An expert who has responded to hundreds of cases of youth violence in U.S. schools and communities said Monday that officials in a town where a 14-year-old boy shot himself in a school cafeteria last week have done everything right since then.
The boy, Hunter Mack, was hospitalized after shooting himself Friday morning at Walpole Elementary School in Walpole, in the southwestern part of the state. Classes resumed on Monday, with counselors and crisis workers from around the state on hand at the school and in other schools in nearby towns.
A University of New Hampshire family life specialist, Malcolm Smith, was part of a team that spent Monday at nearby Charlestown Middle School, where students also were shaken by the shooting.
"It's affected kids across the district, because this child and his family know a lot of people," Smith said. "It's a small area, and it's a really close, tight-knit community."
Walpole is a town of about 3,000 residents 60 miles west of Concord, the state capital. The elementary school has about 170 students in grades 5 to 8. Smith said he was impressed with how the school district has handled the boy's shooting.
"I can say having been at these types of incidents for years across the country that this response is absolutely perfect," he said. "Everything that possibly can be done is being done."
Some of the Charlestown students are making a decorative banner that will be hung in the Walpole Elementary cafeteria when it re-opens. The cafeteria will remain closed this week and will be completely remodeled with new furniture and paint before it reopens, Smith said.
Classmates have said Mack had been passing notes during the week saying he was depressed, but it was unclear why. Cheshire County Attorney Peter Heed said the boy might have been upset about a relationship with a girl.
Smith said much of his work Monday involved stopping rumors from spreading. Counselors are encouraging students and families to avoid Facebook, for example.
"The important thing for the kids and staff to hear is it's no one's fault when these things happen," Smith said, "and yet all of us have some responsibility to do better."
The school district, which includes Walpole and Charlestown, is one of three in New Hampshire that recently were chosen to participate in an experiment developed by Smith to reduce bullying and meanness in schools. The Courage to Care curriculum, which hasn't been implemented in Walpole, includes videos, activities and games emphasizing empathy, caring for others, understanding power, courage and being respectful in cyberspace.
"We're starting with a high-level caring community," Smith said. "It's one of the reasons we picked them for Courage to Care. We wanted an exemplary district to see if we could go above and beyond, and that will give us a good idea if this is making a difference."
Heed, the county attorney, said Monday that investigators are still interviewing students, staff members and teachers to try to determine how the boy got the gun and how he got it into school. He declined to say what type of gun the boy used.
A second cousin, Christopher Mack, told The Boston Globe that the boy shot himself with a 20-gauge shotgun and was in a medically induced coma Saturday after having surgery Friday night. Hospital officials would not confirm he was a patient, and family members did not return messages seeking an update on his condition Monday.