I used to throw rocks as a kid, prided myself on making a stone skip a half dozen times on water. Accurate with sidearm or overhead toss, I could hit moving targets too, which made me a valued member of my rock throwing gang whenever the time came to repel the miscreants who lived on the other side of the alley.

But the name of this game has certainly changed since my childhood.

The way they played it on the Capital Beltway near Oxon Hill recently could not be called anything other than attempted murder. Police referred to it as a "rock-throwing incident," but in my younger days nothing weighing 10 to 15 pounds was called a mere rock.

The details of what happened to Destiny Morris, of Hagerstown, Md., certainly made me want to take aim with some choice stones and bash a few heads myself.

Imagine your family, safety belted at your side, almost home after a fine Memorial Day weekend outing. Suddenly, you notice someone lying in the highway, but when you slow down to offer assistance, the thug gets up and hurls a 15-pound missile through your window and fractures your child's skull.

Destiny still clings to her life, in critical condition, at the intensive care unit at Southern Maryland Hospital Center.

Searching for some reasonable explanation for this, I came across a recent study by James F. Leckman of Yale University, which concluded that roughly 22 percent, or as many as 14 million American youths, are in some way mentally disturbed.

This is nearly one out of every four kids you run into.

"There is a stigma associated with mental illness, and there is a major problem in how children's problems are perceived," said Leckman, chairman of Yale's Institute of Medicine.

Over the past few years, the study notes, a variety of problems have increasingly beset America's children -- such as develomental impairments that slow education and learning, emotional disturbances including anxiety and depression, and antisocial behavior.

Now add stone throwing while standing in the middle of 55-mile-an-hour traffic to the list of bizzare manifestations.

Alan B. Zients, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at George Washington University School of Medicine, and Elyce H. Zenoff, a GWU law professor, have found two noticeable categories among youths under 16 who have killed someone.

According to their findings, which were published in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, one group consisted of "nonempathetic murderers," children who lacked the psychological ability to put themselves in the place of another, and another consisted of "sexual-identity conflict murderers" or boys who had been taunted for effeminacy.

In the first group, Zients and Zenoff noted that each killer had a history of assaultive behavior, a severe reading problem and an inability to cope with stress.

One such killer, a boy of 15, was charged within a year with the deaths of an elderly woman and a 6-year-old girl.

"I don't know the girl, so why should I have any feelings about what happened to her?" he reportedly said afterward.

This reminded me of the random cold-bloodedness of the Beltway stone attacks. It's a wonder that a driver of one of those cars didn't run those hoodlums down right on the spot.

But that is not how justice is done. Now we are told by neighbors that the three teenage suspects who were arrested are "good kids." And because one of them is 17 years old, we are not entitled to know who he is.

The public needs to know much more than is currently available about who these kids are, and how skimming rocks across water got replaced by throwing murderous stones at people.