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Prof. helps to push anti-bullying bill past committee

FILE PHOTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Robert Bechtel, a UA psychology professor. is seen with his daughter in December 2004. Bechtel was at the legislature in Phoenix yesterday testifying about an anti-bullying bill.
By Andrea Kelly
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 20, 2005
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After being bullied, prof. shot man in '55

PHOENIX - The UA professor who told his class two months ago he shot and killed a student while in college testified at the Capitol yesterday in favor of a bill to eliminate bullying.

Robert Bechtel, psychology professor, told his classes Nov. 17 he was the victim of bullying from age 4 through college. In January 1955, he brought a gun to his residence hall at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, with the intention of shooting everyone who lived there.

After killing one student, Bechtel stopped shooting and turned himself into police later that day. In April 1955, he was admitted to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He stayed there for almost five years. When he was discharged, he was tried and acquitted for the murder, with a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity.

Bechtel, who started teaching at the UA in 1976, told the Arizona House of Representatives K-12 Education Committee yesterday that the passage of HB2368, a school district governing board bill that would require documentation and investigation of incidents of harassment, intimidation and bullying, was of utmost importance.

Bechtel told the committee his history of being bullied and how he finally acted on his aggression and shot a student in the hall. He encouraged the committee to pass the bill to help stop what he called a "universal problem."

The committee passed the bill yesterday by a vote of 7-2. Before the bill becomes a law, it must pass through and be approved by the House Rules Committee and the House of Representatives. Then it will be sent to the Senate to go through the same process. If it passes in both the House and Senate, Gov. Janet Napolitano can choose whether to sign the bill into law.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. David Bradley, D-Tucson, and was proposed to him last year by a group of students from Mansfeld Middle School, 1300 E. Sixth St.

"The goal is to get people to realize that this is real," Bradley said.

Bechtel said 90 percent of the population is affected by bullying.

Bradley said the bill is similar to a bill proposed last year that passed in the House but not the Senate committee, so it never reached the governor's desk.

"It didn't pass the first time," Bechtel said. "I have a chance to say something this time."

Bechtel said he thinks if this type of law were in place when he was the victim of bullying, his actions could have been prevented because if he reported the bullying to his school, it would have been stopped.

"What creates the problem is a long history of bullying," Bechtel said. When students, like him, are bullied constantly for years, he said it builds up and can lead to a dangerous outcome.

"We'll have to teach kids how to treat each other, from kindergarten on," Bechtel said.

Bechtel and Bradley wanted to put a face on the problem, one that was catapulted into the limelight after two high school students shot 13 classmates at Columbine High School, Colo., in April 1999.

"I'm not just a professor here to give you numbers," Bechtel said. "I've had personal experience with bullying."

He told the committee that schools are an environment for bullying and more people who are victims of bullying commit suicide than turn on the bullies.

"It is a universal problem and unless there is some intervention, it will go on," Bechtel said. "It is exacerbated by automatic weapons."

After his testimony, Bechtel made a few statements on camera for a documentary being made about his experience with being bullied.

The documentary was being filmed on campus in November when Bechtel told his classes about his experience. Macky Alston, director of the documentary, said filming would continue intermittently through May and possibly into June. It is expected to show on the Discovery Channel in 2006.

"We're talking to a range of people, others who were at the college at the time," Alston said. "(We're) hoping to get a balanced story on what took place. We've also been talking to other people who are involved in the story."

Alston said the documentary would also include information from experts on the effects of bullying and youth violence.

Bechtel said since he went public with his story two months ago, many people have approached him to talk about their experiences with bullying. He said he hopes sharing his story will prevent what happened to him from repeating itself.

Bechtel said enrollment in his Introduction to Environmental Psychology class seems to be a little higher this semester than in years past.

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