Pupil, 15, who shot six at high school was disarmed by teacher School shootings leave US leaders feeling impotent

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WITH SCHOOLS across America gripped by new fears of gun violence, a 15-year-old called Thomas Solomon has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated assault after the shooting of six pupils at Heritage High School in Georgia.

Solomon has been in police custody since early on Thursday, when he was tackled by a teacher and gave himself up.Classes at the school, at Conyers near Atlanta, were abandoned until next week.

According to details emerging yesterday, Solomon probably broke into his stepfather's gun cabinet, which contained "a large number of powerful weapons", to get the rifle and revolver that he allegedly used in the attack.

Police said that he fired the .22 calibre rifle 11 times and the .357 magnum revolver three times, before dropping the rifle and trying to flee.

The county sheriff, Jeff Wigington, and head of schools in the county, Don Peccia, praised the senior teacher who tackled Solomon and probably stopped him committing suicide.

The teacher, Cecil Brinkley, said that he has seen the boy run outside. "He knelt down and placed the barrel of the pistol in his mouth. That wasn't the best of situations," Mr Brinkley said, so he moved closer to the suspect until he was about 10ft away.

"I said, `Give me the gun, give me the gun, give me the gun.' He took the pistol out of his mouth and pointed it toward me. I backed away a bit, but I said again, `Give me the gun, give me the gun.' I said: `Hand me the gun,' and he came right over to me and gave me a bear hug, and that's when he said, `Oh God, I'm scared,' and gave me the gun," Mr Brinkley said.

This week's school shooting, the latest in a two-year rash of gun violence at suburban high schools, came as Americans agonised over the country's deadliest school slaughter, the killings at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which 15 people including the two teenage killers died.

And with yesterday marking the first anniversary of Kip Kinkel's rampage at Thurston High School at Springfield in Oregon, the stage was set for an orgy of introspection such as only America can mount.

Addressing a rally in Colorado on Thursday evening, President Bill Clinton told his audience of cheering, foot-stomping teenagers, many of them pupils at Columbine High: "We know somehow that what happened to you has pierced the soul of America."

Among the questions he raised was the availability of guns in America. The sting of the firearms debate had been drawn, however, by the passage of new gun controls by the Senate just hours after news broke of the Conyers shootings.

While the firearms debate remains the most divisive of issues related to youth violence - splitting south from north, rural areas from big cities, the majority of Republicans from Democrats - the impact of the fictional violence to which American children are exposed is also high on the list of contributing factors.

As with guns, however, serious philosophical and commercial interests - from the First Amendment on freedom of expression to Hollywood - are at stake. Mr Clinton, who has received generous campaign contributions and political support from film moguls and stars, is not above the fray.

And while the two teenage killers at Columbine High had collections of violent videos and computer games and staged their own murderous film for a school project, the shooting at Conyers appeared to have been sparked by the end of a school romance. And the assailant, according to witnesses, deliberately shot low to avoid killing his schoolmates.

The current soul-searching, though, goes beyond the issues of guns and media violence into aspects of American life that have rarely attracted criticism in the past. They include a whole range of priorities and values that Nineties suburban America holds dear.

Maybe, some are saying, the cultural homogeneity of these predominantly white, monotonously residential and mostly new districts produces embittered misfits. Maybe the high financial and career aspirations of the parents of these pupils leads to the emotional neglect of the children.

Maybe prosperity itself, which gives children their own televisions, telephones and computers, isolates them inside the home as well as out. Maybe the recent sociological focus on helping girls to succeed has led to neglect of the needs of boys.

Indeed, the whole concept and culture of America's high schools, with their emphasis on sporting prowess and their cliquish atmosphere, has also come under the microscope. Some dare to say that the whole ethic of pre-college education should be overhauled.