Col. Jeffrey Miller, commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police, held a widely reported news conference on October 3, 2007, the day after the Amish school shooting.
The public was looking for answers, of course. Miller wanted to communicate some, from his point of view. Many people clearly saw that the Amish attack bore similarities to a deadly school shooting on September 27, in Bailey, Colorado, in which police said an older white man (Duane R. Morrison) molested girls in a classroom before killing a 16-year-old and himself. But Miller said he believed the Pennsylvania attack was not a copycat crime. "I really believe this was about this individual and what was going on inside his head," Miller reportedly said.
The media detailing of the events in Bailey, however, I would point out, very definitely influenced the Nickel Mines shootings - including the over-identification between the shooters (both suicidal sexual molestors), the victims (little girls), the hostage situation (plans carried out), the use of the school (location of opportunity with girls), and the response to the police (which ends badly but with the shooter dead - a probable goal). The overlapping outrage between the sexual assault actions of Morrison in Colorado and the thoughts, feelings, and history of Roberts, the Amish killer, are too obvious to ignore. The eventual outcomes - suicidal thoughts being acted out in a horrible scenario of taking the lives of these young females and then ending the shooter's own through suicide (or if need be, via suicide-by-cop) - are the same.
The media, however, is always hostile to the "copycat effect" and so one spin on information shared by Col. Miller was done thusly:
Investigators also said that Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, plotted his takeover of the school for nearly a week and that the items he brought — including flexible plastic ties, eyebolts and lubricating jelly — suggest he may have been planning to sexually assault the Amish girls before police closed in.
"It's very possible that he intended to victimize these children in many ways prior to executing them and killing himself," State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said. But Roberts "became disorganized when we arrived," and shot himself in the head.
But if you read much further down, you will see that it is not this simple:
Roberts had planned the attack for nearly a week, buying plastic ties from a hardware store on Sept. 26 and several other items less than an hour before entering the school, Miller said.
So the facts are that the plastic ties, which are produced for many reasons, that would become "hostage restraints," were purchased the day before Bailey. Other items were purchased after the Bailey hostage-school shooting-suicide incident, up to Monday October 2nd's Amish killings. How do we know what Roberts was thinking? He tells his wife in his note that he had been struggling with thoughts about molesting girls again. Perhaps his internal demons were being stirred up? He bought plastic ties to do "something." Then the media's wall-to-wall coverage of the sexual assaults on the six young female hostages in Bailey, Colorado, gave Roberts the canvas to paint his horrible scenario. Yes, something snapped inside of Roberts. To say that Roberts was not influenced by Bailey seems to be a form of denial.
One other point has not been raised in the mainstream media. Has anyone realized that the tactical information being shared by law enforcement individuals in most of these school shootings in 2006 are being used by the next shooter to change the outcome into a much more violent end? The media needs to look at their responsibility in telling us too much about how the police and SWAT teams are ending these school shootings. Unconsciously, the re-telling of the police tactics is supplying insights to the next copycat school shooter that appears to decrease the chances the next school shooting situation will end peacefully. The outcome seems to be an increase in the deaths of students, principals, teachers, and law enforcement personnel - and a progressively higher body count during the immediate cluster.
The Christian Science Monitor shared further thoughts on this, after the Nickel Mines shootings:
News media bear some responsibility for this phenomenon, says James Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston. This is especially the case when attackers' personalities and grudges are exposed to high-profile public analysis - as when two teenage attackers in the Columbine attack were featured on the cover of a news magazine, he says.
"We've seen with school shootings and postal shootings that the shooters can become role models for others," Dr. Fox says. "While most sympathize with the victims, others empathize with the shooters. It's the publicity they get that turns the shooter into a celebrity that spawns more of them."
The copycat effect is going to color the violence we see in the next month or so, and then next spring.
In the wake of the school shootings since August 24, 2006, and especially after all the attention to those in Colorado, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania between Wednesday, September 27, and Monday, October 2, incidents are popping up all over the country. These have included guns being brought to school, bomb threats, and plot rumors. I am unable to report on every individual outbreak; there are just too many. As examples, there has been rumors of school gun sightings from three locations took place in Arkansas, two school weapon events have been reported in Oregon, two days of bomb threats closed the University of Southern Maine in Portland, and now MSNBC has spotlighted on October 5 that all the schools in Culpepper, Virginia closed due to some kind of threat. This certainly hints that such incidents are becoming widespread.
Not surprisingly, old "school shooting" locations, e.g. Jonesboro, Arkansas and near Springfield, Oregon, have noted micro-eruptions of rumors and/or weapons at those and nearby schools. It is as if these past school shooting sites are still "luke warm" and merely need a new match - a new modeling event - to re-ignite them and they turn "hot." When in the middle of a wildfire, the last thing you want to do is ignore it.
After Columbine, in the wake of the shootings in Littleton, the nation’s schools were under attack by copycats. Some 400 related incidents were reported in the month following the killings.
“Across the nation after the 1999 Columbine tragedy,” noted Court TV’s Katherine Ramsland a few years ago, “other kids called in bomb threats, wore trench coats to school, or used the Internet to praise what Klebold and Harris had done. Only ten days later, on April 30, people feared the eruption of some major event because that day marked Hitler’s suicide in 1945. Schools in Arizona, New Jersey, Michigan, North Carolina, and DC closed to investigate potential threats. It wasn't Paducah, or Jonesboro, or Springfield that they wanted to imitate; the mantra was ‘Columbine.’”
The shooters historically have been found to have an "internal media clock." Anniversaries are important, not overtly, but covertly oftentimes. That's why I initially discussed the two periods of danger in October. Of course, we all should be aware throughout the month now. Nevertheless, here's what the past tells us about what happened after Columbine.
One week after Columbine, on April 28, 1999, one student, Jason Lang, 17, was killed, and one wounded at W. R. Myers High School in Taber, Alberta, Canada. This was the first fatal high school shooting in Canada in 20 years. The shooter was a 14-year-old boy. Exactly a month after Columbine, on May 20, 1999, at Conyers, Georgia, six students were injured at Heritage High School when classmate Thomas Solomon, 15, opened fire. No one died. Witnesses reported that Solomon placed the revolver in his mouth as if to shoot himself, but he did not pull the trigger.
Commissioner Jeffrey Miller of the Pennsylvania State Police, how can you say that the October 2 event was not a copycat?