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In the last section, we discussed three conflicts that impact early community recovery following a school shooting. These three conflicts are, getting stuck vs moving on, who owns the problem, and who are the "real" victims.
In this section, we will discuss the first three elements of a five factor model for the origin of rampage school shootings. These first three elements of five factors are the perception of marginalization, psychosocial problems, and cultural scripts supporting violence. Clearly, each of these, should they arise in a session, would require judgment concerning violating the client confidentiality boundary to uphold the Tarasoff mandate, "To protect."
Based on the evidence and cultural patterns we have discussed so far in this course, Harvard researcher Katherine Newman has proposed five necessary but not sufficient conditions for rampage school shootings such as those that occurred at Heath, Westside, and Columbine.
For some, the perception of marginality and exclusion is further supported by bullying or teasing, although this is not present in all cases of rampage shootings. Still, in a secret service report, almost three quarters of the offenders felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked or injured by their peers. In some cases, the bullying has been severe.
Charles Andrew Williams, 15, who killed two students and injured 13 others in Santee California, was burned on his neck with a cigarette lighter every couple of weeks, and on one occasion was sprayed with hair spray and then lit with a lighter. If Charles were your client, what red flags would you have looked for in the session that would have warranted your breaking the client confidentiality boundary to uphold the Tarasoff mandate, "To protect?"
The media seems to describe rampage shooters as small, skinny, or overweight, with glasses or acne, and socially awkward or withdrawn. According to Newman, these common tendencies in appearance are in fact significant. Very few of the boys who have committed rampage shootings seem to physically or socially meet the ideals of masculinity – tall, handsome, muscular, athletic, and confident.
As you know, social marginalization refers to a student being pushed by other students into the position of an unpopular social outsider into the outer margins of social acceptance. Whether or not there is actual marginalization, Newman points out that is the perception of marginalization, bullying, and exclusion that is pivotal to this first factor of rampage school shootings.
♦ Element # 2 - Psychosocial Problems
Mental illness can be one element that limits psychosocial coping. Regardless of whether or not a shooter fits a label of criminally insane for legal purposes, a shooter’s mental state interacts with the aspects of social exclusion discussed at the beginning of this section. One strong warning sign, when combined with the other factors in the model, is suicidal ideation (eye-dee-AY-shun). As you know, severe depression may interfere with a shooter’s ability to correctly perceive his social position and his ability to cope with problems.
In addition, suicidal individuals may feel they have little to lose, which lowers an important social barrier to violence. Newman’s research revealed that as many as four out of five rampage shooters had a history of suicide attempts or thoughts before the event.
Certainly family problems can also provide a source of psychosocial difficulties. Newman cites the degree to which parents get along with each other, excessive or harsh discipline of the children, and similar discords as increasing risk. An extreme example can be found in the case study of Jamie Rouse, a 17 year old Tennessee boy who killed a teacher and 8th grade student in 1995. Jamie’s father, Elison was a truck driver who spent most of his time on the road. When he was home, Elison was often drunk or on drugs, and would often fly into rages that involved beating his children with belts and paddles.
After the shooting, Jamie recounted one incident in which Elison was so infuriated with the family cats for eating the chicken he had brought home for dinner, that he shot and killed all the cats with his shotgun. While not all shooters exhibit such a dramatic background of family problems, Newman’s research showed that almost 100% of rampage shooter since 1990 exhibited one of the three factors of psychosocial problems- mental illness, suicidal ideation, and family problems.
♦ Element # 3 - Supporting Violence
After 1990, a new cultural script, that of rampage shootings, redirected the desperate anger of shooters away from targets that may have been more understandable to the community. Jamie Rouse may have been a sympathetic figure to his community had he targeted his abusive father. Mitchell Johnson, abused as a young child by a neighborhood boy, chose targets at his school rather than the perpetrator of the abuse.
Newman points out that the common perception of shooters as impulsive or erratic is highly inaccurate. Shooters ruminate on their difficulties, consider a variety of options, and try a few, as discussed in Section 6, and decide on shooting as a last resort. Whereas children pre-1990 may have chosen a different target, the new cultural script of rampage shootings as an outlet for extreme rage has reshaped the nature of this last resort for many young boys.
However, Newman does point out that the influence of cultural scripts is the hardest part of the five factor model to test. Many shooters either end up unreachable in corrections facilities, or committing suicide. There is still significant qualitative evidence that this new cultural script has a deep impact.
Think of a school shooting of which you have been aware, or after which you have treated the victims. How does the shooter or shooters fit in to these first three of five factors in Newman’s five factor model?
In this section, we have discussed the first three elements of a five factor model for the origin of rampage school shootings. These first three elements of five factors are the perception of marginalization, psychosocial problems, and cultural scripts supporting violence.
In the next section, we will discuss the last two elements of the five factor model proposed for the origin of rampage school shootings. These last two elements are the failure of surveillance systems which are supposed to identify troubled teens, and gun availability. We will also discuss a technique for risk assessment.
Séguin, M., Chawky, N., Lesage, A., Boyer, R., Guay, S., Bleau, P., Miquelon, P., Szkrumelak, N., Steiner, W., & Roy, D. (2013). Evaluation of the Dawson College shooting psychological intervention: Moving toward a multimodal extensive plan. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 5(3), 268–276.
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