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A spoor of violence __ rare, meaningless, impossible to forget _ permeates our schools.

Fear of guns creeps along corridors. Killer children have shot down their schoolmates as if they were so many alien enemies in a videogame.

A society that has always had guns and has been comfortable with them is no longer sure it can keep them under control.

Photographers from the St. Petersburg Times have roamed the Tampa Bay area, taking pictures of kids with guns, adults with kids with guns.

The pictures are both troubling and reassuring. At least they show there are concerned people out there, that some are trying in their various ways to deal sensibly with guns and violence, and that we are not yet stranded on the slippery slope.

Once, school safety was more easily achieved. In 1950, a list of the five worst disciplinary problems in American public schools was published.

It seems almost comic now. The high crime of tattling led the list, followed by gum-chewing, running in the halls, inappropriate clothing and failing to put paper in the wastebasket.

Reality these days is ugly enough, especially since the highly publicized shootings on school grounds of the last two years. Yet, statistically, school killings are rare and even declined in the past five years, according to figures released by the Children's Defense Fund.

Indeed, children are more likely to be killed in their own or their friends' homes than in school, the CDF declares. They are three times more likely to be killed by an adult than by another juvenile.

In Florida, a child is killed by a gun every two days, the same killing rate as Georgia's but lower than in New York, where a child is killed by a gun every day.

Other states put Florida to shame, including Hawaii, where the rate is "only" one child killed by firearms every 65 days.

Jacquin Sanders, Times Staff Writer

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A gunman's bullet took Ashley Mance's life while she was sleeping, but she had her 7th birthday party anyway. Ashley's mother decided to bring her little girl's friends and relatives together at her grave, "so they could remember her life." Ashley's twin, Aleesha, sang the Happy Birthday song. Later she said, "Ashley's with Baby Jesus now." Aleesha, recovering now, was sleeping with Ashley when the bullet tore into both their bodies. In the picture, Aleesha, center, is blowing out the candles on the big cake with white icing. Her mother, Yahaira Carattini, is at right, holding the plastic cake cover. At left is a younger sister, Jailene Jones, 4, who was in bed with the twins that night. The bullet, from a .30-caliber semiautomatic Norinco rifle fired in the alley next to the house where they were sleeping, grazed her ear. At the graveside celebration, Jailene seemed a little confused. "Is it still Ashley's birthday, too?" she kept asking.


Half a dozen emotions, none of them carefree, play across the face of 7-year-old Dustin Gober as he points his toy cap pistol at a friend. The boys were playing in front of Dustin's house in New Port Richey last fall. Later, he aimed the gun at the heads of several other children in the neighborhood. "I got you!" he shouted, pulling the trigger. "I got you!" Dustin's mother, Colleen Gober, says her children are taught gun safety and that the family has hunting guns that are locked in a cabinet. Dustin plays role-playing games with toy guns and is allowed to aim at people while doing so, she says. "We let him play Army, and that's okay. Who knows? He may be in the Army someday. He knows the real guns and he knows the toy guns. I believe he knows the difference between playing and real violence."


Wearing almost as much "fruit salad" as a member of the West Point Class of 1950, Master Sgt. Catrina Nickelson, 17, is ready to admit that her parents were right in making her join the Junior ROTC at Plant City High School. "Now you can't get me away from it," she says. "I used to be the quiet one. It broke me out of my shell." She is on the ceremonial firing squad that presented a 21-gun salute during the East Hillsborough Memorial Day program. There is a grim inevitability in Catrina's learning about guns. In 1990, the first husband of her mother, Brenda Boling, was shot dead during a robbery. "I didn't want (my children) to turn out like the 13-year-old who shot my husband," Boling says. The marksmanship class, she says, shows kids "what not to do with a gun."


The actors are unknown but earnest. Sixteen-year-old Eric Koroknay opens fire using a 9mm semiautomatic in a corridor at Seminole High School. Two students are hit. Then Nelson de Leon, 23, a visitor from St. Petersburg Junior College, and Josh Perlman, a 16-year-old sophomore at Seminole, push forward to subdue the shooter. The students are taping an interactive CD-ROM to be called Aftermath: Lessons in School Safety, which will be distributed to schools throughout Florida. Shooter Koroknay had to audition for his starring role.


There is no glamor about guns in Pete Eigo's home. His kids have grown up seeing their father clean his 9mm Beretta at the kitchen table in their Oldsmar home. "They aren't fascinated with guns, because they see them every day," says Eigo, a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy who, nevertheless, locks his weapons inside a strongbox, away from 10-year-old Brittany, left, and twins Tyler and Cody, both 8. "They see a gun as something that Dad uses at work, just like my pager or cell phone," Eigo says. "It's a tool, and that's it."


Students dressed up as Jack and Jackie Kennedy perch on the back of a convertible, just as the tragic couple did the day the president was assassinated in 1963. The occasion was last Oct. 9, before the start of the Zephyrhills High School homecoming parade. Each class represented a different period in history; juniors portrayed the 1960s. It wasn't, perhaps, the students' finest hour (or idea), but the bad taste level only rose when Brent Wernsing, far right, wrested a plastic gun from Lakeisha Mozon, right, playing a Secret Service agent. Then he pretended to assassinate the president (Jason Chancey, who clowned along). Jackie (Laura Steinberg) looked amused, as did Carlos Rivera, left, also dressed as a Secret Service agent. Wernsing said his taking the toy weapon and aiming it at Chancey was a spontaneous action as other students took photos. In light of the recent school shootings in Colorado and Georgia, he says now, "I probably would not do it today."


There is a warm and loving chuckle in Al London's voice as he tells how he taught his 10-year-old daughter Jennah to shoot. "Her older sister Abby is 19 and has been shooting for years. Jennah kept nagging. She thought it was her time to start knowing about guns." London is a psychologist who works with truants at the Juvenile Assessment Center in Hillsborough County. He is also a reserve officer with the Tampa police department. The shooting session, with a .22-caliber semiautomatic pistol, took place at the Wyoming Antelope Club range in Pinellas County. According to London, it was a notable success. "She had a ball, and she hit the target well, too. But the best part was it gave the two of us a chance to spend time together." Guns are good for girls, London thinks. "Shooting makes them feel competent, accomplished, empowered." Carefully, he adds: "There is no aggression attached to this new competence."


Jeff Renihan and his son Connor, 6, go to Civil War re-enactments together. Renihan takes his 1861 Springfield rifle; Connor his wooden toy rifle. A history teacher at South Sumter High, Renihan has fond memories of hunting with his father and grandfather. Now he takes Connor, who is not allowed to touch his father's guns. Two years ago, the boy saw his father shoot a wild pig. No traumas. Renihan says Connor knows about death. "It's when you get to be with Jesus all the time," the boy says.


Toy Phetsanghane, 15, and Aarron Jawors, 14, wait to see whom to target next with the harmless paint blobs their guns shoot. The students, from Bay Pines Lutheran School in Seminole, are on a field trip to Paint Ballistics in Lithia Springs. Why are they playing a war game? "They just wanted to do something different," says Barry Ryan, a parent who went along to supervise. His daughter Briana also played. Phetsanghane recalls the game with a good deal of pleasure. "I shot some people," he says, "but I got hit more than I hit." He says he does not own a gun, nor does anyone else in his family.


Neal Morados, 16, wipes sweat from his face but does not flinch from the villainous General Diaz in a video game at Fun-N-Games Arcade in St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square Mall. He especially likes the feel and the graphics of "Time Crisis II," in which the object of the game is to stop the general and his men from launching a nuclear satellite to blow up the world. "It tests my skills," he says. "It's a different gun game. When you shoot the gun it has a hammer action. It feels like a real gun." A student at Canterbury School in St. Petersburg, Morados is one of the arcade's top scorers. He plays for about two hours on Fridays. "Videogames are videogames," he says. "It's not real life." Arcade manager Nancy Dozois says the machines can be programed to reduce the level of violence. She can control the language used and the amount of damage that results from an action, preferring to keep the games on low settings. Many children come into Fun-N-Games while their parents shop. Dozois and her staff keep the kids under close watch and throw them out if they use bad language. "I don't care what they get from the games," Dozois says. "They get more from the discipline and the love that we give them."