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Leavitt, Utahns tackle mass shootings

They hope to come up with ideas to help prevent the incidents

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Deseret Morning News graphic

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and some 30 education, law enforcement and mental health professionals will meet today with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt as part of a national effort to better understand mass shootings.

President Bush has dispatched Leavitt, a former Utah governor, along with U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spelling and U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, to gather information in light of the recent killings at Virginia Tech.

Administration officials clarified Thursday that the three Cabinet members are traveling separately, not together as initially reported by the Deseret Morning News. Between them, they will visit Minnesota, Colorado, Iowa, Tennessee, Texas and California in addition to Utah.

Utah participants, including representatives of the Nebo, Provo, Davis and Salt Lake school districts; the University of Utah; the Salt Lake City Police Department; the Utah State Hospital and Valley Mental Health, will talk about February's Trolley Square shootings.

"What we've tried to do is get a cross-section from our community to participate," the governor's spokesman, Mike Mower, said of the group being assembled. Mower said first lady Mary Kaye Huntsman will also be involved.

The group is scheduled to begin meeting at 8:30 a.m. in the governor's office and then break out into various discussion groups before coming back together to summarize their findings.

Their work will be done privately, but Huntsman and Leavitt have scheduled an 11 a.m. press conference about the group's conclusions. The results of all meetings being held nationwide will be reported back to the president within 30 days.

Huntsman said the choice of Salt Lake City was a logical one "because of the recent Trolley Square tragedy." Five people were killed and four seriously wounded at the shopping mall on Feb. 12 by Sulejman Talovic before he was killed by police.

The governor said the discussion will focus on "what we might all do together to make sure we are better prepared" for such incidents. The president's call for the meetings comes after a troubled Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 students and teachers on the Blacksburg, Va., campus before killing himself.

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com