October 11, 2000 | By: Laura Skillman

Violence is not an easy topic to discuss but organizers of a recent forum felt it needed to be addressed.

"We felt like this was an extremely important topic," said Laura Wilson, Lyon County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Science and an organizer of the event. "We didn't have any idea how many people would attend. We've been overwhelmed and in fact, had to turn some people away."

The event was sponsored by the Pennyrile Area Extension Homemakers Association and the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service and was funded in part by a grant from the Kentucky Extension Homemakers Association. More than 180 people attended the Oct. 4 event at the UK Research and Education Center in Princeton.

In planning the event, the committee wanted a topic pertinent to western Kentucky. Violence is something the region is all too familiar with. In 1997, a student opened fire on fellow students at Heath High School near Paducah killing three and injuring five.

"Violence is not something that we like to think about; unfortunately, it does affect our lives and we tried to think of angles that we could provide information on that would protect individuals," Wilson said.

Perhaps the most poignant message was delivered by retired Heath High School Principal Bill Bond who today works as a safe schools consultant. This was Bond's first time to speak to a group in western Kentucky and his emphasis was on remembering the lives of the victims and not giving in to fear. Generally, he speaks only to principal groups.

Bond talked about how lives were changed and how violence affects communities. Not only were the students who were shoot injured but others were too. Their injuries weren't physical but emotional.

Heath students returned to school the day following the shooting and many students joined in the prayer group at the front of the school where the shooting had occurred.

"That is overcoming your fears in a big way," Bond said.

Bond said he asked students to return to school the following day because the shooter had said his objective was to control the school.

"You can control schools physically or you can control them with fear. If I'd shut that school down, he'd have won," he said.

The community was afraid but did not give in to those fears in the days following the incident, he said. There were rumors and innuendos from time to time about further violence but the school took precautions, it did not close.

"You just don't go through life caving in to rumors and fears, if you ever start it, there is no end to it," he said. "You've got to do everything in your power to prevent it but you cannot cave in to unsubstantiated rumors because there will be another one tomorrow and another one the next day."

Bond said a week after the shooting it was learned that the shooter had bought a gun to school prior to the incident and showed it to several fellow students but none told school officials; they did not want to get him in trouble. He urged students in the audience never to let something like that pass without telling someone.

That was also a part of the message delivered by Lyon County High School Senior Lee Wilson. Wilson, national president of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America, discussed a new program called STOP the Violence, Students Taking On Prevention.

The program was piloted in 11 states last year, including Kentucky, and has expanded to all states this year. It is a peer-to-peer outreach that helps youth to recognize, report and reduce the potential for youth violence.

Wilson encouraged people attending the conference to take information back to their communities about the program and about other things they learned during the program.

"We don't want to live in fear of violence, because then it rules us," he said. "We need a good background in violence education and prevention. No community is exempt. Go back to your community and if you tell just one person about it or that you attended this program, you are making an impact."

Wilson said that he was glad to see the diverse audience which included youth, law enforcement, school officials and homemakers.

The program also included segments on recovering from violence, road rage, gun awareness, rape prevention and recovery, conflict/anger management and gangs.


Laura Wilson, (270) 388-2341