Sunday, May 06, 2007

Rage Survivor Writes

I never expected to hear from a school shooting survivor in the wake of the Virginia Tech tragedy, but the following arrived late last week.

"I came across your book The Copycat Effect today, and I was blown away. I have lived through a terrible tragedy and relive it every time after hearing about another school shooting. Your depiction of the copycat effect is what I have known for many years. You put things so eloquently and I thank you for all of your research on the subject. I want to say thank you for taking into consideration the exploitation of victims. Anyone that would take that into consideration has my respect." - Natalie Hintz, 1996 school shooting survivor.

I was very moved by Ms. Hintz's email, and appreciate that she took the time to contact me.

I did write about Ms. Hintz and the 1996 incident that changed her life. No doubt the events at VA Tech brought memories rushing back for her:

America’s “first” modern school shooting took place on Groundhog’s Day, February 2, 1996, at Moses Lake, Washington State. The Moses Lake killings set the pattern for what would follow in America--a student (not an outsider) killing other students and teachers. This is the horror--the danger from within of students killing students--that appears to have captivated the media.

On that day, Barry Loukaitis, 14, dressed all in black, with boots and a long coat that hid his father’s hunting rifle and two handguns, walked into his Frontier Junior High fifth-period algebra class at Moses Lake and started shooting. He has cut the pockets out of his long Western duster and was able to use the .30-.30 lever-action hunting rifle without taking his hands out of the long, black trenchcoat.

Loukaitis killed two classmates (Arnold Fritz and Manuel Vela) and then severely wounded another (Natalie Hintz). Hintz, sitting beside the boys, was shot in the stomach, with the bullet traveling through her elbow and almost tearing her right arm off. 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 toward them, smiled and said: “This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?” The line was a 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.

Stephen King discussed the role of Rage after the Loukaitis shootings and eventually King apologized for writing the book, saying he penned it during a troubling period in his life. He said he wished it never had been published. Finally in 1999, he told his publisher to pull it from publication and took it out-of-print. He told the Today Show’s Katie Couric: “I took a look at Rage and said to myself, if this book is acting as any sort of accelerate, if it’s having any effect on any of these kids at all, I don’t want anything to do with it, regardless of what may be the moral and legal rights and wrongs. Even talking about it makes me nervous.”

Unfortunately, the explosive media attention to Loukaitis’ school shooting triggered a series of similar events.

...various passages in The Copycat Effect

In imitation of Rage and other popular cultural motifs, what followed was the real-life model fashioned in blood, death, and media-frenzy from Moses Lake. Then three years later, after other media-driven rural and suburban encores, the milestone was to be Columbine.

Today, the copycats from Moses Lake and Columbine have been expressed all too vividly at VA Tech, with the "outsider" evidenced as being "inside" more than ever before.

I can't thank Ms. Nintz enough for writing.

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