Chapter 10

Key Findings

After reviewing forty-eight school shooters, what conclusions can we draw? How accurate are commonly held beliefs about the perpetrators and their attacks? Are school shooters really white, male, middle-class loners who are bullied into retaliation? Do they really seek out and kill the kids who picked on them? Moving beyond the stereotype to other issues, which categories of shooters were the most deadly? The most suicidal? The answers to these questions are sometimes surprising.

FINDINGS VERSUS CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

Most school shooters were not victims of bullying.

Despite the widespread belief that school shooters are virtually always victims of bullying, this does not appear to be true. The connection between bullying and school shootings, however, is difficult to untangle. It is even hard to define bullying, as people use widely different definitions. For my purposes, bullying refers to a pattern of behavior that includes insults, taunts, harassment (including sexual harassment), stalking, threats, intimidation, or physical assault. Because the available information is often incomplete and contradictory, the findings in table 10.1 are tentative. Nonetheless, there are interesting patterns.

Psychopathic shooters were frequently bullies and infrequently victims of bullying. The opposite was true of traumatized shooters, who rarely picked on others but were often picked on. Thus, those shooters who were most mistreated at home were also most mistreated at school. The rates of bullying and victimization among the psychotic shooters were approximately equal, except among college shooters, who were more often perpetrators than victims.

Across the three populations of shooters—secondary school, college, aberrant adult—victimization by bullying was least prevalent among college shooters, more common among the aberrant adults, and most common among secondary school shooters. Among the aberrant adult shooters, the harassment occurred years before their attacks. In these cases, it was not an immediate trigger for violence, but it may have left deep psychological scars.

Overall, at least 40 percent of shooters experienced peer harassment at some point in their lives. How this compares to students in general depends on which survey you read, how the survey defines bullying, and what questions are asked. A recent study by the US Department of Education reported that 27.8 percent of students ages twelve to eighteen reported being bullied in the last six months.[1] A survey of seventh graders in California found that 42 percent reported being bullied in the last year.[2] A report by the American Psychological Association noted that “70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point.”[3] Based on these results, it is not clear that school shooters were harassed more than other students.

On a different note, at least 54 percent of the shooters teased, harassed, stalked, threatened, or intimidated others. Thus, it appears that school shooters bullied others more than they were victims of bullying. In some cases, shooters were both perpetrators and victims of harassment.

The fact that some shooters were harassed does not account for their attacks. After all, the vast majority of students who are harassed never commit murder. This does not mean that bullying was never a factor in school shootings. For some shooters, it was one more problem on top of many others. It was never, however, the only problem. There were always other issues.

Only one out of forty-eight shooters targeted a student who had bullied him.

Although many people believe that rampage attacks are revenge for bullying, only Evan Ramsey sought out and killed a boy who had harassed him. Notably, homicide was not even his idea; his friends convinced him to kill. Out of 631 people killed or wounded by the forty-eight shooters discussed in this book, only one was targeted because he had harassed the perpetrator. This is a remarkable statistic.

More shooters targeted school personnel than any other category of victim.

At least sixteen shooters (33 percent) shot or tried to shoot specific faculty members or administrators. In contrast, nine shooters (19 percent) targeted girls or women, six shooters (13 percent) targeted family members, three (6 percent) targeted rivals, and, as just noted, only one (2 percent) targeted a bully. Overall, 69 percent of the shooters had one or more specific targets or category of targets (e.g., either a specific girl or women in general, young children, etc.).

The data presented in table 10.2 is an attempt to tally the different types of targeted victims across the populations of shooters. These conclusions are tentative because it was not always clear if victims were targeted or random. Even when they were targeted, decisions had to be made regarding how to categorize them. For example, female teachers could have been targeted as females or as teachers. I placed them in the category that seemed most relevant according to the shooters’ apparent motives. I counted Charles Whitman’s wife and mother as both “family” and “females.”

Secondary school and college shooters targeted school personnel most, whereas aberrant adult shooters never did, even when they were attacking schools they had previously attended. The high number of females targeted by aberrant adult shooters was the result of only two shooters (Lépine and de Oliveira), whereas six secondary school shooters targeted females. In contrast, no college shooters targeted females at their schools, though Whitman killed his wife and mother. Among secondary school shooters, none of the psychotic perpetrators targeted teachers or administrators, whereas more than half of the psychopathic and traumatized shooters did.

One other category of victim should be noted—children. Seven of the eleven aberrant adult shooters gunned down children in elementary or middle schools. Though no specific children were killed, the perpetrators deliberately sought out victims much younger than themselves. Whereas most school shootings involved kids killing kids (and sometimes adults) or adults killing adults, these seven perpetrators were adults killing children. These shooters killed or wounded 137 children—more than all the other categories of victims combined. In addition, though Brenda Spencer was not an adult, she was a sixteen-year-old gunning down children aged approximately seven to ten.

In two out of three populations of school shooters, white males were not a majority.

One of the most common stereotypes of school shooters is that they are virtually always white males. This is a misconception. Among the shooters covered in this book, only 58 percent were white males. The percentage differed significantly, however, among secondary school perpetrators (79 percent), college shooters (39 percent), and aberrant adult shooters (36 percent). Though white males were a majority among secondary school shooters, they were a minority in the other two populations.

Why might this be? Perhaps a key factor was immigration. No secondary school shooters were immigrants, and only one (4 percent) was the child of immigrants. In contrast, at least 54 percent of college shooters were immigrants, and 36 percent of aberrant adult shooters were either immigrants (9 percent) or the children of immigrants (27 percent). Though within my sample being nonwhite does not correlate exactly with being an immigrant, for many of the older shooters these categories overlapped. Dr. James Alan Fox noted that international students may “come from cultures where failure is seen as shame on the entire family,” exacerbating the stresses of academia and acculturation.[4]

Also, three of the four female shooters were college or aberrant adult shooters (and Latina Williams, an African American female who is not covered in this book, was a college shooter). Whether or not this is significant or an artifact of the small sample size is unknown.

In addition to the shooters included in this book, several others were not white males. Among secondary school shooters this includes Phu Cuong Ta (Asian), Jose Reyes (Latino), Nathaniel Brazill (African American), Seth Trickey (Native American), and Robert Butler Jr. (African American father). Among college shooters, as just noted, Latina Williams was an African American female. Nonwhite aberrant adult shooters include Tyrone Mitchell (African American) and Elliot Rodger (Asian mother).

Most school shooters were not socially isolated loners.

After Adam Lanza’s attack at Sandy Hook, there were comments online such as “Of course he was a loner—school shooters are always loners.” This is wrong. Though they often didn’t have the social success they desired, school shooters were usually not loners. Even among those who appear to have been loners during the last few months before their attacks, most had social connections through most of their lives. Those shooters who were loners most commonly were psychotic shooters who either never had close relationships or withdrew from others as they sank into their psychosis. Most shooters, however, had friends, dated, and interacted with classmates or colleagues; ten even got married. The extreme isolation of Adam Lanza was not typical of school shooters but an anomaly.

School shooters are not always middle class.

School shooters are sometimes said to come exclusively from middle-class families. Their relative economic privilege has been highlighted in contrast to the perpetrators of violence among the urban poor. To say school shooters are middle class may be largely true, but it is misleading. Multiple shooters, primarily traumatized ones, came from low-income families who struggled to get by. In addition, several college and aberrant adult shooters struggled financially. Thus, economic issues affected both the younger shooters, several of whom grew up in poverty, as well as older shooters, who faced financial crises that were factors in their violence.

Most school shootings did not occur in urban settings.

School shootings have been said to occur primarily in small towns, rural areas, or suburbs, rather than in major metropolitan centers. This is largely true. There are, however, exceptions. For example, Tyrone Mitchell committed a shooting in Los Angeles in 1984 (not covered in this book). There have been two school shootings in San Diego (Brenda Spencer and also Frederick Davidson, who was not covered in this book), two in Cleveland (Biswanath Halder and Asa Coon), three in Montreal (Marc Lépine, Valery Fabrikant, and Kimveer Gill), one in Toronto (Phu Cuong Ta, not covered in this book), one in Oakland (One Goh), and one in Rio de Janeiro (Wellington de Oliveira). College or aberrant adult shooters committed most of the urban attacks.

Why might smaller communities be more vulnerable to rampage attacks? Dr. Katherine Newman argued that it may be harder for people to raise concerns about someone’s child when the families all know each other, do business together, and so on. Newman argued that fear of disrupting communal relationships inhibits the flow of information: “The same multiplex ties that promote the spread of gossip throughout a community can also prevent it from reaching the people who might need to hear it.”[5]

As I wrote in Why Kids Kill, another possible factor is that cities offer greater diversity of peer groups, making it easier for kids to find their niche: “A misfit in West Paducah would be expected to have a harder time than a misfit in New York City.”[6]

Most shooters were not on psychiatric medications at the time of their attacks.

Many websites blame school shootings on psychiatric medications. These sites are commonly full of errors. Among the perpetrators in my sample, only four (8 percent) were on medications at the time of their attacks. Two or three others had taken medications within a month of their attacks (6 percent). Most shooters had never been on psychiatric medication. For those who did take medications, there is no evidence that they caused mania, psychosis, or violence. (For a detailed discussion of this issue, see my article “Psychiatric Medications and School Shooters” at http://www.schoolshooters.info.)

THE MAGNITUDE OF THEIR ATTACKS

Though all the perpetrators included in my sample intended to shoot multiple people, the number of casualties they caused varied dramatically by psychological type, attack type, population of shooters, and perpetrator age.

Regardless of psychological type or population of shooter, young adults had the highest victim rate.

The age of the perpetrators appears to have been a significant factor in the victim rate. The fourteen shooters with twenty or more victims had an average age of twenty-three. Figure 10.1 shows the relationship between perpetrator age and number of victims, with those between the ages of eighteen and twenty-seven being the most dangerous.

Among secondary school perpetrators, psychopathic shooters had the highest victim rate.

Psychopathic shooters had an average of 14.4 victims. Psychotic shooters came close to this, with an average of 12.7 victims. In contrast, traumatized shooters averaged 5.9 victims, less than half the rate of the psychopathic and psychotic shooters.

Another way of looking at this is that only 20 percent of the traumatized shooters had ten or more victims, whereas 57 percent of the psychotic shooters and 71 percent of the psychopathic shooters had ten or more victims. This cannot be accounted for by the assailants’ ages, as all three groups of attackers had an average age of sixteen to sixteen and a half. Psychopathic shooters were the most bloodthirsty or the most skilled in planning and executing their attacks.

Among college shooters, random attackers had five times the victim rate of targeted attackers.

College shooters who committed targeted attacks had a few intended victims, and after shooting them, the attacks were done. The perpetrators of random attacks, however, had no defined end point for their attacks. As a result they had more than five times as many victims as targeted college shooters (average of 27.2 victims versus 5 victims).

Among the three populations, aberrant adult shooters had the highest victim rate.

The average number of victims increases from secondary school shooters (10.4 victims) to college shooters (14.2 victims) to aberrant adult shooters (18.9 victims). Two factors may account for this. First, all of the aberrant adult attacks were random—insofar as no specific individuals were targeted, though females or children in general were sometimes targeted—and, as just mentioned, random attacks averaged far more victims than targeted attacks.

The second possible factor is age. As we saw in figure 10.1, young adults had the highest numbers of casualties, and the average age of aberrant adult shooters was 27.4, at the top of the age range of young adults. In comparison, secondary school shooters averaged 16.2 years of age, and college shooters averaged 35.8.

Figure 10.2 compares the victim rates across the different groups of shooters. The chart follows the groupings of the shooters as presented in the book, with the secondary school shooters organized by psychological type, the college shooters by attack type, and the entire sample by the three populations of shooters.

SUICIDE AMONG SCHOOL SHOOTERS

Though many shooters were suicidal, many others were not. It is impossible, however, to say for sure who was suicidal at the time of their attacks. Some shooters intended to die in their attacks but didn’t, either because others apprehended them or because they changed their minds. Conversely, some shooters apparently expected to survive but ended up taking their own lives when escape became impossible. The results presented here include those who killed themselves (including one suicide by cop), regardless of their intention going into the attack. Of the forty-eight shooters, twenty-two died by suicide (46 percent). There were notable differences, however, across the types and populations.

Among secondary school perpetrators, psychopathic shooters had the highest suicide rate.

The rate of suicide among psychopathic secondary school shooters was 57 percent. In contrast, psychotic shooters had a suicide rate of 29 percent and traumatized shooters only 20 percent. This seems surprising because the psychotic and traumatized shooters generally appeared to be in far greater distress than the psychopathic shooters.

It is not surprising that some psychotic shooters killed themselves. After all, the suicide rate for schizophrenics is a thousand times higher than for the general population. Why some psychotic shooters killed themselves and others did not remains unknown.

Despite the traumatized shooters’ anguish, they were the least suicidal of the three types. Why were some suicidal and not others? One factor may have been their mothers’ levels of functioning. All fathers of traumatized shooters were dysfunctional, violent, or absent. Several mothers were also violent, alcoholic, or otherwise problematic. This might explain the suicidal urges of Evan Ramsey, Asa Coon, Jeffrey Weise, and Patrick Purdy. Four of the five suicidal traumatized shooters not only had dysfunctional fathers but dysfunctional mothers, too.

Why would psychopathic shooters take their own lives? Though psychopaths are sometimes said to be free of psychological distress, this is not always the case. They can become discouraged, depressed, and hopeless.[7] Yochelson and Samenow discuss the zero state that psychopaths are prone to experiencing: “[He] fears being reduced to a ‘nothing’ more than he fears almost anything else. He is said to be in a ‘zero state’ when his self-esteem is at rock bottom.”[8] Yochelson and Samenow cite one criminal’s state of mind as an example: “He had no faith in things now, no faith in people, and no faith in the future. He seriously questioned whether he could go through life this way—gloomy, pessimistic, with faith in nothing.”[9]

This describes Eric Harris. The first thing he wrote in his journal was, “I hate the fucking world,” then going on to call it “Hell on earth.”[10] He referred to the world as “this worthless place”[11] and commented, “it’s all doomed.”[12] He had no belief in anything, rejected morals and values, and seemed incapable of, or uninterested in, love. With no belief in anything, what was the point of living? As stated by Yochelson and Samenow, the criminal “is chronically dissatisfied with the world.”[13]

Why are psychopaths so dissatisfied with the world? Because it fails to meet their expectations. They believe that they are entitled to whatever they want and should be treated like exalted beings. The world, however, does not respond accordingly. Thus, they are chronically disappointed and enraged. Yochelson and Samenow mention a case that sheds light on the suicide of Eric Harris and possibly other psychopathic shooters. This person “believed that it was better ‘to be under the sod than not to be God.’”[14] Harris could not achieve the godlike status he desired, so he felt there was no point to living.

Why did some psychopathic secondary school shooters kill themselves while others did not? One possibility is age. The three oldest—eighteen, eighteen, and nineteen—were suicidal, and the three youngest—eleven, fourteen, and sixteen—were not. Interestingly, Tim Kretschmer at seventeen was right in the middle; like the younger shooters in this group, he did not intend to kill himself, but like the older shooters, he did (after being twice wounded by police gunfire).

Among college shooters, random attackers had more than twice the suicide rate of targeted attackers.

Based on their psychological dynamics and the triggers for their attacks, it makes sense that random attackers were more suicidal (80 percent to 33 percent). The targeted shooters believed they had legitimate grievances; in their minds, the problem wasn’t in them but in the universities. The random shooters generally had a greater level of despair about themselves.

Among the three populations, aberrant adults had the highest suicide rate.

Secondary school shooters had the lowest suicide rate (33 percent), with college shooters somewhat higher (46 percent) and aberrant adult shooters much higher (73 percent). The frequency of suicide among aberrant adult shooters could be due to their high rate of psychosis (the suicide rate among schizophrenics is extraordinarily high).

Aberrant adult shooters seem to have been the most disturbed of the three populations, having the highest victim rate and the highest suicide rate. They were the most destructive and the most self-destructive.

Figure 10.3 shows variations in suicide rate by age. This figure is strikingly similar to the figure on the rate of victims by perpetrator age (figure 10.2). There is the same rise and fall according to age, with young adults being the most homicidal and the most suicidal.

Figure 10.4 presents the suicide rates across various groupings of shooters.

THE TYPOLOGY ACROSS THE POPULATIONS

OF SHOOTERS

The three psychological types—psychopathic, psychotic, and traumatized—are not evenly distributed among the sample as a whole, nor within the three populations of shooters—secondary school, college, and aberrant adult. In fact, there are remarkable differences across the populations.

Traumatized perpetrators were the most common type among secondary school shooters but absent among college shooters and nearly absent among aberrant adult shooters.

Among secondary school shooters, 42 percent were traumatized, with psychotic and psychopathic perpetrators accounting for 29 percent each. Traumatized shooters, however, were absent from the college population. Perhaps due to the poverty and chaos of their families, such youths are not likely to attend college. Alternatively, perhaps traumatized shooters reach their breaking point sooner than other shooters. Even among the aberrant adult shooters, the two traumatized individuals—James Wilson and Patrick Purdy—committed their attacks at nineteen and twenty-four. In contrast, there were shooters with psychopathic and/or psychotic traits who went on rampages in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.

Over half of the shooters in the entire sample had psychotic features.

Figure 10.5 shows the percentages of the three types of shooters. In my sample, 52 percent had psychotic features, 35 percent had psychopathic features, and 25 percent were traumatized (these numbers total more than 100 percent because six shooters had features of two types). The frequency of mental illness among school shooters is often overlooked or minimized, yet over half had symptoms of schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder. This highlights the importance of early detection and intervention for people suffering from psychosis.

The rate of psychosis was higher in the two populations of older shooters. This makes sense because schizophrenia typically has an adult onset. In fact, 91 percent of aberrant adult shooters, and 62 percent of college shooters, had psychotic features. In contrast, only 29 percent of secondary school shooters were psychotic.

I categorized six shooters as belonging to two types—three each among college and aberrant adult shooters. Five of the six combined features of psychotic and psychopathic shooters; one was both psychotic and traumatized.

Some shooters, rather than fully belonging to two types, may warrant a primary as well as a secondary classification. For example, Alvaro Castillo, Charles Whitman, Marc Lépine, and Wayne Lo all grew up with domestic violence, physical abuse, or harsh discipline. I did not categorize them as traumatized because it is not clear how much violence they witnessed or endured and what impact this had on them. Furthermore, their families did not have the extreme dysfunction that characterized the families of traumatized shooters. Finally, their psychopathic or psychotic features appeared to best illuminate the dynamics that drove them to violence. Nonetheless, in addition to their primary categorizations as psychotic or psychopathic, they might warrant a secondary identification as traumatized.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS

There were dramatic differences between random vs. targeted college attackers across multiple domains.

As noted above, random college shooters caused five times the casualties of targeted attackers. Another significant difference is that the average age of random college shooters was twenty-three, whereas the average age of targeted shooters was forty-five. Not only were targeted shooters older, but most of them had children and were financially responsible for themselves or their families. Thus, educational and occupational failures loomed larger for them than for the random shooters. Furthermore, two targeted attackers had spouses who had left them and taken their children. Between their familial, occupational, and educational failures, their lives were falling apart in multiple domains, increasing their rage and desperation.

Their desperation manifested in their preattack behavior. All six were belligerent, abrasive, and entitled with administrators and faculty. All six waged extensive grievance campaigns within their universities, often going outside appropriate channels to seek attention and support for their causes. Three of the six sued their universities, and one threatened to sue. Three took their causes outside the university to the media or government agencies. Five of the six threatened violence, causing faculty or administrators to fear for their safety.

In contrast, random shooters did not have comparable financial responsibilities, and none had children. They also kept a lower profile on campus. The warning signs among random shooters varied, but none had long-term grievances, sued their schools, contacted the media, or stirred up fear to the extent the targeted attackers did. Unfortunately, though the random shooters exhibited fewer warning signs, they were far more deadly than targeted attackers.

Table 10.3 illustrates the differences in preattack circumstances and behavior between random and targeted attackers.

Psychopathic shooters blamed their victims more than psychotic and traumatized shooters did.

Psychopaths often justify their behavior by blaming their victims. For example, during his attack Eric Harris claimed he was getting revenge, blaming students for their own deaths as he gleefully and sadistically killed people who had never done him any harm. Similarly, Gang Lu believed he made the world a better place by killing people who denied him a prize. Valery Fabrikant was proud that he killed four “scoundrels” in his department, and Robert Flores justified murdering his professors because they had given him poor grades. In the eyes of these killers, their victims were to blame for their own deaths.

The appalling nature of this attitude is particularly notable when compared to the attitudes of other shooters. For example, Jamie Rouse had a long history of physical and emotional abuse. He grew up with violence and chronic instability. Despite this, he did not rationalize his behavior or consider his attack justified. In fact, he suffered horribly after his rampage. He repeatedly tried to kill himself, and when his mother tried to comfort him, he said, “Mama, people are dead because of me.”

Similarly, Mitchell Johnson, who had a violent, abusive father and had been raped again and again for years, did not try to excuse his actions by pointing to his history of abuse. He said, “I don’t look at myself as a victim. I look at myself as, you know, having done a crime. . . . Am I a victim? No.”[15]

Despite being psychotic, Michael Carneal was sufficiently in touch with reality to be devastated by his attack. He repeatedly tried to kill himself, commenting, “I thought if I killed myself I would make the world a better place.”[16] Similarly, after murdering his parents, Kip Kinkel was full of anguish and wrote, “I’m so sorry. I am a horrible son. I wish I had been aborted.”[17] Luke Woodham said, “If they could give the death penalty in this, I deserve it. I’m guilty.”[18]

What these cases illustrate is that shooters who were victimized by abuse or devastated by mental illness accepted responsibility for their actions. They did not blame their schizophrenia, their abusers, their victims, or anybody else. In contrast, the psychopathic shooters justified murdering innocent people. The psychopaths believed they made the world a better place by killing people; other shooters thought the world would be better off if they were dead.

Psychopathic shooters were most likely to shoot at police.

Among the three psychological types, 35 percent of psychopathic perpetrators fired on the police, compared to 17 percent of psychotic and 17 percent of traumatized shooters (one shooter was psychotic and psychopathic and was counted in both categories). Because psychopathic shooters tend to be both fearless and hostile toward authorities, it is not surprising that they most often attacked law enforcement officers.

Female school shooters resembled male shooters on multiple dimensions but had fewer external influences.

Because female school shooters are rare, it is interesting to compare them to male shooters. The four females in this sample fit within the psychological typology previously established among male shooters. The females were either psychopathic (Brenda Spencer), psychotic (Jillian Robbins), or both (Laurie Dann and Amy Bishop). Female shooters appeared in each of the three populations (secondary school, college, aberrant adult) and engaged in both random and targeted attacks.

The female perpetrators shared characteristics with male shooters. They had relatives in the military (Spencer and Robbins) and in education (Spencer, Dann, Robbins, and Bishop). They had military failure (Robbins), educational or occupational failure (Spencer, Dann, Robbins, and Bishop), marital failure (Dann and Robbins), and biological challenges (Spencer and Dann).

They differed from males in the relative lack of external influences. Whereas male shooters often were attracted to Nazism, Nietzsche’s philosophy, Satanism, mass murderers, serial killers, or other school shooters, none of the females had role models or ideologies. Similarly, apart from Spencer’s pleasure in seeing police get killed in television shows, there was apparently no interest in violent media. Also, Spencer was the only female shooter with peer encouragement to kill. Finally, based on available information, none of the female shooters was traumatized, and none appears to have endured significant peer harassment.

School shooters in other countries resemble those in the United States.

The ten international perpetrators included in this sample shared many characteristics with American shooters. They fit the typology as either psychotic, psychopathic, or both. Interestingly, no foreign shooters were traumatized. Many had features that were common among American shooters: romantic rejections, relatives in the military, military failures, relatives in education, educational failures, biological challenges, peer harassment, and external influences—such as peer encouragement, role models, and ideologies.

Nonschool shooters, such as Jared Loughner and James Holmes, share numerous features with school shooters.

Though Jared Loughner and James Holmes were not school shooters, they were students shortly before their attacks. In fact, both had grudges against their schools and could well have attacked them. Instead, Loughner shot Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011, and Holmes attacked a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012.

These two killers share many features with school shooters. For example, Jared Loughner had two grandfathers who had served in the military. In addition, he applied to the army but was rejected.[19] He also had major academic failures; he dropped out of high school and was asked to leave Pima Community College due to his bizarre and frightening behavior. He had run-ins with police regarding drugs and vandalism,[20] as well as five encounters with campus police.[21] He also was fired from at least five jobs and a volunteer position.[22]

James Holmes had relatives in both education and the military. A grandfather served in the armed forces and later became a schoolteacher, and a grandmother was a school librarian. In addition, Holmes’s father conducted research for the navy and the marines. Though Holmes’s father did not work in education, he had achieved a high level of academic success, earning three degrees from prestigious universities. His successes contrasted sharply with Holmes’s failure when he dropped out of his PhD program at the University of Colorado.[23]

Both Loughner and Holmes appear to have functioned well through most of their lives, experiencing psychological deterioration as young adults. This suggests that, like Kimveer Gill, they had adult-onset schizophrenia. Loughner became socially bizarre and Holmes socially withdrawn. Loughner and Holmes also had external influences. Loughner was drawn to Hitler and had a bizarre political ideology. Holmes appeared to have been influenced by Batman movies. They both abused substances, and both suffered romantic failures.

The attacks by Loughner and Holmes are particularly hard to fathom. They both were hostile toward the schools they had recently attended but conducted attacks elsewhere. Why they did not commit rampages at their schools remains a mystery.

CONCLUSION

At first glance, school shooters may all look alike—angry, alienated youths who go to school with guns and kill people. A closer look at the perpetrators, however, reveals both their diversity and the complexity of their circumstances. Although school shootings might appear incomprehensible, in-depth analysis brings to light a web of factors and motives that propelled the shooters into violence. Dividing the perpetrators into meaningful groups allows patterns to emerge that would otherwise remain hidden. It is my hope that the information provided in this book will help us as a society to keep our schools and communities safe, because every life lost to violence is one life too many.

1.

National Center for Education Statistics, “Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2011 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey,” (N.p.: US Department of Education, August 2013), 5, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013329.pdf.

2.

Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health, “Data from Student Survey Indicate Bullying, Harassment Widespread in California Schools,” kidsdata.org, December 6, 2012,

http://www.kidsdata.org/advisories/bullying.html.

3.

Sandra Graham, “Bullying: A Module for Teachers,” American Psychological Association, n.d., https://www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx.

4.

James Alan Fox, “The Troubled Student and Campus Violence: New Approaches,” Chronicle of Higher Education, November 14, 2008.

5.

Katherine Newman, Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings (New York: Basic Books, 2004), 124.

6.

Peter Langman, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 138.

7.

Alv A. Dahl, “Psychopathy and Psychiatric Comorbidity,” in Psychopathy: Antisocial, Criminal and Violent Behavior, ed. Theodore Millon, Erik Simonsen, Morten Birket-Smith, and Roger D. Davis, 296–98 (New York: Guilford, 1998).

8.

Samuel Yochelson and Stanton Samenow, The Criminal Personality: Volume 1; A Profile for Change (New York: Jason Aronson, 1976), 265.

9.

Yochelson and Samenow, The Criminal Personality, 267.

10.

Eric Harris, “Eric Harris’s Journal, April 10, 1998–April 3, 1999.” Transc. and annot. Peter Langman, 1, available online at http://www.schoolshooters.info.

11.

Harris, “Eric Harris’s Journal,” 3.

12.

Harris, “Eric Harris’s Journal,” 8.

13.

Yochelson and Samenow, The Criminal Personality, 473.

14.

Yochelson and Samenow, The Criminal Personality, 285.

15.

“Mitchell Johnson Deposition” (Fayetteville, AR: Craighead County, April 2, 2007), 68–69, available online at http://www.schoolshooters.info.

16.

Andrew Wolfson, “Michael Carneal Tells His Story,” Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), September 12, 2002, 1A.

17.

Joseph Lieberman, School Shootings (New York: Kensington, 2008), 2.

18.

Jon Bellini, Child’s Prey (New York: Kensington: 2001), 270.

19.

John Cloud, “The Troubled Life of Jared Loughner,” Time, January 15, 2011, http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2042358,00.html.

20.

Cloud, “The Troubled Life.”

21.

Kate Pickert and John Cloud, “If You Think Someone Is Mentally Ill: Loughner’s Six Warning Signs,” Time, January 11, 2011, http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2041733,00.html.

22.

Dan Barry, “A Jigsaw Picture of an Accused Killer,” New York Times, January 15, 2011, available online at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/us/16loughner.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all.

23.

Erica Goode, Serge F. Kovaleski, Jack Healy, and Dan Frosch, “Before Gunfire, Hints of ‘Bad News,’” New York Times, August 26, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/27/us/before-gunfire-in-colorado-theater-hints-of-bad-news-about-james-holmes.html?pagewanted=all.

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