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Scott D. Pierce
Scott D. Pierce writes about television for the Salt Lake Tribune. Vice president of the Television Critics Associationn, he's covered TV in Utah since 1990.

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PBS profiles Utah teen who prevented Roy High tragedy

Utahn Megan Wehrman is a hero.

Tonight on PBS, viewers across the country are going to hear her story, told in her own words. Of how, when she was a student at Roy High School, she came forward with information that prevented a potential sequel to the Columbine tragedy.

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Wehrman and the story of what happened in Roy lead off the hourlong documentary "The Path to Violence" (9 p.m., Ch. 7) - part of PBS' "After Newtown" initiative.

In January 2012, Wehrman received a series of texts from a friend/classmate who threatened to bomb the school. At one point, he told her he would warn her what day to stay home .

"I thought it was always just talk until he said, you know, 'We have a plan to get away with it,'" Wehrman says. "He just changed. He became darker and quieter and madder and sad. And I just wanted to help him."

The obvious thing to do was inform adults. But, as the documentary makes clear, that doesn't always happen. It didn't happen at Columbine. It didn't happen at an Alaska high school where dozens of teenagers knew in advance about a plan that ended in two shooting deaths.

"I didn't want to get my friends in trouble," Wehrman says. "I felt like I was betraying them."

But she told principal Gina Butters, who immediately called police.

"It was clear that this two young men were planning to do something horrific at our high school," says Roy police chief Greg Whinham said.

As a result, two Roy High students are arrested; they got the help they needed; and no one was injured.

"She saved our community, as I see it," Butters said. "And I can't give her enough credit."

The point made in "The Path to Violence" is that Wehrman felt like she could talk to Butters. And that all the security measures in the world aren't as effective as having students come forward with information the way Wehrman did.

When students feel like there is someone they can talk to, it lowers the chances of deadly incident to "near zero."

But not zero.

As you might expect from a documentary about gun violence, "The Path to Violence" raises more questions than it answers. Questions of accessibility to guns; questions of mental health care; questions of security precautions.

The most frightening part is that there is no consistent profile of shooters. And the Sandy Hook massacre was something completely different - an outsider who came in and murdered as many people as he could.

For Utahns, it's chilling to think how close Roy High came to disaster. And heartening to know there are people out there like Wehrmer.

She's a hero.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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