Friday, March 22, 1996
Slaughter of kids spurs call for pederast law

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In Dunblane, the ''wee angels'' are sleeping. Sixteen kindergartners and their teacher were buried this week in that ancient Scottish city.

The final funerals were Thursday for the victims of Thomas Hamilton, a kook turned killer who gunned down innocent young children in their gym class.

May they rest in peace.

An ocean and half a continent away, a Reading, Ohio, educator, Dr. John Varis, and a legislator, state Sen. Richard Finan, can't rest.

They want to reduce the chances of a Dunblane happening here.

On March 14 - the day after the shootings in Scotland shocked the world - Sen. Finan co-sponsored Senate Bill 276, which would require police to notify nearby schools when a convicted child molester moves into the neighborhood.

This piece of legislation supersedes House Bill 180, which I wrote about in an earlier column. That bill - calling for longer jail terms and notification for sex offenders - has been stalled in committee for nearly 10 months.

The senator says time is running out on his bill. The General Assembly's law-making business usually ends May 31. If the bill doesn't become law by then, it will have to be reintroduced in January 1997.

For some innocent child, that may be too late. Child molesters are notorious repeat offenders. Studies put their recidivism rates at anywhere between four and 10 times that of other violent criminals.

Dr. Varis - superintendent of Reading Community City Schools - realizes time is short and lives could be at stake.

To move things along, he's organizing a statewide letter-writing campaign.

He wants fellow educators and concerned parents to write Sen. Finan at his Statehouse office - Room 138, Columbus, Ohio 43215 - and urge the bill's passage.

Right to know

This is not the first time the social studies teacher turned superintendent has written about sex offenders. In February, the letter he sent home to his school district's parents was instrumental in outing a convicted child molester.

The man, on parole after kidnapping and sodomizing a little girl, had quietly moved to Reading. He had notified police of his whereabouts, as Ohio law requires. But that was not enough for Dr. Varis.

He believes parents of potential victims and ''the people who are supposed to protect them in the schools have a right to know if these people are out there.''

No one is going to be so unthinking as to claim that one law will totally prevent another Dunblane. Sen. Finan and Dr. Varis are quick not to link the tragedy in Scotland to Senate Bill 276. ''It's comparing apples to oranges,'' the senator says.

''The anti-gun types could tie it up with their agenda,'' warns the educator.

He would rather people be concerned, not with the type of weapons the killer used, but with the kind of man he was.

In Dunblane, Thomas Hamilton was called a pervert and the town weirdo. He allegedly asked young boys to take off their shirts while exercising under his watchful eye as a Boy Scout leader. Town fathers are said to have beaten him over his bad habits. But, he was never taken to court or convicted of child molestation.

Save the children

What does Thomas Hamilton's heinous act of emptying handguns into 28 school kids and three teachers before blowing his brains out have to do with a bill in Ohio?

''Everything,'' explains Dr. Varis.

''Let's call him what he was. He was a certain kind of pervert, a pedophile.''

To Dr. Varis, Thomas Hamilton had a dangerous past that should have been exposed years before he became a killer.

''Why must society always be reduced to just sitting back and counting the victims?'' he asks. ''Why can't we do something to prevent this?''

He says this, and his voice raises in pitch and in volume. It quivers. He sounds outraged. And, he is.

''If we don't reserve our sense of outrage for the smallest victims in our society,'' he says, ''then what else is there?''

Some say Dr. Varis is going too far. He should consider the convicted child molester's right to privacy. The man on parole committed the crime and did his time. He has a right to be left alone.

To anyone making this argument, I have a suggestion:

Visit Dunblane.

Cliff Radel's column appears in The Enquirer Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Available to speak to groups. Tips and comments most welcome. Call 768-8379 or fax to 768-8340.