More guns, fewer bullies: Officials see anti-bullying tactics working
Luis C. Gonzalez will carry two physical scars: one where a bullet ripped through his right arm and a second where a bullet grazed his rib cage.
It's what can't be seen that may be just as lasting.
The 30-year-old Brockton father was wounded when he confronted a 15-year-old boy who beat up his son, and now he wonders if anyone is safe.
The shooting Sept.14 near Gonzalez' home highlights the potentially deadly mix of bullies, guns and the danger of confronting anyone - young or old - these days.
"It sends a message out to everyone: be careful," Gonzalez said.
Experts say bullying appears to be decreasing in many schools but a new, troubling trend is starting to take its place in lower and lower grades: children emulating gang members.
"In the past three or four years, I have seen a real increase in this," Raynham Patrolman Louis F. Pacheco, the town's school resource officer, said. "Some of those kids are getting into trouble."
Melissa Holt, a researcher at University of New Hampshire Crimes against Children Research Center, said there have been reports of gangs creeping into the sixth grade in some southeastern Massachusetts communities.
And with the gang mentality comes gang problems - and guns.
"That is one of the realities of today: sometimes teenagers are going to have guns and can be very dangerous," said Elizabeth Englander, director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College.
Susan Szachowicz, principal at Brockton High School, said school officials try to counsel students to resolve problems by talking - not shooting.
But some still don't get it, she said.
"Some teenagers don't see courage as walking away, ever," Szachowicz. "It is a Wild West mentality: we have a dispute, let's pull out our guns. It is a mentality that is frightening."
In the most recent case, Gonzalez' 13-year-old son was beaten up as he walked to football practice more than a week ago near the family's home. When the boy came home minutes later, Gonzalez went out to find the attacker and confronted the teen who beat his son, according to police.
The 15-year-old suspect began "getting mouthy" during the confrontation, according to police, and Gonzalez either shoved or hit him. That's when the teen turned to another teenager next to him and ordered him to shoot Gonzalez.
According to police and Gonzalez, a 19-year-old pulled a gun from his waistband andopened fire. Gonzalez' son ran down the street and hid while Gonzalez ducked behind his sports utility vehicle.
"One bullet ripped through my arm. The second bullet grazed by side. My car was hit three times," Gonzalez said. "I never expected this."
While worries about gangs and guns increase, the experts say there has been progress on another front: bullies in the schools.
"People certainly are more aware of what is going on and taking it more seriously," UNH's Holt said.
Pacheco said he's also seen a change of attitude in the Raynham schools and among students. "Kids are much more tolerant," he said.
The best way to deal with bullying isn't to confront the teen or child, the experts said.
Englander said parents should deal with the schools - and don't call the other child's parent in anger.
"Usually when the parent of a victim confronts the parent of an instigator, they usually call them up and say something like, 'your rotten kid confronted my poopsie.' It is very likely to make it worse," she said.
If the parents are level-headed and know each other, they may be able to discuss the situation calmly, she said. "Even then, you have to speak very carefully," Englander said.
Gonzalez said if he could turn back time, he wouldn't have approached his son's attacker.
He would have called police instead.
"They looked like any other kids and they're walking around with guns," he said. "You never know."
Maureen Boyle of The Enterprise (Brockton, Mass.) can be reached at email@example.com.