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Don't ignore violent threats from students, experts say

As in other school shootings around the nation, the 14-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting a teacher had talked about killing people. Experts say such warnings can no longer be ignored.

"It is eerie that this is repeating itself," said Dr. Burt Singerman, director of psychiatry at St. Francis Medical Center in Pittsburgh.

"This has occurred enough times that teachers, principals and guidance counselors need to think about how they would handle students who make these statements."

In the small northwest Pennsylvania town of Edinboro, 14-year-old Andrew Wurst opened fire at an eighth-grade dance late Friday, killing teacher John Gillette and slightly wounding another teacher and two teenage boys, police said.

"He's devastated," said Wurst's lawyer, Phillip Friedman. "This family's devastated. Their hearts go out to the Gillette family."

The violence followed school shootings last month in Jonesboro, Ark., in December in West Paducah, Ky., and in October in Pearl, Miss. The toll from all four shootings: 11 killed and 25 wounded.

About a month ago, Wurst told classmates he wanted to kill people and commit suicide, said friends Triston Lucas, 14, and Ben Mills, 13. Neither accepted the threats at face value.

"He had a really sick sense of humor," said Lucas.

One of the teens accused in the Arkansas killings talked about shooting people the day before he did, but fellow students didn't take him seriously. The 14-year-old accused of shooting into a prayer circle in West Paducah warned friends to stay away from the gathering. And in Mississippi, the five teens charged with murder allegedly conspired to take over the school and kill their enemies, authorities have said.

Only after the shootings in Jonesboro and West Paducah did officials there begin talking about how to prevent them. In Arkansas, schools are getting brochures with tips on spotting potentially violent students. Kentucky officials have suggested installing a telephone line so students can tip them off to potential problems.

"One of things that parents need to do, I think, is tell their kids that if they hear anything about a kid even joking around about having a weapon, that has to be taken seriously and reported to an adult immediately," said Janet Riggs, who teaches at Gettysburg College.