Introduction School Shootings A number of cases have been examined with hopes of uncovering features that school shooters have in common in regards to family life, personalities, histories, and behaviors. Not only are they examined for that reason, but to also shed light on how they are different. Statistically speaking school shootings have been a very rare occurrence, but they are societal issues nonetheless. However, the reasons in which a person chooses to commit these horrific crimes is still very bleak, and mysterious in many ways.
Video games, music, and movies are often chosen as scapegoats in regards to contributing factors, but many times what is forgotten is the family structure, role models, and peer influences of these individuals that leads to them being traumatized, psychotic, or psychopathic, three categories that many of these shooters fall into. Within this paper I will be discussing my findings on the factors that lead to the shaping, and molding of these offenders minds, and what is being done in order to decrease the number of occurrences in our society.
Although there are traits that all shooters share, we have to be cautious when it comes to associating students to those of a school shooter. Authors Brandi Booth, Vincent Van Hasselt and Gregory Vecchi stated , “It is important to caution against the use of a profile because many apparent warning signs may be irrelevant and restrictive and even could unfairly categorize a student who may not pose danger. ” (Booth, Hasselt, and Vecchi, 2011).
History and Statistics in Regards to Violence in Schools School shootings in the United States of America dates back to the mid 1700’s but the first recorded occurrence of the student as the perpetrator, was in 1853. Matthew F. Ward (1853), a writer for the New York times had written a news report about a school shooting in which a teacher was killed by a students brother because he disagreed with the harsh punishment that had been given to his younger brother the day before.
A noticeable difference between this shooting was that in comparison to the school shootings that we are used to this one had just one target. The first recorded instance in which a student walked in and shot students at random was in 1971, in Spokane, Washington. Jim Spoerhase (1971), a writer for the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that Former MIT student Larry J. Harmon, 21, entered St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Church on the Gonzaga University campus armed with a . 22 caliber rifle.
Harmon killed the caretaker, 68-year-old Hilary Kunz, and upon merging from the church, wounded four more people before police officers shot and killed him. According to ABC news reports (2013), there has been thirty school shootings since Columbine took place in 1999, and only 14 in economically similar countries around the world. Although school shootings that lead to the perpetrator committing suicide seems magnified, one statistic that is much higher is public display of suicide on school property.
Joseph Alan Lieberman (2008), The author of, “School Shootings: What Every Parent and Educator Needs to Know to Protect Our Children”, states, “In fact, statistics that list all types of school violence show that for every combined school shooting-suicide, there are easily as many ‘classic’ suicide at schools in which a young person makes a public display of taking him or herself out, but does no harm to others–at least physically. ” One very promising statistic is the decline to 40-year lows as declared by by the National Center for Education Statistics.
They take into consideration shootings that take place in elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and universities. Most recently we have all been glued to the television as a horrific event involving elementary students unfolded. Adam Lanza, killed 26 children in a baffling event that left the country in a state of shock. The gunman was fascinated by violent video games, and was autistic. Although his form of autism has yet to be connected to violence, this has opened up studies regarding DNA traits that can possibly help us figure out what makes people like him just snap. Bullying is still one of the more vast problems at schools, with the rate of students reportedly bullied at least once per week and has steadily increased since 1999. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program(2004), school offenders typically are Caucasian males between the ages of 13 and 18. Mind of the Offender: Family Aspect Family dynamics involves the the thinking, traditions, beliefs, and behavior patterns that take place in a midst of the individuals home.
A theory that can be applied to the family aspect of molding the mind of the offender is the social learning theory. Ronald Akers and Robert Burgess developed the social learning theory to explain deviancy by combining variables which encouraged delinquency with variables that discouraged delinquency. Parents who model abusive behavior at home can create a cycle of violence, teaching children to grow up to be abusive adults. Social psychologist Albert Bandura has been studying social modeling, observational learning, aggression, and self-regulation since the 1970s.
Bandura’s theories indicate that role models (social modeling) can influence people toward creativity or toward violence. If children observe violent behavior at home, in school, or on television, they may come to believe that turning angry feelings into angry actions is acceptable behavior. When these children become angry themselves, they will display the behaviors they have observed, and they may even create new angry behaviors that go beyond what they have learned from their models.
Another important aspect of Bandura’s research focuses on self-direction and self-efficacy, or people’s beliefs about their own abilities to influence and affect the world around them. If children observe adults failing to control their own angry feelings or violent behaviors, or if they observe violent behavior going unpunished, they may come to believe that peaceful behaviors cannot succeed or are not worthwhile activities. They may lose their motivation to learn cooperative problem-solving skills, or they may quit before they achieve success in using these skills.
The importance of positive role models and the dangers of negative role models should not be underestimated. In the newton shooting, his parents had been divorced for a few years, so his behavior could have been influenced by the rocky relationship. It is known that his mother was a gun enthusiast that even taught him how to properly shoot. She believed in the notion that everyone should be able to shoot a gun, even though she had knowledge of his preexisting condition of autism. She also did not have much faith in him due to his autism.
He was very interested in joining the military but when she found out she did not do what the average parent would do, she instead killed his ambition. Joy D. Osofsky, Ph. D, a professor of public health, psychiatry, and pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center said in her book, “Children in a violent society”(1998) , “An adolescent who lives in a chaotic and neglectful home environment may develop poor coping and social skills and behavior problems primarily due to exposure to violence and inadequate parenting. Not surprisingly, research as shown that in terms of the child’s long-term social and emotional development, having one nurturing, attentive, and caring parent is better than two in a relationship characterized by discord or abuse” (p. 54). It is too soon to say that Adam Lanza’s parents divorce played a vital role in acting the way he did, but there are a few cases in which the nonexistent involvement and carelessness of the parents leads to horrific actions such as school shootings. For instance, Mitchell Johnson of Jonesboro, Arkansas had a very tough childhood. According to Katherine S.
Newman (2004), His father was a known alcoholic and physically abused him on a consistent basis, and was also sexually abused by another teenager from his neighborhood. The other boy threatened to kill his grandmother if he told anyone about the sexual abuse. Mitchell was not known as a violent person, instead an external factor coming in the form of another student by the name of, Andrew Golden persuaded Johnson to take out his frustration by shooting students at his school. The mixture of a negative father figure, personal problems, and peer pressures caused a perfect storm effect.
Although Mitchell Johnson took part in the school shooting in which a total of ten people were murdered, he only took five shots, while his accomplice Andrew Golden shot twenty five times. One case in particular that was exposed to a very hostile household was Jefferey Weise. According to information gathered by David Hanners of the Duluth News-Tribune (2005, p. 1a), Jefferey Weise Lived with his single mother due to his father being killed in a police standoff, and was reportedly physically abused by his alcoholic mother, and the men she would bring into the household.
She would also abuse him mentally by saying very hurtful things, and even locking him in a closet for hours at a time. His grandparents were also not around due to their deaths, than to make matters worse his mother was in a car accident that gave her severe brain damage, this forced him to be in and out of foster homes. Similarly, Weise also had a peer, his cousin Louis that encouraged attacks on his school. Although he was encouraged by this individual he ended up carrying out the attacks alone, and killed a total of nine people.
Th e Individuals that were previously mentioned all have several similarities and very few differences. One difference that can be seen is that due to the Adam Lanza case being relatively new a lot of information has yet to be released to the general public, and also he had a form of autism. Mind of the Offender: School Aspect The school aspect that plays a part in molding the individuals mind has to do with the customs, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that accommodates the campus culture(11). A students character within this aspects offers an understanding into the individual’s behavior and self-perception.
Knowing how the school plays a vital role will shed light on what the students value, which adolescents more likely will gain approval or be treated differently, and which receive attention from figures such as teachers, parents, and police. Bullying is a major contributor and is very influential into how a child or adolescent will react. In a study of fifteen school shootings between 1995 and 2001, ostracism contributed to violent behavior(13). Once some individuals start to feel socially rejected, they may begin to build relationships with those that are being treated the same, or join a group of people that see deviance as a norm.
One form of bullying that has been on the rise recently is those that take place online. Seeing as juveniles are extremely sensitive to peer rejection, and take into consideration the opinions of their peers the internet can be a catalyst for a type of revenge. Cyber bullying many times leads to physical altercations. Although many times cyberbullying doesn’t trigger homicidal thoughts, it can and it has triggered suicidal thoughts within young individuals. For example, at my younger sisters middle school just recently, there was a young girl who was being harassed online by a lot her classmates.
After administration did what they could do, a lot of the students made fake profiles and continued with the bullying which ultimately led to her taking her own life. A lot of the previously mentioned school shooters weren’t susceptible to cyberbullying but in many of those cases direct bullying at school was evident. The similarity that most shooters have in common is that in one way or another they have been traumatized. Bullying is a word that has been hard to define because it can be interpreted in several manners.
Another problem with defining this behavior is, establishing at what point a certain action becomes bullying (Kowalski, 2003). However, it is generally agreed that bullying is the “systematic abuse of power in interpersonal relations,” (Rigby and Coosje, 2009). According to Kids Help Line, bullying is defined as, “Deliberate psychological and/or physical harassment of one person by another, or a group, occurring at school or in transit between school and home. Includes exclusion from peer group, intimidation, extortion and violence” (Kids Help Line, 2010).
Bullying has several negative consequences. There is increasing evidence that bullying has both physical and psychological connections to the health of the victims. They are more susceptible to depression and low esteem, and are much more prone to act aggressively towards everyone around the individual while they are at school (Rigby, 2003). All of this affects the general school climate. Students who are victimized often consider school to be unsafe which can lead to student absentees (Banks, 1997).
Research shows that about fifty percent of school attending students have experienced some form of bullying, and reports estimate that in Australia, one child in six is bullied on a weekly basis (Rigby, 1998). Data garnered by Kids Help Line (KHL) indicate that bullying is the fourth most common reason for young people to call KHL and it is ranked second most common reason for children under 10 years of age (Kids Help Line, 2010). Mind of the Offender: Disorders Some form of disorders also play a role in an individual behaving the way that they do.
People with antisocial personality disorder often behave violently even as children. They may disregard their own safety and the safety of others. People with this disorder do not seem to understand that violence harms other people, and they do not seem to have a conscience that tells them right from wrong. The terms sociopath and psychopath sometimes are used to describe people with antisocial personality disorder. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental disorder in which people who have survived a terrifying event relive their terror in nightmares, memories, and feelings of fear.
It is severe enough to interfere with everyday living and can occur after a natural disaster, military combat, rape, mugging, or other violence. Due to the circumstances that many of these individuals take their life after they commit their acts, there aren’t many ways in which doctors can diagnose them, but to observe them from things such as, letters, video footage, and interviews with people that have socialized with them at one point. Mind of the Offender: Video Game Culture Video games have become a very popular part of the culture in America, as well as around the world.
There are a large selection of video games to choose from such as sports, non-violent, and violent. The most popular genre of video games that racks up larger sales than the others is the violent video game genre. It is hard to pin point why violent video games seem to be popular, but. Ever since Pong swept the nation, scholars have been researching the effects video games have on children. In one recent study by, Christopher Barlett (2009), a psychologist at Iowa State University, led a research team that had 47 undergraduates play “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” for 15 minutes.
Afterward, the team noted several degrees of intrigue by the video game, both physical and psychological. It also examined whether the students would be more aggressive, by having them give out hot sauce to a fellow student even after the fact that they were informed that the particular person did not like spicy foods. When both groups were compared, those who had more interest in “Mortal Kombat” were more aggressive overall, and they gave their fellow students significantly bigger portions of the hot sauce.