* Profile of a School Shooter
Why a Recipe?
April 20, 1999, Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado. It was not the first, and it would not be the last, but the massacre at Columbine High School brought the term "school shooting" to the world's vocabulary. The question we all asked that day, and have asked every day since is, "Why?"
Whenever the topic of school shootings comes up, it seems that there are certain topics that are required co-topics - the availability of guns, violence in the media, violence AND the media, bad parenting, and ineffective school security.
It seems that everybody has their pet argument when it comes to the topic. School violence is still on the rise, and school shootings continue to occur; though they are reported far less frequently, especially on a national or international level. They have sadly become old news. It is obvious that something needs to change, but over ten years after the massacre at Columbine, we are still asking what that something is.
The trouble with a tendency towards tunnel-vision is that we can no longer see the big picture. While we are looking at the guns, or the media, or even bullying, we are missing the many other factors that came together to produce an explosive reaction.
Shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre I began research for a novel about a school shooting. The idea had been with me since Columbine, but I did not know exactly how I was going to approach it for many years. I didn't know if I could do the topic justice. These incidents brought out so much emotion in me and I had to place it somewhere.
As I considered the idea, I realized that this novel would require a lot of research. I did not understand how much. I spent two years combing through everything I could find regarding school shootings. I was able to study 22 of them in depth, through articles, media reports, and interviews with friends, family, survivors, and others close to the situation. I even corresponded with one of the first school shooters, currently doing two life terms in prison.
I tried at first to focus on the people left behind, to find out what happened to them. There was some information, but very little. Sadly, the media doesn't do many follow-up stories once the hype dies down. They were forgotten as soon as the next story broke.
Instead, I compiled page after page of notes on the shooters themselves. I was shocked at the amount of information available, and the number of tribute websites and videos that have gone up not in memory of the victims, but the shooters.
I discovered what I came to call the "Cult of Columbine" - kids who related to the shooters so deeply that they dedicated videos, websites, forums, and poetry to them. These were kids who saw outcasts and felt a connection. Some of these kids later went on to emulate their heroes in their own horrific school shootings, determined to outdo those who had come before them.
After Columbine, several studies were done (most notably by the Secret Service) attempting to locate a useful profile of a school shooter, but time after time they found that there were many common factors among the previous school shooters, but none of them prevalent enough to distinguish them from the many students who would not turn to violence.
There really is no way to know which ones will break and which ones will fight and overcome. In fact, going through the information available is very disheartening. It's as if these kids existed beneath the radar for sixteen years or so, and then burst forth almost out of nowhere.
What I did find among this research was a pattern; not the same in every case, but an overall pattern nonetheless. What began as an attempt to create a realistic school shooter character became a passion. Inside of that research I began to see that it was not one single factor, or even two or three - there were many.
Just as you can't make a cake with one or two ingredients, or by randomly combining various ingredients in a bowl without regard to quantity and it's relationship to other ingredients, you can't create a school shooter that way either. The right ingredients, in the right quantities, baked at the right temperatures, are all required to create a school shooter.
Now the question remains... how do we, as a society, uncreate them?
Many people are certain they already know the answer. When you ask, they insist it is the violence in the media, the movies, MTV, and video games. It's the guns, it's the parents, and society. It's drug abuse, lack of respect for authority, and bullying. Though they may be present to some degree in each case, not one of these ingredients existed in isolation.
It is all of these things, it is none of these things, and it is so much more.
What I offer you here is not a solid answer for how to prevent further school shootings. Instead, I offer you the chance to see the ingredients that go into the making of a school shooter, to see the things these 22 boys did have in common - and those findings might surprise you.
I knew I couldn't do this topic justice by approaching it from a standpoint of trying to prove a point. I did my best to approach it instead with an open mind, to shed all preconceived notions beforehand. I wanted to look at it from all angles, to leave my mind open and see where it would lead me. While I was unable to find a solid answer, some answers were there. Some of them are obvious, while others might surprise or even enrage you. If I make you feel anything, if I just give you food for thought, then I have done what I set out to do.
Separating Fact From Fiction
With all of the media hype, it seems like school shootings and spree killings are far more common than they really are. They are thankfully very rare. You are more likely to be struck by lightening or win the lottery than to be involved in a random spree killing.
After Columbine, the media began painting an image of the typical school shooter for us. They wear black trench coats. They worship movies like the Matrix. They play violent video games. They listen to Marilyn Manson. They were outcasts, and tormented by bullies. Seemingly normal kids just snapped without warning. An image was formed in our minds of the typical gunman that carries through today.
The Matrix not only had nothing to do with Columbine, but it is highly unlikely that either shooter had seen it since the movie was released only 10 days prior to the shootings. Even if they had seen it, they had already been planning the attacks for two years.
They did play video games, most notably Doom. There were rumors that Eric Harris had, at one time, built a simulation of Columbine as a level in Doom, but most of the levels he created are still available online, and so far none of them bear any resemblance to the actual layout of Columbine.
As for Marilyn Manson, his name only became involved after the fact. Neither of the shooters listened to Manson. In fact, they both made their hatred of Manson well known. The only link Manson had to Columbine was his scheduled appearance in conjunction with Ozzfest in Denver shortly after the shootings. Neither event had anything to do with one another, except for the connection the media and several church groups gave it.
A lot of misinformation was reported early on in the investigation. Most of it was media hype, but the media laid a blueprint for future school shootings. Kids who thought they were emulating the Columbine killers were actually just buying into media hype. In most cases this image was wrong, or over-sensationalized.
When one happens, another tends to happen within weeks. Anniversaries are also dangerous times. The copycat effect is tremendous. Shootings are more likely to happen after heavy press coverage. Those shootings are more likely to follow the patterns set forth in media reports than to follow their own individual pattern or to mimic previous shootings.
School shootings are more likely to happen in the Spring, just before school gets out, with April being the most common month, but also tend to happen just before Christmas break. They tend to happen after a period of depression, and after a major rejection or embarrassment. What we think of as school shootings have been carried out by only male perpetrators thus far. Most victims are female, and the victims are usually random, but high-profile students are often targeted. On average, 4.5 victims are killed, while 8 are injured.
Though some of these boys were found to have mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, this was primarily among the early shootings (Michael Carneal, December 1997, and Kip Kinkle, May 1998). Eric Harris (1999) was thought to be a full-blown sociopath, but this came only after his death. Of the 22 shootings I studied, only these three were found to be mentally ill.
Most of the boys suffered from nothing worse than depression, which, while devastating, is treatable and even reversible. These boys really were the "boy next door" in many respects. Most of them did not come from abusive homes. They had not been in trouble with the law. They slid by under the radar. Most of them were chronic nobodies who longed to become somebodies. In life they felt invisible. They went out making sure that they would be anything but invisible in death.
We the public have very little power to stop school shootings, but we are not powerless. These invisible boys are out there, and while we may not be able to create a useful profile, we can learn the warning flags and put forth an effort to get these kids the help they need before it is too late.
When a boy's fear of life outweighs his fear of death, we all lose. Too many lives have already been lost. It is time for a major change in our children's lives, and our children can't make these changes alone.
The Standard School Shooter Recipe
When you attempt to bake a cake, you don't just get out the eggs. A few cups of flour, some sugar, eggs, milk, butter, and a little bit of baking powder are the basic ingredients. There are many ways to make a cake from there, but no matter how different they are, most cakes do have similar base ingredients, and so do school shooters.
Freaks and Geeks
Typically, they were young Caucasian males, average age of 16, coming from small communities in the southern or northwestern United States. They had average to above average IQ's, and no history of serious school or conduct problems. They most often attended public school, and felt themselves to be loners or social outcasts. They were usually members of alienated and fringe groups.
Psychotic, or Something Else?
Physical handicaps, disabilities, mental retardation, or severe mental illness were not normally present (though schizophrenia was a factor in two early cases). They were physically healthy. As infants, they were often colicky, temperamental, and experienced delayed milestones. They often tended to be immature, and had problems with attachment and bonding, but appeared fairly normal to adults that knew them. .
Atypical depression was present with action equivalents - mixed personality disorder with paranoid, antisocial, and narcissistic features.
The most interesting thing I found, and the least publicized, is the fact that in all but one of the 22 cases I studied, anti-depressants (Paxil, Zoloft) or other medications such as Ritalin were involved, and in almost all cases dosages had recently been changed.
They most often possessed negative self-images and unstable self-esteem, tending to be "geeks or nerds" who were rejected by mainstream students. They did not participate in pro-social groups or "normal" pastimes. Interests tended towards real and fictional violence in the media.
Dysfunction and Abuse
They came from predominantly middle-class families that were superficially normal, but dysfunction was present. The families tended to have anger problems and power struggles present in the home. Authoritarian parenting was not uncommon. They were found to have poor relationships with parents and siblings, and often a family history of mental illness, personality disorders, or substance abuse. Guns were common in the home, and many were proficient with firearms.
Previous History of Legal or Discipline Troubles
While they remained under the radar, a previous history of covert vandalism and dishonesty was present. They were distrustful and secretive to adults and authority. They had violent fantasies, often feeding those fantasies with an obsessive interest in violent media of many varieties. They did not "just snap" as some people claim. Attacks were accomplished with a great deal of premeditation, planning, and surveillance of targets.
They Just Snapped?
Their motives often lied in vengeance and achievement of power or status. In most of these cases, what is known as the Menninger Triad was present, meaning that the individuals were suicidal, homicidal, and wanted to be killed. They had usually undergone recent, multiple psychological stressors, including rejection, discipline, and humiliation. There does tend to be a copycat influence, often looking up to previous school shooters, with inappropriate communications of intent. They most often target female and high functioning students. Previous stalking behaviors when it comes to females is often present.
Just Like Other Kids
These traits are common in many teenagers, and the more they studied, the more they realized a useful profile was not possible. While it may single out the one kid who could possibly be a shooter, it would also point out hundreds who would go on to be happy, healthy, and productive adults.
What you will see throughout this exploration is a recurring theme. Perception was equal to reality. We must remember that though these boys were in their late teens to early twenties, they had not yet developed proper coping skills. Most teenagers haven't, and that is what makes the teen years so difficult.
Teenagers all too often try to express their frustration with the world, only to be told that they had better get used to it, that it really isn't that bad, or that they should just suck it up. Many of these kids were growing up with authoritarian parents. Instead of learning coping skills, they learned to hide it away inside of themselves. That frustration was bound to come out somewhere.
For teenagers, perception is 99% of their world. What they perceive their life to be now, is also how they perceive their future to be. If you saddle someone so young with the possibility of being a freak for the rest of their life, what hope have you given them?
So often when I share this research with others, or even read comments on articles, I see people insisting that they too were bullied, and yet they did not strike out, or that they grew up with guns and did not shoot someone. The idea of judging another by what you would do yourself is prevalent in our society, and I believe it strongly contributed to those who are misunderstood acting out in violent ways. By focusing on the differences present, someone who already feels like an outcast only steps further into that role.
I was also bullied, grew up with guns, and was very attracted to violent music and media, and I never killed anybody either. In order to seek to understand these boys, we must cast out all notions of what we would and would not do in their situations. We are not them, and they are not us.
Judgment is not up to us, but with each painful moment of life comes a lesson. Judging others does not ease someone else's pain, and it does not help them to filter the rational thoughts from the irrational. To do that, we must start at home with the kids we are closest to. We need to teach them that hurting another person is wrong, period. Those who are hurting need to be connected with people and resources that can help them. Those who are hurting others need to be held accountable. Those who are looking the other way while the rights of others are violated must be held accountable as well. All children and adults need a place to vent their troubles.
It is time for us to see the invisible. It is time for us to listen to the silence.
A few of the books used in my research.
An in depth study of who these kids were, the environmental influences, and more. Interviews with survivors, school staff, and psychologists. Features the findings of the major studies done on school shooters as well as a number of charts to help you understand the research findings.
What is it like to grow up with a school shooter, before and after? Brooks Brown grew up with Dylan, one of the Columbine shooters. The day of the shooting he was the only student told to leave... was the blame he later received warranted???
What role does the media play in copycat crimes? A convincing argument for a more responsible media.
Ingredient 1 - Culture of Popularity
Where who you are is more important than what you do.
Most school shootings have happened in small towns or suburbs. They have happened in the schools that many of us think of as the safest in the nation. These schools did not have major gang problems, high rates of crime, or any of the inner-city hallmarks that most people associate with the wave of violence that is taking over all of America's schools. These schools, by all accounts, should have been safe.
Something went wrong, but what could it have been? For an answer, we must look to the writings left behind.
What is your favorite sports team? Who is the best athlete of our time?
Most people don't really have to think about those questions. It comes as easily as naming the state you live in, or the place you were born. Sports play a serious role in the lives of Americans. Though sports are just another form of entertainment, sports stars are paid more in one year than most of our teachers are paid in a lifetime.
Take a moment to think about the men we consider "proper" role models in our society. For a refresher, walk through the hallways of any American high school on an average school day. Who are the guys who get the girls? Who are the guys who get the most attention from the staff? Who gets the most recognition in school? What do you see in the trophy case?
Those who do conform to our ideals of manhood are rewarded. They get more girls, they get more recognition, and they get more breaks.
Small town schools are often dominated by a strong jock culture, but have you ever stopped to consider why?
Those who grew up in small towns can attest to the fervor in which the community responds to the local athletic programs. Small town schools serve as far more than places to educate our children. Our schools are the social center of our community. We have game days, potluck fundraisers, and school performances. We don't just go for the sports, we go for the socialization and the bonding. It is a place we can come together for a common goal.
We tend to be invested in our schools and our students to a stronger degree than we would be in a larger city. We are just as fascinated by our local celebrities as most people are with the real deal. We follow their careers after school, throughout college, and beyond. The closest thing we have to local celebrities are our sports stars. I have not been to a local sporting event since I was in high school, but even I know who is doing well in what sport. The status of our athletes is often front page news.
In the social caste of middle and high school, jocks are king. For a child who is not good at sports, he has little or no chance of setting himself apart when compared to the jocks on the front page of the newspaper. A band kid or an artist rarely gets as much attention as a small town jock.
That jock culture tends to permeate everything that happens in the small town school. Many of the kids who either committed suicide or murder-suicide shooting sprees specifically singled out jocks in their writings. When looking for someone to blame for their troubles, it seems they chose the most visible kids in school.
Though they were clean-cut, All-American, varsity football players, these kids also left behind stories of being let off time after time after committing serious offenses. They left stories of sports stars being allowed to use faculty parking spaces when other cars were towed, of girls who reported sexual advances and even assaults by the jocks being ignored until they finally just left school, of kids who were bullied being told to suck it up, of teachers and staff looking the other way, of two kids getting into a fight, and the victim being suspended while the athlete was sent back to class.
Tying that attitude back into school shootings isn't difficult. According to the Secret Service study, 71% of school shooters reported feeling "persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others," with some of the bullying classified as "long-standing and severe." School shootings are fueled by rage, and where was that rage directed?
Many of those who committed school shootings also targeted girls to a large degree. Some were girls that did not return their affections, many whom they described as snotty and stuck-up. In many cases the girls targeted were identified specifically as "Christian snobs." This is an important factor. They felt rejected by these girls for one reason or another - socially, romantically, and even religiously.
Yet, those they intended to target, and those they actually targeted, were very different things. With regard to Columbine specifically, none of the people contained on their hit lists were victims, most of them had graduated the year before. They planned a shooting for two years, many of the targets of their hatred were gone, and yet they went through with it. That rage did not weaken or dissipate, and these boys did not "just snap."
Day after day, month after month, these boys fed that rage, and nobody noticed until it was too late.
As parents, as teachers, as administrators, and even just being adults in our society, we have a responsibility not just to listen, but to attempt to help our youth find healthy ways of dealing with their anger and frustrations. We have a responsibility to see to it that all school programs are treated equally, that all students are rewarded equally for their skills, and that everyone is held accountable in a consistent fashion. We need to see to it that every child has an opportunity to shine.
Whether students participate in sports or not, all students must be treated equally, and this doesn't begin with the children in the school, but with the adults.
Ingredient 2 - Sexuality and gender identity
A lot of us were picked on in school, but few of us struck out at our tormentors in such a violent manner. Contrary to media hype, it seems that severe bullying was present in very few cases. It was generally a slow steady stream of put downs and taunts that eroded their self esteem.
When someone wants to damage a girls self-esteem the first thing that is usually attacked is her self-image and her sexuality. Girls have a tendency to define others girls as prudish or promiscuous. The same is true for boys, only to a greater extent.
We live in a society that places a great deal of emphasis on the male image of masculinity. Almost none of these boys fit into the traditional male image. They were small for their age, often thin, they were not ladies men, and in many cases were extremely shy.
They were boys trying to get by in a man's world, and they felt like nature was against them from the beginning. I was surprised to see one thing in particular pop up over and over again. An outright questioning of the boys sexuality.
If it is painful to call a girl a whore, how much more painful to call a boy a faggot or a fairy? In almost all cases the teasing centered around these types of teasing. Stripped of their male ego, and often recently rejected by a girl they somehow got the idea that the only way to reclaim their manhood was by force.
While I was studying this topic, I also discovered that we are one of the very few societies without a rite of passage. A clear line between childhood and adulthood. Legally they become adults at the age of 18, but in most societies a boy was introduced to manhood around the age of 12 or 13. When does a boy actually become a man?
As modern American's our culture is one of few that does not offer a clear cut line to define where childhood ends, and where manhood begins. You might say that we have several stepping stones. Turning 13, turning 16, getting their drivers license, turning 18, going off to college, turning 21. It has been pointed out many times that 18 is old enough to go to war and die for your country, but not old enough to legally drink a beer. Is it any wonder our American boys are confused?
We are also a society with a lot of rules regarding how a man should act, what his interests should be, how he should appear to others. Imagine the one thing you are supposed to be by nature being taken from you day after day. Males who fit the traditional view of manhood are rewarded, those who do not are punished.
In my local schools we see the same thing playing out that we see happening all across the land. As our schools budgets suffer, what are the first activities to be cut? It isn't the football and wrestling teams that are suffering, but many of our core electives are being totally removed. Art classes, drama classes, music, even Home Economics and Auto Shop are being shut down or limited. What does this tell the average child about the importance of an education?
It isn't the brains, the artists, the musicians, the skilled actors, the chess players or computer nerds is it? It almost seems as if you could rank popularity by testosterone alone. So what happens for one reason or another when you are at the shallow end of the testosterone pool?
Those surviving shooters that have been interviewed and the writings left by those who died indicate they felt they were seeking a manly solution. Many of them considered suicide but felt that by picking up a gun, and taking others with them they were somehow reclaiming the power that had been taken from them. Going out in a blaze of glory as it may be
We put a lot of pressure on boys to conform to the manly ideal, to stuff their emotions, to suck it up and be a man. Without an outlet for these emotions, unstable minds seek out dramatic solutions. If they do discuss being picked on with adults in their lives, they are often told that bullying is a part of life, something they just have to deal with. They learn not to talk about it, and we learn not to listen.
As parents, as teachers, administrators, just as adults in our society we have a responsibility not just to listen but to attempt to help our youth find healthy ways of dealing with their anger and frustrations. We have a responsibility to see to it that all school programs are treated equally, that all students are rewarded equally.
We as a society have a very rigid view of what a man should and should not be. Many of the people who bullied these boys fit the classic male stereotype. Many of the boys who committed school shootings did not. If the bullies are the real men, and the victims are the sissies then why should we be surprised that these boys chose violence as their equalizer?
Ingredient 3 - A Perception of Inequality
What they saw became their reality
When you examine the roots of school violence, or even workplace violence, you will often find a power struggle at its roots. Generally the aggressor was someone who felt themselves being forced beneath the targets of their anger for one reason or another, they felt they were fighting back.
A common thread in most school shootings is that many of the boys responsible specifically mentioned a lack of equality in the school hierarchy. They spoke of specific incidents where the "right" kids were able to get away with serious violations of school code. If they were punished at all, they were punished lightly. In the same situation, kids who had a lesser position in the school were dealt with harshly. Specific cases were cited where harassment was brought to the attention of or witnessed by staff, but not dealt with accordingly.
The word perception is a very important part of this equation. There is no way to really confirm or deny these accusations in most cases. The schools deny it, but the other kids questioned seemed to agree with this assessment. If you are interested in the personal perspective of the subject, you will find a great deal of information by reading "No Easy Answers" by Brooks Brown. Brooks was a friend of one of the Columbine High School shooters, though he did not get along with the other. Brooks seems to agree that, at least as far as Columbine went, there was some clear-cut favoritism present.
When even the teachers are pushing students to the bottom of the social pyramid, the kids are bound to become frustrated. Combined with the other factors, they often began to see school - and eventually their lives - as a lose-lose situation. They saw no hope of equality, they saw no hope of redemption, so what hope was there to see in life?
How do we offer our children hope? We allow them to see consistent rewards and consequences throughout the school. If a student is breaking the rules, it shouldn't matter who they are, who their parents are, or what activities they participate in. As parents, as educators, and adults in the community, we need to do all of our children a favor and insist on equality. The rewards this could reap in the future of our nation are boundless.
There will always be some sort of division in any group setting. There will always be those at the top of the social pyramid and those who hang around at the bottom. It is in our nature as human beings to divide and rearrange into smaller and more close-knit groups. Children who know that boundaries apply to all students equally, and that the rules are going to be enforced regardless of social status fare better academically as well as socially.
The faculty is the support structure of the school, and if they are contributing to the problem then the students are going to have a hard time believing that there is a viable solution. Every school in the country has a handbook, and the policies contained in that handbook should apply to all students equally. As parents we should all insist on this being ironclad, even when it has to do with our own children. If a staff member chooses to look the other way when violations are occurring, they need to be held accountable as well.
One of the best bits of parenting advice I was ever given came to me through a lifelong friend. She said the worst thing we can do for our children is deprive them of the consequences of their own actions. We do our children a great disservice when we step in and short-circuit the reward/punishment cycle. Both reward and punishment are part of a healthy adult lifestyle. There are consequences for every action in our adult lives, and raising responsible children means allowing them to see that cycle working uninterrupted.
Most of all, a perception of equality helps students feel like someone is listening. When people stop listening, the kids stop talking. Kids who stop talking turn all too easily to violence as an answer.
Ingredient 4 - A sense of alienation
In almost all cases these boys felt as if they were separate from the rest of the world. They were misunderstood at home, they were teased at school. As a result they began to develop an "it's me against the world" mindset. When we consider the already ME-centered world of adolescence we begin to see the problem.
They have not yet begun to develop a social consciousness in most cases, which is why they fail to understand that image isn't everything. They felt they had no friends. they felt they had no support, and they felt like things would never change for them.
You notice that I say they "felt." In many cases it seems they were not as marginalized as they imagined themselves to be. After the fact many had friends or acquaintances come forward who had no idea the boy felt that isolated and alone in the world. Perception is 9/10th of our reality. They felt alienated, even when they weren't. This became their reality.
Not only were they alienated from their families and their peers, they often isolated themselves even further in a fantasy world. Yet, how many of us do the exact same thing? Some drink and do drugs, some gamble, or play video games. Most of us have some way of separating ourselves from the outside world when it becomes too much.
Feeling rejected in the real world, they found a fantasy world whatever it may have been. This world accepted them. A loser in real life often seeks out a way to become a hero in their fantasy world. In many cases it wasn't just the violence, but the feeling of being in control while in that world that attracted them. Eventually, they got so caught up in the fantasy this it became their reality.
Whether they were alone in life or not, these boys felt alone. In most cases, they had a severely damaged self-image. Many of them would have gone on to lead happy and successful lives. They would have gotten married, they would have had families. They couldn't see that future. All they saw was their deep loneliness. If you can for a moment imagine facing the prospect of a life spent in isolation, you can easily see the loss of hope that accompanies thoughts of the future.
Something that could have been addressed and remedied easily, but for one reason or another the boys never talked and they never found anyone to listen. By the time they got our attention it was far too late.
Shock rock icon Marilyn Manson got a lot of blame in more recent school shootings. His response was eloquent, he did several interviews with media and stressed the point that kids who have nobody to listen to them scream even louder.
After Columbine he wrote this song with his take on why school shooters took the route they did. Not only is it a beautiful song, he made a strong point. They really were nobodies who longed to be somebody...
Today I am dirty
I want to be pretty
Tomorrow, I know I'm just dirt
Today I am dirty
I want to be pretty
Tomorrow, I know I'm just dirt
Fear the nobodies
Wanna be Somebodies
We know just who we are
We are the nobodies
Wanna be Somebodies
We know just who we are
Yesterday I was dirty
Wanted to be pretty
I know now that I'm forever dirt
Yesterday I was dirty
Wanted to be pretty
I know now that I'm forever dirt
We are the nobodies
Wanna be Somebodies
We know just who we are
We are the nobodies
Wanna be Somebodies
We know just who we are
Some children died the other day
We fed machines and then we prayed
Puked up and down in morbid faith
You should have seen the ratings that day
Ingredient 5 - The Small Town Curse
Growing up in a small town limits perspective
Violence at school has long been considered an inner city problem, we are used to hearing about drive-bys, drug dealer and gang wars on our city streets. Small town America feels as if it's somehow immune from these problems. It wasn't until I began this project that I realized almost all of these shootings were committed in small towns.
I looked around at my own small town and it was just unthinkable that such a tragic event could happen here, that a child could slip by under the radar when we all seem to know what our neighbor had for breakfast last Sunday.
It turns out that many sociologists believe that is actually a big part of the problem. In a small town people are more concerned with maintaining the status quo. We may see or hear of danger signs but it is often harder to do something about it in a small town.
We not only know the child, but we know their parents, even their grand parents. We sit with them in meetings, attend school functions together, participate in extra-curricular activities. It is one thing to turn in the child of a total stranger, a totally different matter exposing the child of a friend without good reason. In a small town, if you make an enemy, they are often an enemy for life. You learn to overlook things you might not otherwise. You tend to minimize things you see in order to minimize conflict. It is a lot harder to be honest with a friend than it is a with a stranger.
Administrators and teachers are less likely to rock the boat as well. When bullying happens, they are more likely to look the other way. Too many personal connections can be both a blessing and a curse. They also tend to take a much less serious approach to discipline than larger schools. Lulled into a false sense of security by the small town atmosphere, they tend to insist that boys will be boys.
When the school is faced with problems such as racism, physical threats, or sexual harassment administrators fail to act over and over. Many kids reported that they felt the school would not listen to complaints even when they were lodged. Those in authority preferred to minimize it rather than deal with it. In Columbine specifically, some felt that girls who reported sexual harassment were often not only bullied by the perpetrators, but by school staff as well.
Adding to that is the incapability of escaping the family reputation in a small town. A child who walks the same halls his parents walked before him, and his grandparents before them understands the pressure he is under. In small towns your reputation is very important, and a blemish on that reputation can often last a lifetime.
When you grow up hearing stories about the things your parents did in high school, it is easy to imagine your lowered status on the social ladder becoming a lifetime sentence. Not only will people remember you screwing up, they will remind you about it for the rest of your life.
Once again, the keyword is "feels." As adults we understand that the social ladder resets itself after high school, that we can escape whatever that reputation is and go on with our lives. We have gained perspective.
Teenagers don't really understand this concept, for a troubled teen high school really can feel like it will never end. In order to be helpful we often tell our teens that these are the best years of their lives. That their school years will define their futures. Before we take a walk down memory lane, we need to remember what it was like for those who didn't fit in.
As parents and educators in small towns we need to be aware of the unique circumstances that rural teens face. We need to be aware of those who cause the problems and those who take the heat. We need to offer our support to those who need it. We need to insist that everyone be treated equally. If we see bullying, we need to hold our school staff responsible for fixing it. If they refuse, take it to the school board. Take it to the State level. Take it to the national if we have to. As adults we need to insist that our schools are safe.
Ingredient 6 - Obsession with a fantasy life
When the line between fantasy and reality blurs
When the line between fantasy and reality blurs
One of the first issues to get resurrected shortly after a new shooting is the topic of violence in the media. We can't deny that movies and video games have grown increasingly violent, it is becoming more and more difficult to locate a true family movie. Yet hundreds of thousands of people play the same games, watch the same movies, and read the same books and none of them committed such horrific acts.
What I found with each of these boys is they were all attracted to violent media in some form. Early on they cited Richard Bachman's short story "Rage" as an influence. "Rage" was the story of a frustrated by taking his classroom hostage, and emerging the hero among his classmates. After it copies of his book were found in the possession of several of the first school shooters, not only highlighted copies but very well worn. Bachman's creator Stephen King pulled the book from print, stating "The ------- incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred."
Later shooters claimed influences in movies such as "The Basketball Diaries" and "Natural Born Killers."
"The Basketball Diaries" contains a fantasy scene in which the hero walks through the hallway and opens fire on unsuspecting innocents. It is very eerie to watch it now knowing how many boys watched that scene over and over until they had in memorized, and eventually acted it out.
"Natural Born Killer's" was a favorite of the Columbine shooters. They code named their fantasy NBK, and referenced it often, along with the video game Doom. "Natural Born Killer's" was meant to be a commentary on the media's obsession with violence, it is over the top, very surrealistic violence.
While Marilyn Manson received a lot of media attention after Columbine, the perpetrators of Columbine did not care for him, instead they favored the hard core German band Rammstein. Taking great inspiration from their song Weisses Fleissch, a song about a school yard killing. They also took German classes, and showed a strong fascination with Nazi culture and guns in general.
Other works cited later on were movies that were strangely enough made after Columbine, "Zero Day" and "Elephant." Zero Day was a fairly close portrayal of events at told through "home video" as the attack on the characters school was being planned. While "Elephant" took a different spin and showed a similar story line, only everyone involved including teachers and students showed no emotion whatsoever, it was meant to illustrate the apathy that our society seems to have towards such events.
I read all of these books, listened to all of the music, studied all of the video games. I tried to see what these boys saw, and tried to understand what the other people who experienced this same violent media did not see. While some of the movies were disturbing, they really didn't mesmerize me in the way that they did these boys.
When you are a violent person you are drawn to violent media. These kids weren't just drawn to it, they were obsessed with it. They did not just read the books, watch the movies, or play the games. They totally immersed themselves in them. They memorized lines, they acted out scenes in their heads, they became obsessed with the imagery. They continually placed themselves inside of these fantasy worlds, until the lines between fantasy and reality blurred. Combine an unstable mind with violent imagery, and you have a dangerous mix. These same movies when watched by emotionally stable people did not have the same effect, and never will.
Nowhere was this more evident than studying the events at Columbine. When I read the walk through of events, I saw that progression that happens in reverse. I saw very clearly that there were two boys acting out a fantasy that they had believed would go exactly like it did in the movies and video games.
They were detached from the reality of the situation so deeply that I don't think they really saw their victims as people at all... not at first. Towards the end they began to show a marked difference in their personalities. Several survivors noted that they could have continued with their plan but it seems they just gave up. Witnesses described them as aimless, almost lost just before they committed suicide. When reality once again came into focus, they were lost.
Fantasies all to often fall short of our expectations. All of us have looked forward to an event with so much anticipation that we saw every moment of it play out in our heads. Then when the event finally came we were left disappointed with the reality. I honestly do not believe that these boys really considered the reality of the situation until it all caved in on them.
Even if these violent images were removed, these boys would have found another place to feed that anger. Even the Bible contains imagery that has lead some to believe they were doing Gods work by killing others. Classic literature is ripe with violence. If someone wants to find violence, they don't have to look at today's media to provide it.
Rather these boys were drawn to violent media, so they sought it out. The media did not create them, it just nourished what was already there. They were looking for something to feed that anger, and they found it.
Many people have placed the blame with the violence in the media, but a seed needs fertile ground before it can grow. We can try to eliminate all first person shooter games, restrict violent movies, and ban books from our libraries but those efforts all too often have the opposite effect than intended. The more we try to keep these things away from certain children, the more they are draw to them.
Instead of putting blinders on our children, perhaps it would be better to take our own off. To listen to our children's music, to watch their favorite movies, to keep ourselves informed of what they are drawn to. To try to understand why they are seeking it out in the first place. For many of them, the attraction is just the sheer fact that they are doing something they aren't supposed to do.
We also need to be aware of our children's obsessions. If they are spending a great deal of time focusing on a certain type of media they are telling us something about themselves. We need to figure out what that is. If it is particularly violent, or dangerous then we need to seek professional help for ourselves and our children.
The media is not creating these violent children any more than the moth is creating the flame. I do not believe the media deserves all of the blame in this regard, but I do think they bear the brunt of the responsibility in another way.
Ingredient 7 - God-like and Natural Selection
Imagine for a moment living in a world where you felt powerless. Real life is constantly kicking you in the teeth, so you turn inward to a fantasy world. That's exactly what many of these boys did. The fantasy world eventually took over the real world, and that line blurred. We have already talked about that.
Well, when studying these boys I noticed something over and over. What looked on the surface to be narcissism, but I do not to believe it to be so. They held a vision of themselves as being higher than others, often referring to themselves as godlike.
In the public writings they referenced Darwinism, and this feeling of being above normal human beings. They had become so cynical about life that they saw their lack of emotion or feeling towards their fellow human beings as a sort of a gift. They had freed themselves of a conscience, but when I read their more private writings it was clear they really hadn't.
Were they trying to convince us they were god, or were they trying to convince themselves? Over and over these boys wrote about being godlike. It was almost a mantra.
A self professed Nazi on a white supremacy board but also a Native American, who professed hate, turned around on supernatural board and said that he was interested in Nazi's but did not agree with what they had done, even seemed apologetic for mentioning it.
The boy on the supernatural board was polite, likeable, and had his feeling hurt when someone mentioned a topic that reminded him of the death of his father. He was concerned with what seemed to him to be bad omens, and said he wanted to live. In his livejournal he wrote of hope after his suicide attempt.
Yet the other boy he became on the Nazi board was filled with hate and discontent, he wanted to know what he could do to further the Nazi cause. They hardly seemed to be the same boy at all. It was as if he were fragmented into two people. Later he walked into a school and gunned down nine people and injured five.
Another boy talked of unrequited love. His mother and friends described him as a sweet boy. Yet his writings were dark and angry. He also talked of carnage far beyond the school, he wanted to go on a cross country killing spree and end it by crashing a plane into a building two years before 9/11.
Over and over I saw boys who professed to be free of emotions publicly, but wrote compassionate poetry. Now if any of us still have a connection to our teenage selves knows that trying on new identities was par for the course, especially those who had difficult childhoods.
Did imagining themselves to be god give them that power they sought, that control they desperately needed over their lives? Who were they really trying to convince?
There is no way to know for sure what happened in their heads. I do have a theory though. As a domestic violence and sexual assault advocate I deal with a lot of people who have been deeply hurt. Many who suffer abuse learn to place walls around themselves. Those walls not only serve to protect the person within, but to keep others out.
Perhaps these boys erected their own walls, they hid behind these images of themselves as being Godlike as a form of protection. No matter what your view of God is, in most cases he is seen as being the most powerful being imaginable. He is invincible. He is in control.
Given the movies they chose to emulate, I believe this is highly likely. They chose as heroes victims who became powerful. The smaller, weaker person. The one that people laughed at. Those people rose up and attacked those who hurt them, and in many cases they took it out on society as a whole.
The school became a symbol to them. It stood for everything they saw as painful in their life. As wrong. As Gods destroy those who defy them, these boys struck out at their schools in destructive ways. They did not seek out particular victims in their rampages but rather aimed specific groups of people. The Christians, the jocks, the popular kids. They killed anyone else who was in the way no matter what group they belonged to.
In many cases they let acquaintances go. Not necessarily good friends but people they knew better than others. As they did so, they did it with an air of importance. There seemed to be a focus on the power of deciding who would live and who would die.
These boys also mentioned Darwinism in passing. They spoke of being highly evolved and survival of the fittest. They spoke of Nazi's.
The spoke of power.
All we can really do with any of these shootings is guess at the motives, but there certainly was a distinct focus on being "Godlike."
Rammstein - Weisses Fleisch
Though many musical artists were blamed for Columbine, this some by the German hardcore group Rammstein was most likely the musical inspiration behind the attacks. Both shooters spoke German, and were fascinated with Nazi's. The lyrics to this song are in German but the translation is...
You, in the schoolyard
I am ready to kill
and no one here knows
of my loneliness
Red welts on white skin
I hurt you
and you cry loudly
Now you are scared and I am ready
my black blood soils your dress
Your white flesh excites me so
I am just a gigolo
your white flesh enlightens me
My black blood and your white flesh
I will always become hornier from your screams
the cold sweat on your white forehead
hails into my sick brain
Your white flesh excites me so
I am just a gigolo
my father was exactly like me
your white flesh enlightens me
Now you are scared and I am ready
my sick existence cries for redemption
your white flesh becomes my scaffold*
in my heaven there is no god
Your white flesh excites me so
I am just a gigolo
your white flesh enlightens me
my father was exactly like me
your white flesh excites me so
I am just a sad gigolo
your white flesh enlightens me
Ingredient 8 - It was no secret
It can't happen in our town
In every case I studied there was what professionals referred to as "leakage". Meaning the perpetrators leaked the information ahead of time. It was as if they boiled over, or perhaps were testing the reaction. These kids told at least one other student, usually more than one ahead of time. When these potential witnesses were questioned after the fact they said they did nothing about it because they didn't really believe it.
Many of the witnesses questioned said they did not feel comfortable going to an adult, they felt the adults wouldn't listen or that they were taught not to "tattle." In some cases dozens of students knew about the plot beforehand, they even gathered to watch that morning just to see if it would really happen.
Prior to Columbine, local law enforcement officers were handed death threats, detailed bomb making instructions, and even details on the bomb tests. This information was all housed on a personal website run by one of the perpetrators. Law enforcement even went as far as obtaining a search warrant... but failed to execute it.
After the criminal investigation began, that information disappeared for a time, only to be retrieved by a reporter. Up to that point law enforcement denied it existed at all. They were well aware that they had dropped the ball.
Children knew, parents knew, teachers knew. Children are afraid adults wont listen, adults are afraid other adults wont listen. In nearly every case it came down to someone who had the power to stop it from happening, but were afraid to upset people if it all turned out to be nothing so they did nothing. We can't afford to sit back and do nothing anymore.
Ingredient 9 - Freedom of Information Meets Privacy Laws
Another important factor I consistently came across was how much certain authority figures knew ahead of time. A teacher was aware of violent writings, a principal knew about minor disciplinary problems, a psychiatrist knew about emotional disorders, a court knew about legal troubles but nobody was getting the whole picture until it was too late.
Violent writings were present in many of the cases, but teachers are not trained psychologists. When reading the writings after the fact it is easy to pick up on certain signals. They almost always portray a victim rising up against their attackers in a violent manner and emerging the hero. Assignments written by the perpetrators often focused on violent topics, such as Nazism and guns.
The signs were certainly there, but they were vague. Many kids write about violent imagery at that age. Can you imagine the essays Stephen King must have turned in as a child? How do you determine which boys are just being creative, and which are offering up a red flag?
It isn't until after the fact that the information comes together and the picture becomes clear. Yet even when concerns were shared with other staff, they were not dealt with. In case after case I found that the information was there, and the red flag was raised but someone dropped the ball.
They either assumed someone else would deal with it, that it was outside of their scope of power, or that it wasn't anything major to be concerned with so they let it slide. There was no chain of command in place, so the information was dropped with deadly consequence.
In most cases those in authority are not allowed to share information with one another. The court cannot notify the school of a problem with a student, nor can the school notify law enforcement about a problem if it is outside of the scope of the law. The teachers and staff aren't allowed to talk among themselves about a student or compare notes to see if the other teachers have seen similar behavior. Even if a principal is aware of a problem, he can't warn the other teachers.
Studies have been done where teachers have been fed information about a particular students performance ahead of time. In some cases they were told that students performed well above average on tests, when they were actually poor performers. On the other hand a child that was presented to a teacher as a "problem child" could be in every other case a model student, but this specific teacher saw them exactly as they were expecting to see them. The teachers consistently graded students based not on performance but on their perceptions of the child. Because of these certain information must be kept private, so that children are not judged unnecessarily.
We saw the problem with the inability to share information most graphically after the Virginia Tech shootings. A lot of people had the information, but none of them were allowed to share it with others until it crossed over into a criminal investigation.
While court records are public information, that does not apply if a person is under the age of 18. Which was true in most cases of school shootings.
In the United States we walk a fine line. If we share the information we are violating someone's right to privacy, but if we don't there can be serious consequences.
So where do we draw the line between a persons right to privacy and the public's right to be protected?
This could be remedied by collecting the information in a place that is not accessible to the teachers or staff working with the children. A third party resource such as a police officer or division. This person should be someone who is trained in psychology, and can understand red flags when they see them. If they see a red flag, they could follow up with the other students, parents, teachers and authorities in a non-invasive way. These professionals could then follow up with recommendations to the proper authorities.
Flyleaf - Cassie
This song is based on the story of Columbine victim Cassie Bernal. As the story goes, she was asked "Do you believe in God?" She said yes, and she was killed for her faith. Later investigations found that this event did not occur, but many have found peace and hope within her story. The video also features another well-known Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott, a fellow Christian.
- Football star tackles girl with gun on school bus - CNN.com
No doubt this boy was a hero, no doubt this girl was troubled but this entire article illustrates the power of the jock culture in our society. Notice where the mothers concern lies - "When he tackled her to get the gun, he could've got shot you kno
Ingredient 12 - The Media Hype
Making heroes of our villans
When I read these books, watched these movies, and listened to the music I found one strong theme that ran through all of them. In each case the hero of the movie was the killer, students cheered them, crowds gathered to spur them on, and the media worshipped them.
If a part of the fantasy was the sheer violence they fed on, another factor was the hero worship. They didn't want to just go out, they wanted to go out in a blaze of glory. Their fantasies may have failed to live up to their expectations but the media did not.
The media in most cases played right into it. While it was happening, and then for weeks after, the media hand fed us every detail they could get. Even seemingly insignificant details became front page news. The pictures of these boys were broadcast nationally and internationally. Not the pictures of the way their life ended, but the pictures that showed smiling, seemingly normal boys. Had we not known their names, we could have looked through a yearbook and barely even noticed those pictures.
If they were nobodies who wanted to become somebodies, the fastest way to do so was to do something so shocking that the media could not ignore it. The media in their own way, turned them into heroes.
While I was researching I was appalled at the sheer number of tributes there were not to the victims, but to the shooters. A quick tour of Youtube is enough to make you physically ill. These kids went from being perpetrators to victims.
I suppose part of that is our culture, while many of us are victims, many seem to think that being a victim somehow makes one less responsible for their actions. We are all responsible for our own actions no matter what pain we have suffered. Yet these kids are revered by a large section of young society.
In some societies, someone who committed such atrocities would have been forgotten. Their name would not have been used ever again, removed from the records, and erased from our memories. If any photos at all were shown it would be not of the life they lived, but the way they died.
In ours, they are imprinted. American's love the anti-hero. Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Ted Bundy. Criminals, villains, murderers, yet they remain part of the American folklore long after their deaths. They have somehow become heroes, and the higher the body count the better.
Nothing has changed. As the media monster continues to grow, it needs more and more food to sustain its growth. The monster feeds on the negative, the horrific, the grotesque. The more shocking the story, the more they show it.
They say it takes 5 positives to overcome 1 negative, but if a law were passed saying that each negative story shown must be followed up by one positive the media moguls would be screaming their heads off. They make their money off of human suffering, and unfortunately, business is good.
As long as they continue showing the horrific, the graphic, the tragic, there will be a way for nobodies to become somebodies. All they have to do is make sure the story is worse than the last one and anybody can get their fifteen minutes of fame.
What does the press coverage of Columbine or Virginia Tech say to the kid who relates to the bullying and abuse? Why did they bury themselves in fantasies where the victim becomes the hero not by overcoming, but by striking out at the victimizers?
When there are not just news reports, but round the clock coverage, Book deals, movies, songs written in their honor. How many of them watch and think... "They wont forget his name, and they wont forget mine either."
I was horrified when the media aired the manifesto of the Virginia Tech shooter. There was no responsibility in their actions, only further media sensationalism and scare tactics. They knew it would get them ratings, and it did, but at what cost to society?
Many of the later shooters specifically referenced earlier shootings. The media creates copycat violence, which in turn gives them more stories to report, and even better ratings.
You will notice I have refrained from the use of names... this is why. Part of responsible media is not just covering the story, but covering it in a way that does not create copycats. It is becoming a part of the solution not more of the problem. We should all demand this of our media.
Ingredient 13 - The Anti-depressant connection
Adult medication and undeveloped brains do not mix
Adult medication and undeveloped brains do not mix
As I gathered data for my novel, one thing kept coming up in article after article. Something the experts had not included in their data, and many seemed to have overlooked entirely. In most cases the news articles mentioned it in passing, using it to point to a history of violence or depression. They saw the smaller picture, but they failed to see the bigger one.
Out of 22 cases I was able to study in depth, in all but one case, these boys had been on some type of anti-depressant or similar medication. Not only that, time after time I found that their dosages had recently been changed. Either they had recently been prescribed, changed dosage, or just stopped taking them.
Most of these shootings occurred in the 1990s, in a time where there was a 700% increase in psycho stimulant use. That usage more than doubled between 1999 and 2007. A recent estimate states that more than 6% of American children are now on some sort of psychiatric medication, this estimate is even higher among teens. Out of approximately 5 million children under the age of 18, that means 300, 000 are currently on some sort of psychiatric medication.
Recent studies have shown that a small percentage of those on psycho stimulants do show some signs of violent behavior. These people already prone to violence mixed with antidepressants can become a very dangerous threat. Many become a danger to themselves, resulting in attempted or completed suicide while others become outwardly violent. Only .31 % of patients taking a placebo experienced a "hostility event" that number doubled to .65 % when they were given the anti-depressant Paxil, approximately 200 children and teens.
While not everyone who is prescribed these medications can be expected to act out violently, if the propensity for violent behavior is already there, introducing these medications has been proven to double the likely hood of a violent reaction. It's like playing Russian roulette with pills. The risk is small, but the damage done can be great.
This is a subject that is getting more and more attention in recent years, people are beginning to see the dangers and respond to them. Yet the number of prescriptions written for children is increasing. They are now prescribing some of the medications for infants and toddlers.
A black box warning is now required for all antidepressants. These medications were made for and tested on adults. Even in the late teens, the brain is still not done developmentally. Introducing chemicals to an undeveloped brain can and does have dire consequences. They can decrease blood flow to the brain, and induce psychosis in some patients. Increased suicidal thoughts and behaviors can also occur.
Increased potential for violence being another. As parents and educators we really need to be sure the risks are worth it. Is it worth it to have a child who is better able to focus in school or at home, when that deadly potential may be there?
What happened to the shooters from Jonesboro after release?
On March 24, 1998, In the first widely publicized school shooting, 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 13-year-old Mitchell triggered a fire alarm in the school. When students gathered outside, the two boys opened fire from the bushes.
They killed one teacher and four students.
Arkansas did not have laws in place in order to try these boys as adults, so they were tried as juveniles. They remained locked up until their 18th birthdays, then held until their 21st on federal firearms charges. They were recently released back into the general public.
How are they doing?
What happened when these boys were released?
- Ark. school shooter gets extra 6 years
A man, who as a teenager fired on his middle school classmates, has been sentenced to an extra six years in prison for using a stolen debit card, this time to pay for a $7.99 Burger King breakfast.
- When A School Shooter Seeks A License To Carry A Loaded, Concealed Handgun
Recently we learned that a convicted killer in one of the most notorious school massacres in American history tried to get a permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Ingredient 14 - The Gun Connection
Guns or no guns you decide
I can't in good conscience end this topic without addressing the one thing all school shootings have in common.
Gun ownership has increased dramatically in the past few years. Americans own over 200 million guns, we can now arm nearly every man, woman and child in the US. Yet the percentage of people who own guns has remained steady at about one in three households, it isn't that more people are buying guns, but the same people are buying more guns.
Very few of these boys had to look far for the guns they used in the attacks. They were bought legally, taken from friends or family members, or came from their own homes. In only one case was the gun stolen from a stranger. Yet many of the guns used were legally owned and locked, the legal owners were not charged in most cases because they had taken reasonable measures to keep the guns out of the hands of these boys. The guns were stored properly, in most cases locked. The boys were just more determined to obtain the guns than the owners had bargained for.
I have watched the gun debates for years for this reason, and I am still at a loss. How do you remove 200 million guns from circulation when many of them aren't even registered? How do you remove those guns with the NRA chanting that we all have the right to bear arms?
Do we have a right to remove the guns from law abiding citizens because of the irresponsibility of non-law abiding citizens? Do we really want to remove all of the guns, or just regulate them heavily, do we want to give up our freedoms?
We have incidents where further massacre was stopped by armed staff, we have incidents where unarmed security guards were powerless to stop the attacks on their school.
We also have mass school tragedies that did not involve guns at all.
(Germany 2002) GUNS HEAVILY RESTRICTED - Germany has strict gun laws, however, Robert Steinhaeuser joined an officially accredited club for sport shooting and passed the rigorous German tests required to own a gun. He entered his school and killed killed 17 people, mostly teachers before being restrained and killing himself.
(Michigan 1927) NO GUNS INVOLVED - The worst school tragedy in US history happened in 1927 when farmer, Andrew Kehoe was responsible for a bizarre series of explosions that ripped through Bath. Destroyed were his farmhouse and the local school building. A total of 38 children, and 7 adults were killed, and 61 injured. Had officials not discovered the remaining explosives in time the death toll could have been in the hundreds.
(Japan 2001) NO GUNS INVOLVED - Japan has some of the strictest gun legislation in the world, yet has still had its share of mass violence. People have armed themselves with rat poison, homemade guns, and knives. Mamoru Takuma was armed with a 6-inch kitchen knife, when he wounded 13 first- and second-graders and two teachers. He killed seven girls, ranging in age from seven- to eight-years-old, and one six-year-old boy. He plead guilty and was sentenced to death... at his execution he stated : "I should have used gasoline, so I could have killed more than I did."
(Germany 1964) NO GUNS INVOLVED - Walter Seifert converted a garden sprayer into a flamethrower and filled it with an easily flammable mixture that could deliver a six-meter flame. He took his new flamethrower, a lance that was 1.5 meters long and a homemade iron centrifuge to the Catholic elementary school at Cologne, Volkhoven.
(Sweden 1998) NO GUNS INVOLVED - Shoresh Kaveh was disappointed that his reputation alone did not get him admitted to a dance without paying the cover charge. He and his friends blocked the exits and set fire to the building, 63 were killed and another 200 were injured.
Tragedies are stopped by the presence of guns in some cases. There were some cases where an armed staff member was able to minimize casualties. They happen without guns at all, and they most certainly happen with guns. In this area I am at a loss for a real solution.
So I'll let you debate the need for gun control, responsible ownership, or armed staff among yourselves. The only thing I can say for certain is that we can debate guns as much as we would like, but the debate is pointless.
Those who believe we have a right to bear arms will continue to do so. Those who believe that guns should be outlawed will continue to believe so. There is no practical way to remove 2 million guns from society. We can easily remove them from the hands of law abiding citizens, but those who do not fear the law will continue to find ways to obtain and use them.
I am a firm believer in focusing not on the problem, but on the solution. The solution in this case evades me. So we can debate it until the end of time, but we must remember that guns are just one of many ingredients that lead to school shootings. They may be the yeast in our school shooter recipe, but we still need the other ingredients to make a school shooter.
Boomtown Rats - I Don't like Mondays
Nearly all school shootings involved boys, this is one of the rare cases where a female was the shooter. On January 29th, 1979, Brenda Spencer shot and killed two men, and wounded nine children as they filed into the Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego.
Her home was across the street from the school, but she had no ties to any of the victims. She fired off random shots for 20 minutes, and then barricaded herself in her home for six hours.
When asked why she had done it she replied ''I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day.''
The Gun Debate continues
The debate rages on, so where do you stand?
Guns or no guns, you decide...
More than two years of my life have gone into researching this subject.
While I agree with many of the popular beliefs regarding school shootings I fear that focusing on one factor minimizes the effects of the others. I hope you understand my use of the recipe analogy now, it takes many ingredients to create a school shooter.
When we focus on just one aspect such as the guns, or the violent media, we miss out on the other important factors.
I wish that someone could find an answer to prevent further shootings but I'm afraid Brooks Brown was right. There are no easy answers.
As parents we can do our part by monitoring our children's activities, and those of their friends, encouraging healthy ways of dealing with emotional turmoil, being aware of interests that are becoming obsessions.
Be aware of propensity towards violence and seek help. It is not normal to be obsessed with guns or violence, if your child is showing those signs get them the help they need. Know when to seek help.
As parents we can also know who our kids friends are, and what they are doing. Listen to them when they talk, and if one of their friends seems to be in trouble try to find them some help.
Call the school, report it to law enforcement or social services if you believe imminent danger is present.
We can see to it that these kids always have a safe adult to go to with concerns. We can teach our children to tell us when they see something amiss, and make sure that it is handled properly or hold our school staff responsible for lack of action.
Our schools can implement strong no bullying policy, and strong anti-bullying programs should be offered to the entire school.
We need more trained counselors working in our schools, and we should encourage stronger peer counseling programs.
Always offer the information for a crisis hotline and SAFE 2 TELL program throughout the school.
We need to start treating all kids equally. Teachers and staff who look the other way need to be replaced. We need to put as much focus on education as we do on sports and not allow anyone to hold a higher position in the school hierarchy than another.
If harassment and bullying are reported they must be taken seriously.
We can find a way to start a central place for concerns about specific kids. The school counselors would be the ideal place, where all teachers, principals, law enforcement and courts report to.
Where the kids know they can go if a student makes a threat. Counselors who are trained to spot warning signs, and know what to do when they see them.
Non-uniformed security has been proven to help, with their job being not just to protect the school but to interact with the students. Retired police officers are often perfect for the job, and they enjoy the work.
Many of us may not be comfortable with an armed officer roaming our children's campus, but making sure tasers are available to these officers could save many lives in the long run.
Having doors that can be fully secured in the case of an emergency, fitted with safety glass, and safe rooms for students and teachers to go to that can be locked from the inside.
We can start insisting that our government make educating our children and making their schools safe a priority. When we can spend trillions of dollars on a war in another country but we can't educate our children properly something is wrong.
When we ask ourselves why our children have turned violent, we can ask ourselves how we expect them to act otherwise when we have been such very poor examples.
Doctors should not place our children on a medication that has not been tested and approved for adolescents.
They need to teach parents to monitor dosages and behaviors and report any concerns immediately, with frequent follow-ups.
Anti-depressants are not supposed to be a fix-all. ADHD medications are a beginning, but not a cure-all. Too many parents are counting on pills to do their parenting for them.
There is a deeper problem that needs to be followed up with a psychiatrist on a regular basis. You wouldn't treat a broken bone with pills alone, nor should you treat a broken child so.
Our children need us more now than ever. If it takes a village to raise a child, then it is time to admit that we as a village have failed. We can't keep doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.
I think we really do tend to focus on easy answers.
We want one pill to fix it all. We want a school to fix it all. A law to fix it all. That is never going to happen, until we address the whole problem, we cannot find a whole solution.
We can't find any easy answers, but we can all become a part of the solution.
Remember the victims, not the events
Ani DiFranco - To the Teeth
After sharing this information with the public, many people said they felt their eyes had been opened. Yet I was still surprised at the number of people who still tended towards isolating one single factor. So a second final word.
Before you leave this page, please remember that there is a recipe for everything in life. We did not become who we are today because of one single factor, and neither did these boys.
There were many factors at work, and until we, as a society, can accept that and work towards addressing ALL of the factors involved. We will never move forward.
It wasn't just the guns, it wasn't just the pills, it wasn't just the violent media, and it wasn't just the media sensationalism. How we handle subsequent school shootings can very well determine whether or not they continue.
The recent school shooting in Winneden, Germany proved that we have learned very little. it was still sensationalized. More focus was still placed on the shooter than the victims, and until we learn to portray these boys only as killers and the victims as the heroes there is little hope...