Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What's Behind School Shootings?

Six school shootings in less than six weeks: experts comment on cluster

Canadian Press via Yahoo! Canada News Mon, 02 Oct 2006 3:58 PM PDT

By Anne-Marie Tobin

(CP) - It has an all-too-familiar ring to it: at least three girls were killed before a gunman turned his weapon on himself at a school, this time a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pa.

The tragedy Monday brings to six the number of school shootings in the United States and Canada in recent weeks, and experts say it's not surprising that we're seeing a cluster.

Wade Deisman, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa, has given the subject some thought - both in and out of class - since gunman Kimveer Gill stormed into Dawson College in Montreal on Sept. 13, killing Anastasia De Sousa, 18, and wounding 20 people.

He's not certain that copycatting is at play, but notes that as a general phenomenon, finding out about someone else's rampage can serve as an example.

"It erodes some of what might be previous cognitive barriers to doing something," Deisman said from Ottawa.

"Seeing somebody else do it makes it seem more ... alluring to do it, maybe more attractive to do it, to some of these people."

The first incident in this cluster occurred on Aug. 24, when Christopher Williams, 27, went to a school in Essex, Vt., looking for his ex-girlfriend, a teacher. He couldn't find her and fatally shot one teacher and wounded another. His ex-girlfriend's mother was also killed before he shot himself twice in the head.

Six days later, a 19-year-old in Hillsborough, N.C., killed his father, then opened fire at Orange High School, wounding two students before surrendering.

And last week, there were shootings in both Wisconsin and Colorado.

In Cazenovia, Wis., a principal was killed, and a 15-year-old student, described as upset over a reprimand, was charged with murder.

In Bailey, Colo., a 53-year-old gunman held six girls hostage in a school, and sexually assaulted them before killing a 16-year-old girl and then himself.

Deisman said there are "gateways" to unlawfulness that include falling into a peer group that teaches disrespect for the law, and a belief that the "system" is not fair.

He noted the anger and willingness to die that was revealed by Gill's writings on the Internet.

"Some people may identify - ugly reality, but it's true - they may identify with the feelings that the person expresses, especially if the suicide note is publicized afterward... that's straight up learning theory, modelling behaviour," Deisman said.

The last cluster of note occurred after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colo., in April 1999, followed a week later by a school shooting in Taber, Alta.

Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect, published in 2004, wrote his book after 25 years of research on suicide clusters and workplace rampages, which he says have evolved into school shooting situations.

"There's been a steady progression of school shootings since Columbine," he said Monday from Portland, Me., where he has taught at various universities, and is now a consultant on suicide prevention and school violence.

"In the month after Columbine occurred, there were 400 copycat incidents across the United States and Canada. Most of those were not fatal."

He said there was a major time-out after the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center and U.S. Pentagon were attacked. "If you look at how the copycat effect can actually be proven, intriguingly, after 9-11 until the end of the school year in 2002, you had no fatal school shootings because what was occurring was the media was paying attention to terrorism, to the coming war in Iraq, and the war in Afghanistan," he said.

Coleman said most people with stress in their lives might get help from a minister, parent, counsellor or a friend.

"There's a group of individuals that are violent, they're vulnerable, despondent, angry and they're trying to find what to do with these
feelings," he said.

"These individuals tend to go inward with their feelings. And homicide, as (pioneer psychologist Sigmund) Freud said, is really suicide turned outward. And we're certainly seeing that 100 per cent of these school shooters are suicidal, most of them either end their rampages in suicide or (are) being killed by police officers."

He and Deisman both say suicide prevention needs to be looked at by schools.

"A lot of them are expelled kids, a lot of them are individuals who didn't get treated right in school ... not properly identified for help," said Coleman.

"By knowing about the copycat effect, I think that people then can be on alert to actually decrease it by knowing it's there."

Unfortunately, he's seeing an increase in the body count. "That really scares me because there is a little bit of almost competition
that goes on within these school shooters in which they want to do the one that's even bigger than the last one. That's the part about this that really has me disturbed."

"We all just need to really be careful with our children, and watch out."



J L Borghead said...

I was wondering (wandered over here from BoingBoing), but do you think that news coverage on this sudden outbreak of school shootings has deliberately been muted in the US? It certainly feels that way.

From your earlier post, you sound disappointed in the US media's coverage so far. But wouldn't increasing the coverage worsen the situation?

starviego said...

I noticed there was a similar cluster back in the spring of 2001:

Al DeGuzman De Anza Community College, Cupertino CA(bay area) Arrest after he tried to develop photos of himself posing with guns and bombs, the day before his planned atttack.

Hoyt, KS Royal Valley High School (about 15 miles north of Topeka)
Three trenchcoater/students, ages 18, 17, and 16, were arrested for plotting an attack on their high school.

2-11-01 Palm Harbor, Fla. Palm Harbor Middle School
Scott McClain, a 14-year-old eighth-grader, was arrested after he reportedly wrote a detailed e-mail to at least one friend describing his plans to make a bomb and possibly target a specific teacher at Palm Harbor Middle School.

Southside High School Elmira, NY
Police arrested an 18-year-old student at a high school in Elmira. The youth was armed with a .22-caliber pistol and sawed-off shotgun, and had several pipe bombs in a gym bag.

Jefferson County, CO
A 13-year-old female middle school student was taken into custody by police after school officials found a notebook in her locker with an apparent hit list of students, along with information from the Internet on bombs and weapons, and a map of the school.

Santee Santana High School Andy Williams 2 dead

Horizons High School/Lakewood Ranch High School School shooting plot amongst 5 students broken up.

Granite Hills HS, San Diego, CA Jason Hoffman, 18 4-5 wounded