, he should also be considered an “at risk” individual.

Like the FBI and the U.S. Secret Service studies that I wrote about last month , no one action and no combination of behaviors and activities can accurately predict human behavior or forecast the next school shooting. What we need to develop is the capability of identifying these students while they are still young, in order to provide them with confliction resolution skills. We can also help improve their anger management abilities and their overall social development.

Some say that a certain number of kids will always be picked on and bullied. It is, we’re told, the nature of youth. But we can change such behavior if we can get to the children while they are still forming their personalities, and developing their ability to deal with conflict and challenge. It’s worth our time; it’s worth our money. We have nothing to save but our children, and nothing to lose but their very lives.

(For information on "Protecting Children from Predators" and other home, travel and personally related security issues, see www.LiveSecure.org)                                                                                                                          

Clint Van Zandt is an MSNBC analyst. He is the founder and president of Van Zandt Associates Inc. Dr. Van Zandt and his associates also developed LiveSecure.org, a Website dedicated "to develop, evaluate, and disseminate information to help prepare and inform individuals concerning personal and family security issues." During his 25-year career in the FBI, Mr. Van Zandt was a supervisor in the FBI's internationally renowned Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. He was also the FBI's Chief Hostage Negotiator and in his current position, was the leader of the analytical team recognized with identifying the "Unabomber."

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,