Monday, May 14, 2007

Dark Days of May

What has May shown us before, as far as shootings tied to specific dates? Is there a reflective copycat effect in store for this May?

As opposed to the usual listing of school shootings and community violence incidents by years, I have reshuffled this chronology by type and by calendar date – in order - regardless of what year.

It is a myth that more suicides occur in December. The number one month for suicides in North America is May, for all ages.

One hundred percent of the school shooters are suicidal, and their rampages issue from their suicidal states of being. Homicide is suicide turned outward. These suicidal-homicidal rages must be viewed thusly to give some insights into what the projected plans for most are - to end in suicide or suicide-by-cop.

Look at the data below. An interesting pattern revolves around the 19th through the 21st of May. What anniversary syndrome may be at work for this coming week?

After Columbine, exactly a month to the day, the Conyers, Georgia, incident occurred. Will the cult of Columbine continue forth into this month? What will the temporal-twilight-language dates be for this May, in the wake of the VA Tech massacre? What copycats will happen from May 16th through May 21st?

Here are the listings for May:

Type of Event | Date | Location | Total Dead (# Suicide) Others Wounded

Key = GP (going postal situation), SN (school rampage by non-student), SS (school shooting), FR (other fatal rampage), W (total others wounded). Please note the “Total Dead” includes those that have died by suicide by their own hand or by suicide-by-cop, in the cumulative number.

“Going Postal” situations

GP | May 6, 1993 | post office, Dearborn, MI | 2 (1) W 2
GP | May 6, 1993 | post office, Dana Point, CA | 2 (0) W 4
GP | May 9, 1989 | post office, Boston, MA | 1 (0) W 0
GP | May 31, 1985 | post office, New York City, NY | 0 (0) W 1

“Fatal Rampages”

FR | May 24, 2000 | Wendy's Restaurant, Queens, NY | 5 (0) W 2

“School Shootings”

SN | May 1, 1992 | Lindhurst H. S., Olivehurst, CA | 4 (0) W 10
SN | May 13, 2003 | Case Western Res. U., Cleveland, OH | 1 (0) W1
SN | May 18, 1927 | elementary school, Bath, MI | 45 (1) W 58
SS | May 19, 1998 | Lincoln Co. H. S., Fayetteville, TN | 1 (0) W 0
SN | May 20, 1988 | elementary school, Winnetka, IL | 2 (1) W 6
SS | May 20, 1999 | Heritage H. S., Conyers, GA | 0 (0) W 6
SS | May 21, 1998 | Thurston H. S., Springfield, OR | 4 (0) W 26
SS | May 21, 1998 | high school bus, Onalaska, WA | 1 (1) W 0
SS | May 21, 1998 | high school, suburban Houston, TX | 0 (0) W 1
SS | May 26, 1994 | family + Ryle High School, Union, KY | 4 (0) W 0
SS | May 26, 2000 | Lake Worth M. S., Lake Worth, FL | 1 (0) W 0

Sunday, May 13, 2007

TV Violence Researcher Dies

The New York Times published an obituary, "Leonard Eron, 87, Is Dead; Researcher on TV’s Tie to Violent Conduct" by Jeremy Pearce on May 12, 2007.

Here is an excerpt:

Leonard D. Eron, a psychologist whose pioneering studies of youth violence led him to conclude that television had a significant role in prompting destructive behavior in later life, died on May 3 at his home in Lindenhurst, Ill., near Chicago He was 87.

The cause was congestive heart failure, his family said.

In 1960, Dr. Eron (pronounced EE-rahn) began a long-term study of aggression in more than 800 children living in upstate New York. With two other clinical psychologists, Monroe M. Lefkowitz and Leopold O. Walder, and additional researchers, he interviewed 8-year-old children and their parents, evaluating behavior and opening a database to follow the children into adulthood. That work, which continues, became known as the Columbia County Longitudinal Study.

Rather than relying on asking the children about their own habits, Dr. Eron and his colleagues questioned their peers and asked them about threats, pushing and other violent tendencies. They also interviewed parents about the television programs most often watched by their children, and rated the programs for their level of violence.

The Columbia County subjects were studied again in 1970, 1980 and 2000 (the most recent results followed 61 percent of the original participants), and the researchers found a correlation between the viewing of violent television shows in youth and the expression of violence in adulthood, in terms of criminal records and other measurements.

“Television has great teaching potential,” Dr. Eron told The New York Times in 1993. “It’s just been teaching the wrong things.”

Dr. Eron and his collaborators also identified violent parents as another important factor in the development of overly aggressive children, and found that a long-term association between early exposure to violence, whichever the source, and aggression in later life held true for both sexes.

The study’s findings have been widely cited, and though some critics pointed out that he had limited data on some of the long-term outcomes, Dr. Eron became a recognized voice on the subject. He was president of the International Society for Research on Aggression from 1989 to 1991, testified before Congress on youth violence in 1992 and was co-editor of an influential 1986 research report, “Television and the Aggressive Child: A Cross-National Comparison.”

L. Rowell Huesmann, a professor of communication studies and psychology at the University of Michigan, said Dr. Eron had became interested in ways to mitigate violence and the harmful effects of television. In the 1980s and ’90s, he helped prepare school programs in Chicago, neighboring Oak Park and other cities to counsel children about how to deal with violent images. He also advised teachers and parents about the usefulness of encouraging positive behavior in students without placing undue emphasis on punishment for unwanted behavior.

Jeremy Pearce, "Leonard Eron, 87, Is Dead; Researcher on TV’s Tie to Violent Conduct," New York Times, May 12, 2007.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

New Scientist on Copycats

The New Scientist magazine published on May 9, 2007, an article by Michael Bond entitled "Can media coverage of suicides inspire copycats?"

The opening paragraphs of this treatment reviewed the recent thoughts on the matter after the Virginia Tech shootings. (The publication employed the incorrect spelling of "Cho Seung-hui." The family has been clear that they use the Americanized version of the name, "Seung-Hui Cho.")

The article says, in part;

On 28 April, the president of the American Psychiatric Association, Pedro Ruiz, did what many of its members wish he had done earlier. He wrote an open letter to the news media asking editors to stop airing photos, video clips and writings of Cho Seung-hui, the student who killed 32 people and then himself at the Virginia Tech campus on 16 April. Ruiz warned that the publicity would inspire copycat suicides and killings.

Sounds far-fetched? It isn't. There is compelling evidence that extensive media coverage of a suicide is followed by an increase in the number of people taking their lives the same way. This pattern has been observed across the world. In a report released in 2000, the World Health Organization warned that repeated coverage of suicides tends to encourage suicidal preoccupations, particularly among young people.

What especially concerns the APA is that the effect applies equally to suicides that are preceded by mass murder. In the months after teenagers Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed a teacher, 12 students and themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999, police received reports of hundreds of related incidents, including bomb threats and shootings. Students mimicked the killers' behaviour and style of dress, and praised them on the internet.

Cho himself invoked the Columbine killers before his murder spree, hailing them as "martyrs" in the video he sent to the NBC television network. Loren Coleman, who researches suicides and school violence and has written on "suicide contagion" in his 2003 book The Copycat Effect and elsewhere, claims the unrestrained media coverage of the Virginia Tech killings has made a repeat incident very likely. "Publicity about a celebrity murder and murder-suicide serves as the spark to send a vulnerable, questioning, suicidal person in one of many directions," he says.

The APA president in his letter said the media has a responsibility to limit the power of tragedies to trigger copycat acts by "choosing not to sensationalise them". He has a battle on his hands. Attempts to limit freedom to publish on such matters tend to be shouted down, mainly by the press itself, as undemocratic or dangerous. Yet with suicides and violence, it is clear that the media can have a dangerous effect on behaviour. To publish or broadcast unrestrainedly in the face of such strong scientific evidence now seems reckless. Even pictures like the one of Cho published in New Scientist may be ill advised.
Michael Bond, "Can media coverage of suicides inspire copycats?" New Scientist, 9 May 2007, Issue 2603, page 22.

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.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Copycat Quotes

"To look for clues rationally in such an irrational document is really a fool's game." - Loren Coleman, as quoted by the Associated Press on April 19, 2007, regarding rationalizations by NBC Nightly News for broadcasting the VA Tech shooter's "press packet."

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, the media more openly discussed the significance of the copycat effect. This is a first, especially for the American media.

A couple days ago, a longtime suicide prevention associate of mine emailed me a short but concise message: "I've thought of you so many times since this last major VA Tech event. Even though the media reaction was as expected it seems this time may have been a turning point. Many more people stood up to say the kinds of things you have been saying for years."

While the wall-to-wall interest is beginning to wane, it might be a good time to collect some of the quotations published in the print and online media about the copycat effect.

During April and into early May, more members of the media found their way to my emailbox and telephone this time around, interviewing me about my 2004 book and my recent comments and predictions, than ever before. Has a heightened awareness occurred regarding insights useful in examining the copycat effect? Perhaps.

Let me review these "copycat quotes," as they have been appearing after the April 16 VA Tech shootings.

The "massacre," as the press was calling it already, had just occurred on April 16, when Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing mentioned The Copycat Effect immediately, and revisited this theme over the next few days, here, here, and here.

During these posts, Xeni Jardin directed a question, with links, to me: "I'm sure 'Copycat Effect' author Loren Coleman would have something to say about the following exchange, which occurred just now on CNN's 'Situation Room' with Wolf Blitzer...." Then she published a snippet of the CNN exchange about the "copycat factor." Xeni followed in the days afterward with more: "'Copycat Effect' author Loren Coleman weighs in with an entry on his blog about speculation that the VA Tech shooting is likely to be followed by 'copycat' events...."

Other mainstream media, as they often do, soon followed Boing Boing's lead, and as it would turn out, the Canadian media's interest from last fall.

On April 18, 2007, a Bloomberg News article, "U.S. College Officials Scramble to Improve Campus Security" was published.

It contained these passages on the national media's attempt to discuss the copycat effect this time around:

Copycat Threat

The attack at Virginia Tech, carried out by [Seung Hui] Cho, 23, born in South Korea and a permanent U.S. resident since 1992, was the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. It came eight years after two students killed 13 people and themselves at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

After Columbine, there were 450 copycat threats, plots or shootings, according to Loren Coleman, a suicide prevention and school violence consultant. Schools in seven states were locked down or evacuated yesterday, the Associated Press reported.

"Homicide is just a suicide turned outward,'' Coleman, author of the 2004 book, "The Copycat Effect,'' said in an interview. "If we focus on analysis around the act, rather than to how people feel and react to this, then we have problems.''

Tom Randall and Brian K. Sullivan, Bloomberg News, April 18, 2007

The University of Pennsylvania's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian printed an April 18, 2007, article, "DPS on high alert for copycat of shootings", which noted:

Caution is necessary, according to Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect. Coleman said that "vulnerable people who are thinking about suicide and murder-suicide" may view the Virginia Tech massacre as "something to model, something to emulate. … We can't let our guard down."

Emily Babay, Daily Pennsylvanian, April 18, 2007

On Thursday, April 19, 2007, Xeni Jardin's "Xeni Tech" program, introduced me as her first guest on the National Public Radio News' "Day to Day." Writing on Boing Boing about her NPR examination, she said in her Boing Boing posting, "VA Tech Killer's Digital Vanity Package":

For today's report, I spoke with Loren Coleman, author of "The Copycat Effect." Coleman believes that by replaying Cho's vanity videos over and over again, the media is perpetuating the cycle that inspired him to commit multiple murders in the first place. In that multimedia material, Cho describes the two teens responsible for Columbine as "martyrs" -- Coleman says this and other details prove Cho was aping and trying to one-up previous shootings, including the one in Montreal last year.

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing, April 19, 2007

The Associated Press on April 19, 2007, carried widely an article looking at the possible (and dubious) link between one of Seung Hui Cho's photographs and a Korean film, Oldboy. In "VT killer's hammer pose resembles movie", the AP noted:

Loren Coleman, author of "The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines," says that he's gradually coming to see Cho as a "copycat of many things," especially Columbine. In one missive, Cho referred to the Harris and Klebold as "martyrs."

"This in-depth analysis of his manifesto and this document, we may get some hints there, but this was a person that was terribly imbalanced," Coleman said. "To look for clues rationally in such an irrational document is really a fool's game."

Jake Coyle, AP Entertainment Writer, April 19, 2007

After that Associated Press story, the next day the wire service published another article ("Experts Alert for Va. Tech Copycats") in almost 1000 locations around the world. In that piece, once again interest was shown in the copycat effect:

Loren Coleman, a psychiatric social worker in Maine who wrote "The Copycat Effect," said "celebrity school shootings actually increase the suicide rate and increase the violence rate for a short period of time."


"These people are psychologically competing with each other to increase the body count," Coleman said.

Seth Borenstein, AP Science Writer, April 20, 2007.

A columnist for The Rocky Mountain News, David Kopel, via his blog and column, mentioned "The Copycat Effect" on April 17th and 21st:

The Copycat Effect: Loren Coleman's weblog "The Copycat Effect" (which is also the name of his book) examines the copycat effect of the Virginia Tech murders. He points out that a school attack last week in Oregon (no fatalities) appeared to have been inspired by a recent National Geographic tv special on Columbine. He offers a grim warning of the high risk of more copycat attacks in the next several weeks. Pointing to school attacks in Canada and Germany in recent years, he notes that the problem is not confined to the United States.

David Kopel, April 17, 2007

There is strong evidence that mass killers, including the Columbine perpetrators, attentively study the media attention given to previous murderers. Loren Coleman, author of the book The Copycat Effect, points out on his weblog that one week after Columbine, there was a copycat school attack in Taber, Alberta, Canada. A month later there was a copycat attack in Conyers, Ga. Subsequent Columbine copycats included school killers in Red Lake, Minn.; Santee, Calif.; Dawson College in Montreal, Canada; and this week at Virginia Tech.

David Kopel, "Airing, publishing killer's photos, rants reckless," The Rocky Mountain News, April 21, 2007

The Toronto Star in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, published an article reflecting on the related themes:

"We're helping this man with his propaganda," concurs Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. Ever since the shooting at Montreal's Dawson College last fall, Coleman has been warning media of their responsibility. He points out how the number of school shootings has escalated dramatically ever since Columbine, and how, in each instance, there are echoes of the previous killings. [Seung Hui ] Cho, for example, cited Columbine's "martyrs" Harris and Klebold. His poses echoed Dawson shooter's Kimveer Gill's self-portraits.

"Cho really wasn't interested in having people understand him," says Coleman. "He was interested in having a platform."

Antonia Zerbisias, "Need-to-know vs. sensationalism," Toronto Star, April 20, 2007

The New York Post reporter who interviewed me used almost everything I shared for her piece on the 22nd. It turned out to be an extremely factual rendering. She ended it with:

"Cho was an empty vessel and he poured himself full from images off the Internet - the culture of Columbine, Dawson College and terrorism," said Loren Coleman, an expert on school shootings and author of "The Copycat Effect."

"There's a psychological process that these shooters appear to be competing for - the highest body count."

Jill Culora, "Sick Homages From A Student of Psychos," New York Post, April 22, 2007

The Gothamist looked back to look ahead:

The whole idea of copycats brings us to another [WNYC’s] On the Media interview, this one from October in the aftermath of the Amish school shooting. Then, they interviewed Loren Coleman, a suicide prevention consultant and school violence researcher and author of the book The Copycat Effect: How the Media and Popular Culture Trigger the Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines. He was of the opinion that the media’s over coverage of tragedies, starting with the Columbine shootings have set up a model for the later perpetrators of these violent acts. In the interview Coleman noted, “I think that one of the reasons that I wrote my book, The Copycat Effect, was really to try to begin the debate within the media about how much is too much. The graphic details that we see on the cable wall-to-wall coverage and in some other media really sets up a situation where these vulnerable people have a model in front of them to then plan their outrages in a similar fashion. Since August 24th, these individuals have all been males, they've all been Caucasian, they all have been outsiders, either expelled students or older males, and they all have victimized females - young girls, usually – or authority figures, in the case of principals or teachers or guards.”

If you look at some of the Columbine shooter’s videos, which were only released a few years after the fact and only after much legal wrangling, there seems to be a lot of parallels with Cho’s video. Was the oversaturated coverage of these paste events inspiration? It is probable and it is no doubt that Cho’s desire to be heard from the grave was sent to NBC instead of being squirreled away in the case files as has happened in the past.

Toby von Meistersinger, "Television Watching: How Much Is Too Much?" The Gothamist, April 24, 2007

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

...initial lyrics from "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

In the wake of the VA Tech shootings, those killed will be forever young, as we have seen before after other school shootings.

Sadly, the current copycat cycle does not appear to be finished, yet.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Keene State

It is almost three weeks and many people are seemingly moving on from the VA Tech tragedy.

Of course, it is not entirely over, in terms of the events to be expected after VA Tech.

A Keene State 21-year-old sophomore, Michael Dyke, shot and wounded his roommate, then died by suicide early on Friday, May 4, 2007 (the anniversary of the Kent State's four dead in Ohio in 1970).

Today's incident occurred at Dyke's apartment near the Keene State campus in New Hampshire. Dyke graduated in 2004 from the public high school, Rivendell Academy, about 80 miles north in Orford, New Hampshire, where flags flew at half-staff Friday.

The shooting occurred on the last day of finals at the college, and two days before graduation. Many students had already left campus. Keene State, part of the University System of New Hampshire, has 5,200 students and specializes in liberal arts, reported CNN.

Meanwhile, school shooting plots, bomb threats, and cases of guns being brought into schools were being addressed from California to New Brunswick this week.