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Experts Say Warning Signs Are Usually Present In Children Who Commit Violent Acts

Posted April 20, 2005

— As family members prepare for the funerals of a 9-year-old boy who investigators believe killed his mother, then himself, new questions have arisen on how to avoid similar acts.

Authorities say they do not know what happened that led Tyler Jones to shoot his mother, Glenda Pulley, then kill himself. All they know is from a note the boy left apologizing for his actions.

But psychologists say there are almost always warning signs in situations where children commit violence -- red flags that experts say adults should always pay attention to.

William Lassiter trains schools across North Carolina on how to look for the warning signs in kids who may become violent.

"A lot of times we like to believe kids just snap, but in most cases, there are warning signs," said Lassiter.

Cary psychologist Melissa DeRossier counsels families and children in crisis.

"It is very disturbing when small children commit such violent acts toward themselves or others," DeRossier said.

DeRossier said that if children talk about committing violent acts, adults need to listen.

For example, DeRossier said depression and hopelessness are signs usually exhibited by children who have committed suicide.

Other warning signs that could lead to violence, she said, could include social withdrawal and an interest in guns. DeRossier also said kids from unstable homes who have problems in school are more likely to act out.

"In my experience, it would be very rare for there not to be some level of warning signs or dysfunction that has been going on for a while," DeRossier said.

The U.S. Secret Service recently did a study of nearly 300 school shootings dating back to 1973. In every case, the shooter told someone -- either a friend or relative -- about the intent to commit the violent act.

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