CBSN

Experts Doubt Tweens Would Attack Teacher

Center Elementary School is shown, Wednesday April 2, 2008 in Waycross, Ga. Allegations that third-graders hatched an elaborate plot to knock out, handcuff and stab their teacher were met with shock by neighbors and with doubt by psychiatry experts who said it is unlikely that children that young seriously intended to hurt anyone.
AP Photo/Steve Cannon
Allegations that third-graders hatched an elaborate plot to knock out, handcuff and stab their teacher were met with shock by neighbors and with doubt by psychiatry experts who said it is unlikely that children that young seriously intended to hurt anyone.

Police say the plot at Center Elementary School began because the children, ages 8 to 10, were apparently angry after the teacher disciplined one of the students for standing on a chair.

All of the accused children have learning disabilities, reports CBS News correspondent Mark Strassmann.

Students brought a crystal paperweight, a steak knife with a broken handle, steel handcuffs and other items as part of last week's plot, police said Tuesday. They said nine students were involved, but prosecutors are seeking juvenile charges against only three of them.

That morning before school, another student saw two of the plotters passing the knife and was threatened with it, reports Strassmann. Police are looking into whether still another child was menaced at knifepoint earlier in the week.

Experts said children that age are certainly imaginative and capable of creating elaborate games. But Dr. Louis Kraus, a child psychiatry expert at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, said he doubts they would have actually attacked.

"The reality is it is highly unlikely they would have been successful at this," Kraus said. "Even if it had begun, it's unclear whether they actually would have followed through with it."

Most premeditated acts of student violence in schools usually don't occur until high school, Kraus said. Younger children have been known to bring knives or other weapons to school, experts said, but often it's more a matter of showing off or acting tough than part of a deliberate assault attempt.

However, one psychologist says the crimes are not age-appropriate at all and a cause for more concern.

"It's the elaborateness that really concerns me," psychologist Dr. Lisa Boesky told CBS News' The Early Show. Boesky added that, "even if they couldn't carry this out, who's to say they wouldn't bring rat poison the next time and put in it the teacher's coffee or bring your father's gun to school."

Police said the plot had been organized enough that some students were assigned specific roles such as covering classroom windows and cleaning up any mess.

Most children under the age of 12 don't generally experience the kind of long-standing anger necessary for a premeditated crime, said Dan Mears, an associate professor at Florida State University's College of Criminology and Criminal Justice.

"Kids tend to be more spontaneous," Mears said. "If they're angry, they act on it right then."

The district attorney is seeking juvenile charges of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault against an 8-year-old boy and two girls, ages 9 and 10. The girls are also charged with bringing weapons to school.

News of the alleged plot spread quickly through this small south Georgia city on the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, where residents are preparing for their annual SwampFest celebration this weekend.

"They were so young, I just couldn't believe it," said Euleathia Harris, 50, who lives in a public housing complex near the school. "I wouldn't think anything like that would happen in little ol' Waycross. I guess if it can happen in the big cities, it can happen here."

Police Chief Tony Tanner said the plot unraveled when a student reported to school officials Friday that a classmate had a knife in her backpack.

School officials say they punished all nine students, and some received long-term suspension, but they would not be more specific. Under school system rules, children who bring weapons to school may also face expulsion.

Defense attorney Michael Bryant told The Early Show that it is highly unlikely that the suspected kids will end up in the juvenile system, saying the students are too young.

"They're going to have some intensive counseling along with the parents to find out what was the cause of this," he predicts. "Were they watching too many Scooby-Doo cartoons or is it nor nefarious than that?"