By: Peter Roper

May 30, 2018

Nikolas Cruz, the brooding young man facing trial in the shooting deaths of 17 students and teachers at a Florida high school in February, was no stranger to local police, school counselors and even the FBI.

Cruz’s history of belligerent acts and threatening behavior had marked him to adults who encountered him.

Even so, the 19-year-old apparently was able to arm himself with a semi-automatic rifle and attack his school on Feb. 14

For Andrew Romanoff, executive director of Mental Health Colorado, the incidents of school attacks underline the need for getting school personnel better trained in identifying and helping students with mental health problems.

Romanoff will be one of the speakers at “Talk for Our Lives,” a public forum on gun violence at the Robert Hoag Rawlings Public Library at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Ryals Room. The meeting is being organized by a local group called Pueblo Indivisible.

“How do you screen kids for problems? How do you train staff to spot those signs?” Romanoff said Wednesday. “We’re trying to make the case for delivering more mental health services in every school in the state.”

Romanoff’s organization has put together a free advisory guide for schools, called a “School Toolkit,” that offers directions on how and where educators can get help and training in dealing with students who need help either with emotional problems or even drug use.

“Suicide is the biggest killer of adolescents in Colorado,” he said. “But parents don’t know where to go to get help. We know that young people are far more likely to use mental health services if they can get them through their school.”

Romanoff, a former Denver state legislator, credited the Legislature with providing money for school districts to add up to 150 more mental health professionals this year. He noted that school districts in Estes Park and Colorado Springs had ramped up their mental health staff.

“These school shootings are horrifying and we can do better preventing them,” he said.

The obvious goal, he said, is to have more educators trained in identifying problem students before they become dangerous students.

Other speakers at tonight’s forum will be state Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; Patricia O’Brien of the Pueblo Human Relations Commission; and Rita Marquez of the local Moms Demand Action group.

Originally appeared in the Pueblo Chieftain.