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Clinton: 'For The Sake Of Our Children'

In the wake of a schoolyard shooting that killed four students and a teacher in his home state of Arkansas, President Clinton urged the nation Saturday to "come together for the sake of our children."

Mr. Clinton sent condolences to the families and friends of the victims in his weekly radio address, taped as he visited Cape Town, South Africa. Two boys, 11- and 13-year-old classmates of the victims, were arrested in the shootings Wednesday at West Side Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark.

"We do not understand what drives children, whether in small towns or big cities, to pick up guns and take the lives of others. We may never make sense of the senseless, but we have to try," said Mr. Clinton, a former Arkansas governor.

He noted the Jonesboro shooting was the third time in recent months that a quiet town was "shaken by the awful specter of students being killed by other young people at schools." In December, a boy opened fire on a student prayer circle at a high school in West Paducah, Ky., killing three students and wounding five. Two months earlier, two students were fatally shot in Pearl, Miss.

"We have to understand that young children may not fully appreciate the consequences of actions that are destructive, but may be able to be romanticized at a twisted moment," Mr. Clinton said. "And we have to make sure that they don't fall into that trap.

The president encouraged parents to take comfort in a federal report released earlier this month that declared a vast majority of the nation's schools safe and free of violent crime.

"We've worked hard to make our schools places of learning, not fear. Places where children can worry about math and science, not guns, drugs and gangs," he said. "But when a terrible tragedy like this occurs, it reminds us there is work yet to be done."

Although no final decision was announced, the Justice Department indicated Friday it did not plan to file federal charges against the two boys accused in the shootings. The possibility of bringing federal charges arose partially because federal law might bring longer sentences than state laws.

Mr. Clinton said he has ordered Attorney General Janet Reno to organize experts on school violence to analyze the recent school shootings and determine what they may have in common and what steps can be taken to reduce the chance of a similar tragedy.

"Three towns: Jonesboro, Pearl, Paducah, too many precious lives lost," Mr. Clinton said. "The white ribbons that flutter today in my home state of Arkansas are a poignant and powerful challenge to all of us, a challenge to come together for the sake of our children and for the future of our nation."

Written by Eun-Kyung Kim
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this rep