Friday, April 15, 2005

"F-Factor" to Stephen King's Rage - Deciphering School Schoolings

The D.C. newspaper, the Washington Blade, raises the notion that there's a hidden, in their words, "fag factor" behind school violence from Red Lake to Moses Lake, in their April 15, 2005 article, "'Boy-code’ a factor in fatal school shootings?."

Writer Ryan Lee makes several good points about the shameful abuse gay and lesbian students endure, and the homophobia in school. But as with articles that only consider the one-note arguments of medications or guns in America or bullying being the sole risk factor behind school shootings, we have to be careful about blaming everything on this newly promoted "boy-code."

Lee's examples are hand-picked, slanted, and focus only on the homophobia found in a few, only six, of the 45 school violence events since 1996, noted in my book. For example, his retelling of the Moses Lake incident is incomplete, if not downright incorrect.

The Blade's Lee writes that the February 2, 1996 school shooting at Frontier High School, in Moses Lake, Washington, involving Barry Loukaitis, resulted in one person being killed. Lee writes of Loukaitis' "anti-gay history": "Classmates testified during Loukaitis’ trial that he pledged to kill classmate Manuel Vela after Vela repeatedly taunted him as a 'faggot' a month before."

Homophobia is Everywhere

The horrible but true fact is that homophobic labels are in widespread use in America, across all demographic groups, between racial, ethnic, and speciality cliches that have developed in our extremely divided schools. The cultural war is alive and well in the new "no child left behind" focus on tests results, while the hearts and minds of our youth are being split into diverse groups. The f-label is the latest fad moniker to be employed in this new landscape. Students and other young people do not have to be outcasts, bullied, or "different" to have a demeaning slang form used against them, seemingly jokingly or with hostility. The reality of life in schools, in the last part of the 20th century into this one, is that this specific f-word has replaced the n-word for "normal" conversation. I was recently discussing this issue with a local high school student who told me that his teammates use the f-label (rendered as "feg" so they won't get in trouble with school officials) with each other all the time - painting the good, the bad, and the uncoordinated sports players with the anti-gay term.

Should we attempt to decipher a deeper meaning as linked to school shootings from this high level of usage? In most school shooting situations, I wage, if you interviewed the entire school body, you probably could hear about someone who had thrown the f-word in the direction of the future shooter, sometime, someplace. The label is overused, unfortunately these days, but it is used - in conjunction with all kinds of youth.

Furthermore, during my reading of the Lee article online his morning, it is clear that at least one factual error seems to make it seem as if the target was a direct result of Ryan Lee's homophobic "factor."

Moses Lake to Red Lake

Lee's article ignores the broader context in which the Moses Lake incident happened, and, indeed, misstates that one person was killed. There were three individuals shot dead. The pattern of death was a deliberate one, as I note in The Copycat Effect. Here's a summary of what I wrote in my book: On Groundhog’s Day, 1996, Barry Loukaitis, 14, dressed all in black, with boots and a long black tenchcoat that hid his father’s hunting rifle and two handguns, walked into his fifth-period algebra class at Moses Lake and started shooting. Loukaitis killed two classmates (Arnold Fritz and Manuel Vela) and then severely wounded another (Natalie Hintz). Next, Loukaitis aimed at the back of his algebra teacher, Leona Caires, and killed her as she was writing an equation on the chalkboard. With the carnage around him and 15 students in the room crying hysterically, Loukaitis calmly turned, smiled and said: “This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?” The line was an exact quote from the Stephen King novel, Rage. Physical education teacher Jon M. Lane then rushed into the room, knocked the rifle away from Loukaitis, and wrestled him to the floor to end the shooting.

Loukaitis had planned the shootings carefully, getting ideas, he said, from the Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) book Rage (1977). In it, a troubled high school boy takes a gun to fictional Placerville High School, kills his algebra teacher “Mrs. Underwood,” another school adult “Mr. Vance,” and takes the algebra class hostage. Police would find a collection of Stephen King's books in Loukaitis' bedroom, including his well-worn copy of Rage.

Also a copy of Rage was found in the locker of Michael Carneal, a high school shooter who also killed three, on December 1, 1997, in West Paducah, Kentucky. Carneal is likewise on Ryan Lee's unfortunately labeled "fag factor" list. What Lee avoids mentioning is that all of Carneal's victims were girls, and they were in a prayer circle. Carneal was as anti-Christian as Jeff Weise in Red Lake or the shooters in Columbine. Yes, homophobia is there in some cases, as are several multivariables. Adolecents are not simple. School shootings are too complex for us to consider just one "factor."

A multifaceted view that various vulnerable young people are being triggered by the copycat effect is ignored, yet again, in Ryan Lee's otherwise thoughtful treatment of the topic. Just as a match can set off a fire of gasoline, wood, or paper, so too can the school shooters, coming from many backgrounds, be ignited to kill from many points of origin. A reaction to homophobic abuse is surely one risk factor, but it is certainly not the only one, another more than if "blame" totally is placed on Stephen King's Rage. To say so only furthers the media not looking more deeply at their role in these "copycat rampages."

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