Dutch school shooting: shocking, but unpreventable

14th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

As the Netherlands comes to terms with the first murder of a school teacher by a student, condemnations have been tempered with concerns that improved security cannot prevent repeat incidents.

Hans van Wieren

The death of an economics teacher in a school shooting on 13 January in The Hague has shocked the Dutch nation and sparked cries of condemnation, but amid efforts to improve school security, one education union said it is opposed to the creation of fortresses.

And while the City Council of The Hague said that it is "appalled" at the shooting of Hans van Wieren,  Education Alderman Pierre Heijnen also said he cannot guarantee that similar incidents will not occur in the future.

Despite offering full support and sympathy to the shocked school and its community, Heijnen said that ultimately, shootings cannot be stopped even with improved security policies.

Improved security

The Terra College, where Tuesday's shooting occurred, recently upgraded safety measures by installing security cameras. In its battle to maintain public order and reduce criminality, students have also been issued with ID cards, newspaper De Volkskrant reported

Security personnel — despite lacking authority to inspect bags for possible weapon possession — patrol school grounds and the school was honoured in October last year with a special award, the Hein Roethof-prijs, for its co-operative efforts with students to reduce problems on public transport trams.

But improved security failed to protect Hans van Wieren, 49, who was shot in the head at about 1.15pm at Terra College in The Hague on Tuesday. He died in hospital at about 10pm and the suspected killer, believed to be a 17-year-old student, reported to police at about 9pm.

Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende expressed disgust, labelling the shooting as terrible. He said such incidents "must not be allowed to happen" and that many people would be worrying how the killing could have happened in the first place.

Education Minister Maria van der Hoeven, currently on a working visit to China, also said the shooting was horrible. Speaking via her spokesman, the minister said she could not understand how some youths thought they could solve their problems with a gun.

But MPs in the Lower House of Parliament, the Tweede Kamer, reacted in a reserved fashion. Education spokespersons expressed horror at the killing, but were not immediately prepared to demand stronger security measures until the full circumstances of the shooting were known.

And the deputy chairman of education union Onderwijsbond CNV, Evert de Jong, said that schools have worked hard in recent years to reduce violence. He is opposed to stronger security, such as more surveillance cameras, special entrance gates and police patrols on school grounds.

"We do not want to make the school a fortress," De Jong said.

Playtime is over

The association of public schools, VOS/ABB, expressed its shock at the shooting and said the incident was a continuation of the hardening of society. As an example, director Philip Geelkerken drew a parallel between recent violence against bus drivers and problems in schools.

Zaandam bus drivers went out in early January 2004 to demand better security after a colleague was stabbed and wounded by an irate passenger. The incident was the latest in series of incidents on buses and trams.

But the VOS/ABB also said school violence must be fought against. It said schools play an important role in rearing children and teaching them morals and standards, but could not stand against the toughening of society alone.

Second shooting 'unpreventable'

Tuesday's killing was the second school shooting in the Netherlands. A 17-year-old went on a shooting rampage in the southern Dutch city of Veghel in 1999. The culprit injured four other students and a teacher and was later sentenced to five years in jail.

In October 1995, a 19-year-old student of the Prisma-college in Utrecht stabbed a 17-old-student to death. The latest incident is, however, the first time that a teacher was allegedly killed by a student.

But education union AOb also said that the latest incident could not have been prevented: "It happens in society and therefore also in schools", it said in a NOS news report.

The director of Christian education organisation Besturenraad, Henk Strietman, said violent incidents demand greater attention. But he also admitted that even then, there was no guarantee that they would not occur.

Meanwhile, the national students action committee, LAKS, said Tuesday's shooting did not warrant the use of special detection gates at schools. It said inquiries must first be conducted into how students can take weapons to school.

Previous troubles

Despite the fact that many groups have said the shooting could not have been prevented, difficult questions will still be asked about the matter, particularly in light of the fact that the suspected killer was a known trouble maker.

Facing the prospect of being suspended from school due to misconduct, suspect Murat D. allegedly walked into the canteen and placed a pistol against deputy headmaster Van Wieren's temple and pulled the trigger.

Murat was reportedly facing suspension from class after throwing seats. He also allegedly threatened Van Wieren, who was involved in the incident, that he would come to regret the decision, newspaper De Telegraaf reported.

Students also said that fourth-year student Murat is of Turkish ancestry. The shooting is thus likely to spark renewed concerns about ethnic crime.

Rising concerns in the Netherlands about ethnic violence have made front-page headlines. Flashpoints include the October 2003 death of Amsterdam drug addict Anja Joos and the beating murder of 22-year-old Rene Steegmans in Venlo in October 2002, both of which sparked community outrage.

And after Tilburg resident Bart Raaijmakers, 18, was robbed and stabbed to death in July 2003, the municipal authority, welfare workers and police announced a crackdown against criminal Antillean youth. Two of the four arrested suspects were Antilleans.

Immigrant groups have hit back, claiming they are stigmatised by the media and have called for community respect between migrants and native Dutch. They also loudly protested the August 2003 killing of knife-wielding Moroccan man Driss Arbib, 33, by Amsterdam police.

US-style school violence?

Deceased victim Van Wieren was also an elected town councillor in Zoetermeer for the small Democrat D66 party, but was primarily known as a tough, but helpful and good teacher.

One female student, Isabel, described him as a sweet man. She is uncertain if she will dare return to school.

Van Wieren was also closely involved in the installation of security cameras at the Terra College and despite admitting that they were not the best solution, he said in a recent Education Ministry interview that they would help students and staff feel safer.

His school has suffered from ongoing violence recently. A female director was reportedly attacked with a broom last year and a mother of one of the school's teachers has complained that there is so much violence in schools that she has urged her daughter to go and work elsewhere.

And in response to the shooting, one student's father talked of "American conditions".  He also said it was becoming increasingly worse in the Netherlands and wondered aloud where he could safely send a child.

The Hague Education Alderman Heijnen said Terra College was known as a tough school that battled hard to install norms and standards among its students. But in a dismayed response to the shooting, he questioned what people could do to prevent such behaviour.

The most common and tragic answer was that the shooting was simply unpreventable.

14 January 2004

Subject: Dutch news + school violence

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