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Inside the minds of juvenile criminals

Former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt: A group of third graders has been charged with planning an elaborate attack on their teacher. Was this a gang of budding sociopaths or a small group of separated, challenged children who played out “follow the leader” in some terrible fashion?

Belle Carter was in her last year of teaching, a career of many years dedicated to helping, caring for, and disciplining the children in her small classroom.  Her third grade class was somewhat different though than the rank and file classes in the Central Elementary School in Waycross, Ga. Carter taught students who carried diagnoses such as ADD and hyperactivity.  It appears to be the discipline part of her teaching responsibilities that made her a target of her students.

On Friday, March 28, a student in the kindergarten through fifth grade school of about 500 students noticed a third grade female student with a knife in her book bag and told a teacher something. Since the 1999 tragedy at Colorado’s Columbine High School, adults have desperately encouraged our children to speak up when they notice something threatening at school. School officials were quickly able to determine that the steak knife in the student’s book bag was but one implement of what appeared to be a carefully thought-out plan by a group of approximately nine students in Carter’s class.

They were apparently plotting to get even with their teacher for disciplining a female student who had stood on a chair in the classroom. The small band of students had allegedly put together a plan, assembling assignments for each team member. A serrated steak knife, duck tape, metal handcuffs, a glass paperweight and other items were put together by the students. Some of the alleged conspirators would be responsible for taking part in the unspecified assault on their teacher, while others would cover the windows of the classroom to prevent anyone from seeing their plot carried out and the last batch were designated to “clean up” afterwards.

The plot has, fortunately, been foiled and three students, ages 8, 9, and 10 have been charged as juveniles, even though Georgia law normally requires a child to be 13 or older when charged with an adult-like crime.  Too young to be charged but not too young to conspire seems to be the situation here.  But were the children who coldly plotted against their teacher really serious? After all, some have said, “How serious can a third grader really be?”

Budding sociopaths?
At age 8, or 9, or 10 most children understand that lying, cheating, stealing, and even conspiring to harm a teacher is wrong. Was this a gang of budding sociopaths or a small group of separated, challenged children who played out “follow the leader” in some terrible fashion? 

In most groups there is an Alpha male, or in this case perhaps an Alpha female, who takes the lead within a group setting. Children find their identity within their group and adhere to the morals of the group they know and fit in with, perhaps to the exclusion of that taught to them by their parents or learned from society in general.

Sometimes a group, perhaps like an inner city street gang, can become so isolated from the world and society around them that they lose the ability to truly distinguish between socially acceptable right and wrong. Perhaps this small band of third graders, in a similar manner, lost or gave up that same ability that normally separates society from those that would renounce, disregard or eve n destroy such society.

Something has gone terribly wrong for many of our children. By some reports juveniles account for up to 17 percent of all arrests in our country while the increase in the arrest of girls under 18 has jumped 28 percent. Have a mind of your own, absolutely, but to attack what you do not agree with can be very wrong. My fear is that if these trends continue it is our children who will be the ultimate losers.

Clint Van Zandt is a former FBI agent, behavioral profiler and hostage negotiator as well as an MSNBC analyst. His Web site, , provides readers with security-related information.