WASHINGTON — Students' "alienation and rage" is the biggest factor in school shootings, Education Secretary Rod Paige said Sunday, and addressing that problem, rather than changing gun laws, should be the country's priority.
Last week, students were shot in schools in California and Pennsylvania, including the suburban San Diego high school where two students were killed and 13 other people wounded. A funeral for one of the slain teens, Bryan Zuckor, was held Sunday.
Paige said guns cannot take blame because there have been reports of students plotting violence with bombs and other devices. Regardless, he said, "We need to look to the cause of the situation."
"Probably the biggest problem we have is the amount of alienation and rage in our young people," Paige said on CBS' "Face The Nation."
"We think just focusing on guns is much too narrow; it's beyond guns. The guns may be the instrument of the violence, but they're not the cause of the violence," Paige said on CNN's "Late Edition."
Paige recommended more after-school programs and parental involvement, and character education.
He said in President Bush's administration, religious-based organizations will get a chance to reach more children in after-school programs.
Paige, the former Houston schools chief, also said Bush wants to expand character education. Congress created a pilot program for that purpose in 1994.
Bush told Congress last month that he wanted to triple funds for character education "to teach our children not only reading and writing, but right from wrong."
"Character education offers an opportunity to teach kids things like empathy, compassion, tolerance — all values that we all know are wonderful," Paige said on CBS.
After the Santana High School shootings on March 5, Paige issued a statement urging "every parent and every student to listen closely to children who express concern, anger or fear concerning their school, their teachers and their classmates."
Charles Andrew Williams, 15, a freshman, surrendered after allegedly firing more than 30 shots in and around a boy's bathroom. He is being held on murder and other charges stemming from the shooting.
Also last week, an eighth-grade Pennsylvania girl was accused of shooting one of her classmates in the shoulder in a school cafeteria.
Attorney General John Ashcroft said there have been many programs to keep guns out of schools, but they "don't seem to be capable of excluding the potential for violence."
Zuckor, killed during the rampage at Santana High School in Lakeside, Calif., was remembered by family and friends as a boy with a daredevil streak and a warm smile for everyone he met.
Hundreds filed past his bicycle with a silver helmet hanging from the handlebars as they mourned the 14-year-old boy Sunday at Community Presbyterian Church.
"You may have heard reports this week that Bryan dreamed of being a stuntman," the Rev. Bob Mentze told mourners. "Even more, he dreamed of being a veterinarian, a scientist or a doctor."
More than 600 mourners, many wearing ribbons with Santana's school colors of purple and gold, attended the service. Two large portraits of Zuckor adorned the front of the church, along with the bicycle he used for his gravity-defying stunts and one of the many model cars he built.
A private burial followed the service.
The memorial was the third in three days for victims of the Santana shooting. On Saturday, the other victim, 17-year-old Randy Gordon, was buried.
One student remains hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his chest. He was in good condition Sunday.
Zuckor's peers, speaking at the memorial, focused on his talents performing stunts on his bicycle. Students would gather around to watch him in the small quad, the same area where shots rang out last week.
Zuckor, who dreamed of being a stunt man, also had a serious side. Several said he talked of his desire to follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a doctor.
Still others remembered him for his upbeat attitude.
"He had a smile that would melt your heart," said Karen Degischer, the principal at Santana. "A stuntman or a doctor, what a beauty of youth to think that you could be one or the other or both."
As the oldest of three children of a single mother, Zuckor looked after his younger siblings, Mentze said.
"He felt a great need to care for his family," he said.
Zuckor was shot in the back of the head in the bathroom where the first shots were fired. He was pronounced dead at the scene.