Slaying of Valley teacher recalled

Slaying of Valley teacher recalled

On March 19, 1982, then-17-year-old Lori Haney sat in a Valley High School classroom across the hall from where psychology teacher Clarence Piggott was shot dead.

The fact that 18-year-old boy who sat beside her in algebra class -- senior Patrick Lizotte, a withdrawn loner with an obsession for guns -- killed a teacher who had tried to help him did not surprise her. But the incident indeed shocked her and the nation.

Haney, now a 34-year-old mother of three, watched on television the accounts of the massacre at a Littleton, Colo., high school this week, supposedly done by withdrawn loners with obsessions for guns. It made her all the more frustrated.

"Nothing has changed," said Haney who was Lori Orchow when she attended Valley High 17 years ago. "What really dawns on you is that your kids are targets for any sicko who walks on campus.

"There is a false sense of security (armed patrols and rules that require visitors to check in with the principal's office). But there is no real sense of security. The real possibility is that this will happen again as more kids become disturbed."

Haney fears her 12-year-old daughter, Dakotah, a Becker Middle School student; 7-year-old son, Connor, a Katz Elementary student; and 3-year-old daughter, Chloe -- face uncertain futures attending public schools, where violence is an ever-increasing concern.

Haney's younger sister, Robin Ficklin, a mother of four, has sent three of her children to public elementary schools. But next school year she will send her eldest, 10-year-old, Scott, to a private middle school, Faith Lutheran.

Although that will be a considerable financial burden on her and her husband, Chad Ficklin -- who also attended Valley the year Lizotte killed Piggott -- they feel it will be worth the cost for peace of mind.

"I don't want to sound snobbish, but my feelings are that parents who can afford -- and are willing -- to send their children to a private school are more willing to be involved in their lives," she said. "My son will be among a smaller group where everyone knows everybody. And we will have to make the financial adjustment."

Ficklin also plans to send daughters, Taylor, 9, and Cassidy, 6, and son, Brady, 2, to private middle school and private high school for both safety reasons and because she believes they will get a better education in smaller, more manageable classrooms.

Lizotte is serving two life sentences without possibility of parole at the Southern Nevada Correctional Center at Jean. By contrast, in 1993, Clarence A. Piggott Elementary School opened at 9601 Red Hills Road.

On the day of the killing, Lizotte got upset when Piggott told him he would not let him out of doing a public speaking assignment before his class. Lizotte went home, got a gun and returned to the school to kill the 55-year-old teacher and wound two students. Lizotte, in turn, was shot by a Metro Police officer about a mile from the school .

Lizotte's gunplay made international headlines at a time when in-school shootings were rare. But the first Clark County School District student to be killed at a school did not occur until eight years later.

On Aug. 27, 1990, Donnie Bolden, a junior at Eldorado High School, became the only local student to die in such a shooting. Trigger-man Curtis Collins, a sophomore, is serving a life sentence, but he becomes eligible for parole next year.

Some would argue that just one on-campus slaying in a school district as large as Clark County's seems remarkable. But don't try telling that to a parent such as Haney.

"Today some people accept the fact that only one student death is OK, but it's not OK when that one could be mine," said Haney, a native Las Vegan who is the daughter of a psychologist and the wife of a retired Metro Police officer.

"The sad thing is that so few people even remember the shooting at Valley."

Haney will never forget it: "I heard what sounded like a loud board slapping -- I had never heard a gunshot before. Later, when we learned what happened, I couldn't believe someone had been shot. That kind of thing happened outside of school, but not in the classroom."

Longtime Clark County School District spokesman Ray Willis also has not forgotten that fateful day. But, he recalls that school security measures were not changed as a direct result of the Piggott killing.

"Back then principals made the decision whether school security officers were to carry guns," he said. "Today, there is a school police force comprised of trained peace officers who (must) carry weapons. But that didn't happen because of the (Piggott) shooting. It didn't happen until the late '80s (prior to the Bolden killing)."

Steven Wilson, who like Ficklin was an eighth-grader at Hyde Park Middle School, several miles from Valley on the day of the shooting, recalled the reaction back then: "Word got all around our school right after it happened. But I can't recall any teachers talking about it, just the students.

"With that incident and the recent shootings, you have to ask what's with the profiles? The people doing these shootings are similar. Yet authorities seem to be overlooking the signs."

Haney couldn't agree more, although she admits it still bothers her that she did not report Lizotte's strange ways when she spotted them on numerous occasions.

"Patrick would eat alone at lunch and read 'Soldier of Fortune' magazine," Haney recalled. "He'd sit in class and draw soldiers and tanks shooting at each other. Once he asked me for a piece of paper and I said 'just a minute Patrick' and he shouted 'Now! Now! Now!' Other times if you said hello to him, he'd just ignore you.

"Everyone knew he was a weird guy, even the teachers."

And, if Haney had reported Lizotte's unusual behavior to school authorities?

"They would have done absolutely nothing about it," she said, noting that after the shooting she felt school authorities simply wanted the bad publicity to go away and took little effective action to prevent future incidents.

She said school officials must do a better job looking for the telltale signs that indicate a student is liable to snap and go on a killing spree.

But Willis said school officials cannot immediately assume that students who are shy or dress differently automatically have a propensity for violence. And, he said, there are key differences in the recent Colorado killings and the 1982 Las Vegas slaying.

"The Valley High incident involved a teacher who took a socially withdrawn child under his wing and tried to nurture him," Willis said. "That does not appear to be what happened in Colorado. What we can say is that the (killers in both incidents) were not the norm."

Haney said potential solutions to such violence include anger management classes starting in the first grade. Such classes, she said, would teach children it is wrong to hate.

Also, she suggests, mandatory school uniforms would be helpful in putting everyone at a particular school on a more even footing.

But, the most important thing, Haney believes is: "Parents have to take a more active role in their children's lives. They have to get involved."