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Risk Management and Assessment
Risk Management and Assessment

Section 16
Common Factors Among Rampage School Shooters

Question 16 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Emotional Factors. A review and analysis of the media reports on the Colorado and Georgia shooting incidents suggest that the same general factors were demonstrated. Each of the students responsible for the shootings demonstrated some type of emotional trouble. For example, T. J. Solomon, the perpetrator in Georgia, had been under medical treatment for depression (Skeesis, 2000). Eric Harris, one of the shooters at Columbine High School in Colorado, had been described as a "troubled teen" suffering from depression and obsession. Dylan Klebold, his co-perpetrator, was regarded as a follower who went astray. "The police and fellow students described them as disaffected outcasts" (Kenworthy, 1999; Koerner, 1999).

Alienation. Close analysis reveals that each shooter in the recent two events was alienated from family and friends and was often picked on at school. According to a fellow student at Columbine High School, Harris and Klebold would "walk with their heads down, because if they looked up they'd get thrown into lockers and get called a `fag' " (Cannon, Streisand, & McGraw, 1999). In addition, their well-publicized membership in the "trench-coat Mafia" suggests an alienation from the larger school community. This seemed to be an indication to several writers from the national press that these boys were seeking to "fit in" (Koerner, 1999; O'Driscoll, 1999). T.J. Solomon was viewed by most of his peers as a "nerd," "really shy," and "not real popular." Time magazine reported, "He was described as both a Boy Scout and a troubled youth" (Cloud, 1999).

Prior Warnings Of Violence. Prior to the Columbine High School shooting, a video made by Harris and Klebold for a video-production class showed the boys acting out a scene that involved anger, violence, and revenge (Skeesis, 2000). In the Heritage High School shooting, following the breakup with his girlfriend, Solomon's friends said he became angry and spoke of suicide and of bringing a gun to school (Pressley, 1999). Just 1 day prior to the shooting, he told two classmates he would "blow up this classroom" and that he had no reason to live (Cloud, 1999). As in the earlier instances, these warnings were overlooked.

Accessibility Of Guns. Perhaps the most discussed factor in the media of these random shootings was the accessibility of guns. The guns used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were the first in the string of school shootings that were actually purchased (Skeesis, 2000). Mark Manes, a former Columbine student, purchased a Tec-DC9 at a local gun show and then later gave it to Harris and Klebold. Robyn Anderson, Klebold's girlfriend, also admitted to buying a Hi-Point semiautomatic carbine and two 1969 Savage shotguns for Klebold (Fortgang, 1999). In the Conyers, Georgia, shooting, T.J. Solomon took the guns he used from the unlocked display case in his family's basement and the bullets from a drawer underneath.

Low/Declining Respect For Life. Finally, similar to the shootings analyzed by Shubert et al. (1999), each perpetrator in the recent shootings showed evidence of a declining respect for life. The horror of the Columbine shooting is perhaps the most salient example. The vast number of victims and the reported statements made by Klebold and Harris before as well as during their rampage exemplify a callous disregard for life. As far back as June 1998, they built pipe bombs, which they tested in a local wilderness area. In October 1998, they presented a video depicting violence and revenge as a class project. Then in November, Klebold's girlfriend bought three guns, which were subsequently used. In December, Harris began to see a psychiatrist who prescribed psychotropic drugs for mental problems (Skeesis, 2000). It is also reported that the two bragged to a friend about mutilating animals, which some researchers indicate may be a consistent characteristic of these perpetrators (Barnard, 1999).

A Tentative Hypothesis
Reflecting on these two analyses, it becomes increasingly clear that the perpetrators are not the children who, traditionally, have been associated with violent acts within the schools; that is, they are not the school bullies or kids who have been previously identified as aggressive. According to an old adage among educators, 8% of children in school account for 80% of the discipline problems, and "school bullies" typically come from this overfly aggressive group. These eight percenters are the students who are in and out of the principal's office because of their bullying, aggressive behavior, or other conduct disorders. The principal and the teachers recognize these students instantly because they demonstrate behavior problems--sometimes referred to as externalizing behaviors--constantly. However, according to the data presented here, these are not the children responsible for the random shootings in schools. A different group of students is committing these random shooting acts, and parents and teachers must re-evaluate their system for identifying potential problem students and reach out to this other, relatively anonymous group of students. Something we have learned through these tragic shootings is that the students who are easiest to ignore are using violence to offset and counteract their anonymity. They have internalized their aggression to such an extent that an explosion of violence is the result.
- Bender, William N.; Shubert,, Terresa H.; McLaughlin, Phillip J.; Invisible Kids: Preventing School Violence by Identifying Kids in Trouble; Intervention in School & Clinic, Nov2001, Vol. 37 Issue 2, p105

Personal Reflection Exercise #8
The preceding section contained information regarding common factors among rampage school shooters. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

According to Bender, what are five common factors among rampage school shooters?
To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.

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