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The President's Radio Address

December 06, 1997

Good morning. Yesterday the community of West Paducah, Kentucky, came together to remember the three young girls struck down at school in a terrifying act of violence. Our entire Nation has been shaken by this tragedy. West Paducah, on the southern shore of the Ohio River, is at the center of our circle of prayers. America has lost three beautiful daughters. We mourn deeply with the Steger, James, and Hadley families, with those students who were wounded and their families, and with all those whose lives were changed forever by a 14-yearold with a stolen gun.

We may never know what drove the son of a respected church elder to extinguish the lives of classmates bowed in prayer. But in the aftermath we've seen great heroism, generosity, and love: a courageous act by a classmate to head off more violence, an outpouring of understanding for the sister of the alleged killer, the donation of organs for patients desperately in need, an entire nation reaching out in support. One terrible act could not poison the deep well of goodness West Paducah has drawn upon in this moment of grief.

Now the rest of us must do everything in our power to prevent such things from happening again. At a time when we're trying to prepare our children for the opportunities of the 21st century, high school seniors are more likely to take weapons to school than to take calculus in school. This is unacceptable. We simply cannot educate our children, and they cannot learn and live up to their full potential, when violence and drugs threaten their safety in school.

One thing we must do right away is to gain a much clearer view of the problem. Sadly, our national picture of school violence is neither complete, nor up to date. We know more about the overall patterns of car theft in America than we do about the harm that comes to our children at school.

So today I'm directing Attorney General Reno and Education Secretary Riley to launch a major initiative to produce for the first time an annual report card on school violence. This report card will contain the data we all need in order to boost efforts to prevent violence from happening in the first place.

School safety is a challenge not only for police and parents, teachers and school officials; the scourge of young violence poses a challenge to every American. It demands that we do everything possible to find safe places for our children to learn and play and grow. It demands that schools follow a policy of zero tolerance for guns. It demands that we teach our children basic values, the unblinking distinction between right and wrong. It demands that we exercise responsibility when we create images for our children to see. Most urgently, it demands that whenever possible, we reach out to those who may be troubled, angry, or alone before they do something destructive and perhaps irreversible to themselves or others.

Youth violence represents an insistent, angry wake-up call to every parent, every teacher, every religious leader, every student. If we answer that call, we can ensure that the memory of Kayce, Nicole, and Jessica will help us to prevent other such tragedies. In the words of the girls' final prayer, we can ensure that their light will shine forevermore.

Thanks for listening.

NOTE: The address was recorded at 5:18 p.m. on December 5 in the Roosevelt Room at the White House for broadcast at 10:06 a.m. on December 6. In his remarks, the President referred to Kayce Steger, Nicole Hadley, and Jessica James, Heath High School students killed by gunfire following a prayer meeting; Michael Carneal, the alleged gunman, and his sister Kelly; and Ben Strong, a student who acted to end the shooting.

William J. Clinton, The President's Radio Address Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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