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In 1998 I was a 19-year-old undergraduate Business Administration major.  I really didn't care what I did when I was out of college, I just wanted to make sure I was employed, and a Business Administration degree sounded like just the ticket.

Then, things changed.

March 24, 1998, Jonesboro, Ark.
Four students and one teacher killed, ten others wounded outside as Westside Middle School emptied during a false fire alarm. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shot at their classmates and teachers from the woods.  They had a van full of weapons and ammunition they had stolen from relatives.  Because they were minors, under Arkansas law they could only be held until they were 21 years old.  Johnson was released 8/11/05, and has already been arrested once since then, on weapons and drug charges.  Golden is to be released 5/25/07.  Their light sentence caused an outrage in the town, as the community felt they should be locked up forever (at the ages of 11 and 13).

April 24, 1998, Edinboro, Pa.
One teacher, John Gillette, killed, two students wounded at a dance at James W. Parker Middle School. Andrew Wurst, 14, was charged.

May 19, 1998, Fayetteville, Tenn.
One student killed in the parking lot at Lincoln County High School three days before he was to graduate. The victim was dating the ex-girlfriend of his killer, 18-year-old honor student Jacob Davis.  He was sentenced to life in prison.

May 21, 1998, Springfield, Ore.
Two students killed, 22 others wounded in the cafeteria at Thurston High School by 15-year-old Kip Kinkel. Kinkel had been arrested and released a day earlier for bringing a gun to school. His parents were later found dead at home.  He could not face the death penalty because he was a minor at the time he committed the offense.  He was instead sentenced to 111 years in prison without the possibility of parole.

There had been a handful in 1997 as well.  Most of them seemed to have similar themes- a social outcast, tired of being teased, strikes back.  The town springs to support of the victims, and demand that the book be thrown at the perpetrator(s).

The Springfield, Oregon tragedy is the one that really got my attention, though.  This kid was bullied relentlessly, and his parents were of little help.  He showed all sorts of warning signs.  He was taking anger management classes and was prescribed Prozac.  In fact, he was expelled from school the day before for bringing a gun to school.  Brain scans later on revealed that he had "holes" in his frontal lobe, areas in which his brain was not functioning at all.

What got my attention was the names people called this kid after he did what he did.  They called him an evil, disgusting, vile monster; a low-life, inhuman, so forth and so on, similar to the adjectives recently describing the young man at Virginia Tech.  Except this kid was 15.

I was probably the only one who considered the perpetrators in all of these crimes to be victims as well.  I can’t imagine how horrible someone’s life has to be in order to throw the rest of it away and take out as many other lives as possible in the process.  I can’t imagine how it must feel to be 18 or 19 and know that I will never step foot outside a prison for as long as I live.  Yes, I know, this fate is pleasant compared to the death that these boys caused, but I hoped that there could be a way to find these kids before they literally or figuratively end their lives.

It really has nothing to do with guns or gun control.  Being around guns doesn't make you kill people, just like listening to Marilyn Manson or Korn doesn't make you kill people, just like playing violent video games doesn't make you kill people.  Suffering from anger, depression, hopelessness, and anhedonia (when nothing is fun anymore) are all much stronger predictors of these incidents.  So, I thought, somebody needed to get to these kids and teach them ways of handling their emotions, of getting through what they are going through, before they resort to violence.

So that became my mission; I chose to accept it.

Infiltrate public schools.  Find kids who think school sucks, life sucks, people suck, I'm really angry...and convince them to NOT kill a bunch of people...not just for the sake of the victims, but for the sake of the kids who have given up on their own lives as well.

I am a school psychologist.

Wish me luck.

Originally posted to Sidof79 on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 02:51 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Might I ask... (6+ / 0-)

    what finally made you decide to go into school psychology? And do you work with a specific age range, or cover a general school system? I'm interested in the field, and advice, thoughts, or reflections from folks currently in the profession are things I'm always interested in hearing :^)

    ...sobre todo creo que / no todo está perdido / creo que visto la luz /al otro lado del rio...

    by Diaries on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 02:53:29 PM PDT

  •  Nah (13+ / 0-)

    I was probably the only one who considered the perpetrators in all of these crimes to be victims as well.

    I think that way, too. In my personal experience, the thing that leads a lot of people to violence is depression. And having been extremely depressed in my life, I can actually understand to some extent -- not that I'm saying I'd ever have gone around shooting people, to be clear -- but that I understand that a level of hopelessness can and does sometimes take over, over a long time span, that can lead to extreme and incredibly cold behavior.

    Good luck to you -- this country has some seriously fucked up kids.

    •  Thanks (13+ / 0-)

      That's probably one of the same reason I'm so quick to come to other conclusions...because in high school, I listened to the same music, played the same video games (well the same kinds of games, DOOM and all), and was quite dark and depressed for a while...but I turned out differently, in large part because I got help.  It inspires me to return the favor, I guess.

      Ask me (-7.88, -6.46) about Lamar Alexander.

      by Sidof79 on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:05:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good on you (3+ / 0-)

        As someone who got all the way through college just fine (to a strikingly different musical soundtrack, I might add), and as someone who saw the possibility of depression creeping up during 18 months of my post-grad employed-then-jobless-then-irresponsible-then-careerist years, I applaud your chosen path.

        I did have someone to talk to- long-distance anyway: my uncle's a psychiatrist and one of my only male role models. He was a big help in more ways than one- when I began college 12 years ago he set my brother and I on the path to rock decadence by gifting us a 4-track recorder. Aside from the weird 18 months mentioned above, it was all a breeze from that point. I hope you can point your future students forward with similar care and gusto.

  •  Good Luck (5+ / 0-)

    I have a good friend that is finishing his degree to become a guidance counselor. He'll be good at it as I'm sure you will be at your career.

    He works in a psych ward now and went through three schools in our area. He liked the inner city school he worked at over the nice suburban schools because of the attitudes from the kids.

  •  i'm glad you are you (5+ / 0-)

    and i greatly appreciate what you're doing!

  •  Wow (6+ / 0-)

    Somebody who is not only right on all counts but literally giving a life, in the smartest and most direct manner, to the cause of correcting those wrongs.


    The world is deep, And deeper than the day could read

    by NewDirection on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:16:28 PM PDT

  •  Best of luck, indeed (6+ / 0-)

    You've chosen to do something that is desperately needed and poorly understood [IMO]. I was one degree removed from the shooting at Stockton CA, January 17, 1989 - my father was a recently-retired administrator still working for the district, and had worked at Cleveland
    Elementary. They asked him to act as media contact, and to generally keep the public's hunger for information from disrupting the school's attempt to heal. The truth was, healing the school was a path nobody'd been down before. I don't know how to say whether our being more experienced at it now is a good thing.

    That shooting was different - a drifter who'd been a student 16 years before. Now the kids bring their own guns. If you can reach these troubled kids before they do irreversible harm, blessings on you. And thanks.

    We're on a blind date with Destiny, and it looks like she's ordered the lobster!

    by Prof Haley on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:16:56 PM PDT

    •  Stockton (3+ / 0-)

      That was when the "modern" spate of this nastiness began, wasn't it? I was attending an OC, CA high school in 1994 when a mailman in town went beserk and began shooting people. We were on lockdown for about 2 hours and it was of course bizarre and creepy and sad. One of the victims was another postman who used to do his route in my neighborhood for a while- one of the nicest, kindest souls one could meet. Unspeakably sad.

  •  And Good Luck Finding Those Who Probably (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, ladybug53, Ellicatt, Sidof79

    aren't "thinking" in the conventional sense, at all. The current case looks pretty far off a logic or counselling problem.

    You've certainly got more guts than I do!

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:30:43 PM PDT

  •  Thank you. (8+ / 0-)

    I wish the networks would interview someone like you, who is trying to prevent these tragedies from happening, rather than just focusing on all the sadness and gore as if there is no hope.

    I probably could have been one of those kids.  I was often depressed and something of an outcast when I was a teenager, and I even had easy access to massive amounts of ammunition since a relative I lived with was one of those "we've got to be ready to overthrow the government if we need to" types (and not shy about it).  But I also had a lot of people who loved me, who answered my calls for help and cared enough to get me on the right path, so I never got far enough down that road to actually see it as a real possibility.  The fact that you are not only willing but able to do that for so many kids is just awesome beyond words.

  •  I wish you luck. (5+ / 0-)

    I worked for almost 10 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District and I was impressed with the counselors and Special Ed teachers that I knew. I wish that we could identify and help people like this earlier. I'm not suggesting that this tragedy could have been prevented. But I want to place a little more attention on prevention and money on treatment before I am willing to consider more concealed weapon permits. In his state of mind, he should not have been attending VT and he certainly should not have been allowed to purchase guns and ammo.

    "though we rush ahead to save our time- we are only what we feel" Neil Young- 1968

    by blindyone on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 03:48:53 PM PDT

  •  Jodi Picoult (4+ / 0-)

    takes a look at the bullying in Nineteen Minutes.
    Even scarier is Lionel Shriver's We need to talk about Kevin. But the one I learned the most from, which really looks at the University culture of nihilism, is non-fiction: Harvard and the Unabomber: The Education of an American Terrorist

    The thing that people don't understand was that he may have been hermit-like, but he was not out in the wilderness. He was three miles from the nearest Greyhound station to anywhere, which may seem like a lot on a city block in high heels, but many rural people walk farther than that routinely.

  •  My experience (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, ladybug53

    with school psychologists is they test for disabilites and do lots of paperwork related to the students they test, but no counseling. That is left for the 1 counselor for every 600-700 students.

    "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

    by lilypew on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 04:03:42 PM PDT

    •  It probably varies by system (6+ / 0-)

      I've got four counseling cases right now, plus several behavior plans that I remain involved with.  A lot of what I do has to do with identification, and a lot of that identification is student with disabilities, but it doesn't stop there.
      In some systems they don't test at all.  I can only dream.

      Ask me (-7.88, -6.46) about Lamar Alexander.

      by Sidof79 on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 04:06:12 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We could use more mental health professionals (3+ / 0-)

        who work closer to the kids. On my way out of school this evening I saw a student who had been beaten by a peer after school. The peer is one I have written up numerous times for bizarre statements and pictures (he had drawn). He told one student, loud enough for me to hear, he couldn't wait until he was old enough to drive so he could go to his house in the middle of the night, break in, and bludgeon him to death.
        I have called home with no response from parents. I actually left a message saying I was VERY worried about his mental health. I talk with the kid frequently. And I pray a lot.

        "There must be more to life than having everything" -Maurice Sendak

        by lilypew on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 04:13:04 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  have you called the police? (3+ / 0-)

          If the parents aren't responsive, maybe it's time to have law enforcement's help in keeping the other kids safe?  The speech you're describing is considered "terrorist threats", and rightly so, and should not go unaddressed.

          I agree that we need more mental health services.  Not sure the schools should be tasked with providing them, in addition to everything else we provide, but there is definitely a huge need.  I'm having lunch next week with the mental health agency I refer little kids to; I have a feeling they're going to ask me to back off.  There's a huge need, for kids and also many parents, for free or low-cost MH services.

        •  May I second the call for you to involve police? (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          tryptamine, ladybug53

          I have this theory about kids that they need boundaries. I call it "your loving arms around them". When they're young, it's very simple, lots of love and hugs... but your arms also protect them from doing things that would hurt them. Through love you do that, to produce a healthy, happy child.

          Kids whose parents set no boundaries aren't happy, they keep pushing, pushing out against nothing. I'm sure your analysis that this kid is a mess is accurate. Don't mean to suggest that a call to police will "fix" him or help him, per se.

          But if it does establish boundaries for him, any at all, that could be good. I would say by now that (on the one hand) he's desperately crying out for help, via being aggressive. On the other hand, probably full of rage.

          It matters to me, because it could have been my son that he was beating up, and he might indeed kill that boy, or another boy. If he said it loud enough for you to hear, how could that be an accident?

          There are plenty of parents who don't care, whose main influence is negative.

          Just a few cents worth.

          Be good to each other. It matters.[me] / John McCain

          by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 10:02:21 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I'm a school psych (6+ / 0-)

      and I spent the evening doing parent ed.  I have a big caseload of kids whose parents want them tested but I have other responsibilities too.  My job description includes "mental health services for all adults on campus" -- any teacher or aide who has problems is free to chat me up.

      I usually work with really young kids.  More bang for the intervention buck when you get them really little and can help the kids and their parents see some light.

      •  Thank you, Lisa (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Lisa, tryptamine, ladybug53

        for your service to our society.

        Thanks for realizing you'll help more with the really little ones.

        Be good to each other. It matters.[me] / John McCain

        by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:56:46 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Big kids can be helped, too, (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Lisa, tryptamine, ybruti

        of course.  But when elementary sch. teachers hear about the big kids who have problems, we've usually tried to get them help when they were little.

        I've fantasized that someone should do a (very confidential) study:

        1. Get elem. teachers at several schools to list the 5 most and 5 least likely names in each class to get into trouble (incl. self-destruction) later.  (Guess there'd usually be 4-5 boys in the first lists and evenly divided boys/girls in the second.)
        1. 15 years later find as many as possible of those named people.  Report statistics.  (My guess: the teachers were right 80% of the time.)

        The Republicans are defunding, not defending, America.

        by DSPS owl on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 05:55:34 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm pretty sure (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DSPS owl

          there were plenty of people in the shooter's life -- many of them teachers -- who tried to intervene / help along the way.  My impression is that he was treatment-resistant.

          Funny you should mention the gender discrepancy.  I was in a school psych meeting today, being scolded (along with my colleagues) for "overidentifying" boys for special ed, counseling, etc.  We're supposed to try to find equal numbers of boys and girls, whites, hispanics, poor and rich kids, native English speakers and English language learners -- in other words, kids who are diverse on a number of measures -- equally in need of intervention.

  •  Dumb comment above so I hope (4+ / 0-)

    that you get my sentiment even though my words are clumsy. I didn't mean to leave off school psychologists. Bottom line is I worked with abused, neglected and even hungry kids. Almost all were below grade level. They lived in a neighborhood where the City of LA had to place concrete barricades on streets to make it more difficult for people from the suburbs to drive in and purchase drugs. When I worked in my classroom at night I often heard automatic weapon fire. The janitor and I walked each other to our cars. Almost all of my students spoke Spanish at home. Many of their parents were working combinations of two or three jobs to pay the bills. It was beyond sad. People like you were a rock, a tremendous resource, for a classroom teacher. We need more of you.

    "though we rush ahead to save our time- we are only what we feel" Neil Young- 1968

    by blindyone on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 04:06:40 PM PDT

  •  Thanks. (5+ / 0-)

    It is great to here from someone who is doing something positive. There has been too much emphasis on why Cho wasn't expelled or committed and not nearly enough on how this kind of tragedy coulsd be avoided on a deeper level.

  •  Wow. Gorgeous writing, commendable goal (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lisa, keirdubois, tryptamine, ladybug53

    Good for you. Wish I could rec this 10 times.

    Have you seen Dan Savage's article, "Fear the Geek", written just after Columbine? (for The Stranger in Seattle, WA.) Dan gave me permission in person one time to reprint it any where, any time May I pass that on to you? If you'd like more direct permission, I'm sure he'd give it to you in writing if you asked.

    I'd think it would help to wake some adults up about all this:


    Fear the Geek
    Littleton's Silver Lining

    By Dan Savage

    THE TENTH OR ELEVENTH TIME DanCBS/PeterABC/TomNBC told me the massacre in Littleton, Colorado was especially horrific because it happened in a high school, "somewhere children feel safe," I started screaming at the television. What high school were they talking about? I went to three, and in none of my high schools did I for a moment feel safe. High school was terrifying, and it was the casual cruelty of the popular kids--the jocks and the princesses--that made it hell.

    "Once upon a time," People wrote in a manipulative and dishonest cover story, "the most that kids had to worry about at school was a looming test or a deadline for a paper."

    What fairy-tale time was that, exactly? In high school, I had much more to worry about than tests and papers. Like most students, I lived in fear of the small slights and public humiliations used to reinforce the rigid high school caste system: poor girls were sluts, soft boys were fags. And at each of my schools, there were students who lived in daily fear of physical violence.

    There was a boy named Marty at my second school, Saint Gregory the Great, who was beaten up daily for four years. Jocks would rip his clothes knowing his parents couldn't afford to buy him a new uniform, and he would piss his pants rather than risk being caught alone in the bathroom. He couldn't walk the halls without being called a fag, and freshmen would beat him up to impress the older kids. Teachers, presumably the caretakers in this so-called safe environment, knew what was going on--some even witnessed the abuse--and did nothing to stop it.

    Another kid I know was thrown through a plate-glass window by a jock when he was a sophomore. When his mother complained to the principal, she was told that if her son insisted on dressing the way he did--like a new-waver--he'd have to get used to being thrown through plate-glass windows. A jock jumped another friend, beating the shit out of him and breaking his nose. My friend never threw a punch, but he was suspended for fighting along with the jock.

    Be good to each other. It matters.[me] / John McCain

    by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:53:54 PM PDT

  •  Tell more about brains with non-funct holes (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, WayneNight

    non-functioning holes, that is.

    Please. What are suspected causes? Is there any work-around? (I mean, can the brains heal and re-route with optimum conditions?) Links would be good.


    Be good to each other. It matters.[me] / John McCain

    by AllisonInSeattle on Thu Apr 19, 2007 at 09:55:46 PM PDT

    •  Frontal lobe damage, anyway (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, AllisonInSeattle

      contributes to all sorts of problems.  The frontal lobe is responsible for executive functioning, problem solving, metacognition, and impulse control.  Pretty much any time you think about what you're doing, or what you want to do, or what you've done, you're using your frontal lobe.  It's the part of the brain that forms last, and quite often is still growing in our early 20's.

      It's easy to understand how kids with an underfunctioning frontal lobe have behavior problems- they don't think as much about what they're doing, why, and what might happen as a result.  They don't understand cause and effect, and can't figure out better ways to solve problems than resorting to the most primal instincts.

      Many things can cause brain damage such as this.  A lot of kids never have a chance- for whatever reason, the areas of non-functioning brain never functioned.  Sometimes toxins can kill brain cells, particularly if ingested as a fetus or an infant (lead poisoning, for example, or fetal alcohol syndrome).  Sometimes physical abuse can cause atrophy in the brain.

      In all cases, yes, the brain can be taught to compensate for what has been lost.  But it needs to be explicitly re-taught, it may not recover on its own.  These are the kids that need intense therapy and behavior management.

      And, by the way, the most common form of "treatment" for these kids is antipsychotics.  Antipsychotics don't heal, they just sedate.  They only "work" as long as they are used.  I understand the need to ensure the safety of other kids, but we should be able to do better.

      (and here is the link about Kip's brain damage)

      Ask me (-7.88, -6.46) about Lamar Alexander.

      by Sidof79 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 06:20:31 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Good luck (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tryptamine, ladybug53

    Also, I'd be interested in your views (as a pyschologist) on what V Tech could have done to prevent the incident.

    At least some people are saying that the student's mental problems should have been revealed to his roommates, or even the entire student body.

    I am considering writing a diary tomorrow night about how this bothers me.  While there were signs that he had problems, it was ruled by a psychiatrist that he wasn't a danger to others.  Are we going to start revealing medical information on anyone who has a serious problem?  Would that really create the kind of world we want to live in?

    Just some thoughts I've been having...

    •  The best I could say (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tryptamine, WayneNight

      is that he could have been helped much earlier.  He clearly had a pattern of potentially violent psychopathology.  I'm not sure if VTech could have done much by the time they got him, but along the way surely somebody could have.  He was nonverbal and bullied, he needed a positive influence at some time in his life and he never got one.  No one ever provided him a reason to live, to care.  

      I don't believe that anyone's mental status should be made public.  There are a lot of people with mental illnesses, 99.99% of whom never threaten their neighbors (I made that number up).  I believe that the authorities should be made aware of kids on their campuses who have or have had psychological problems...if they are allowed to screen for medical conditions I don't think it's a stretch to keep track of mental status, too.

      Ask me (-7.88, -6.46) about Lamar Alexander.

      by Sidof79 on Fri Apr 20, 2007 at 05:58:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Please write that diary, Wayne. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It is disturbing to think that they would do that.  I could understand if he had actually been identified as a threat but the fact that no one anticipated him doing this....  We don't need to alienate other kids like him even more by calling them "crazy".

  •  Thank you -- you have no idea (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lisa, tryptamine, DSPS owl, Sidof79, JoCoDem

    how much good you can do.

    In November, 1971, a kid, Larry Harmon,  (about 20 years old) took a rifle, a sledgehammer, and a can of gasoline in to St. Aloysious church on the Gonzaga U. Campus.  He broke up the marble in the sacristy, shot the church caretaker dead, and then ran out to get the gas can to start a fire, and began shooting students and passersby in the street.  

    I had a view of of what was happening from the floor of  a glass walled cafeteria across the street from the church.  I had set down my lunch tray when someone screamed 'get down on the floor, there's a sniper outside.'  But I lifted my head up and peeked out the bottom of the window. (A :Nam vet classmate later said I saw more combat than he did in six months in Vietnam. )

    The street swarmed with emergency vehicles, and people were squating behind cars and bushes, lying down on the ground, just general panic.

    Some brave rescuers carried people he had shot in to lay on the carpet of the foyer -- I still remember the blood stains in the carpet and how they miraculously disappeared by the next day -- funny how things get cleaned up pretty fast after something like that.  

    Anyhow, the police shot him in the head, and he was dead.  I was amazed at the amount of blood just generally in the area.  And I was a very lucky observer only.

    I was greatly disturbed directly after the event -- my grades fell, I had trouble sleeping, I would panic at loud noises -- even dropped and rolled under a table in the library when someone dropped a stack of books --   Other untoward incidents occured afterwards that probably would not have happened had I not been in such an "upset" state.

    Even now, over 30 years later, when something like V-Tech or other similar situation occurs, I can't sleep well for a couple of nights,  and have been known to wake up yelling.   Not much was known about PTSD at that time, and later I have been able to find some help with this, but it still is a problem.  I've been known to get up and walk out of violent movies, and break into a sweat when TV programs of a violent nature are too loud and realistic. (They always get the sounds pretty close to real, but they never seem to get the tissue damage impact on people's bodies quite right -- its really unbelievably messy in real life.)  

    I shudder to think of what the kids who have seen this will be dealing with  for the rest of their lives.  And very often, I think of what is happening to the people who witness are become part of the 'everyday' violence of shootings and gang bangs and drive bys in our cities and towns which are all too frequent (three shot to death in Oakland last week, two wounded in Fremont just this week, and two more killed in San Jose).  I cannot comprehend what the tragedy of Iraq will loose to the world in coming years --

    If you are there to help at the front end of this problem, you are going to be saving so much grief for so many people.  Early intervention -- every effort made will pay incredible dividends in the future.   Thank you.

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