Sunday, December 10, 2006
An Italian fathers' rights activist says he tried unsuccessfully to self-immolate on live television to call attention to dads unable to see their kids. The ANSA news service reported Saturday that Nicola De Martino, who was recently re-united with his son after a 12-year separation, tried to set himself on fire Thursday night while appearing as a guest on the current affairs show, "Dieci Minute," or "Ten Minutes" on state television station RAI. ANSA said that the show's host, along with the distraught man's 18-year-old son "looked on in horror" as De Martino doused himself with gasoline and then threatened to light a match. Host Maurizio Martinelli and the studio crew frantically managed to wrest the lit match from De Martino's hands. He was then led away from the stage.
It is a thoughtful treatment about sati, the practice of self-immolation, and personalizes the reportage with a story about a specific recent case.
Near the beginning of the article, Sullivan notes:
While sati cases remain rare , and India normally only has one every year or so, recent months have seen a surge: At least three widows have died on their husband's pyres since August, and another was stopped from burning herself to death when villagers intervened. Specialists can find no explanation for the increase. It's possible that media reports and word-of-mouth lead to a copycat effect.
Historically, records kept by the Bengal Presidency of the British East India Company show that for the period 1813 to 1828, deaths by sati reached 8,135, giving an average of about 600 per year. Sati still occurs occasionally, mostly in rural areas. The common wisdom is that about 40 cases have occurred in India since independence in 1947, the majority in the Shekhawati region of Rajasthan.
In my book, I observe that the practice of sati serves as a cultural background when political self-immolations occur:
In 1965 political self-immolations were used in widespread protests in India. As the villagers of Kizhapazhuvur in Tamil Nadu's Tiruchi district looked on in shock, Chinnasamy, a poor farmer, set fire to his gasoline-saturated body on the eve of Republic Day (January 26) in 1965 for the preservation of the Tamil language. After his death, the State became the pioneer of a new, fiery form of political protest: self-immolation. The next night, another Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam volunteer, T. M. Sivalingam of Kodambakkam in Chennai, immolated himself, protesting the government’s imposition of Hindi on Dravidian land. And, the next day, Aranganathan of Virugambakkam in Chennai took the same route to death for the same cause. The spate of suicides over Hindi imposition continued for a week that year leaving as many as nine people dead, and Tamil Nadu came to be labeled the land of self-immolation. In the months that followed, the government withdrew its call to outlaw the Tamil language. (Today, self-immolations in India are said to be caused by the "Chinnasamy effect.")
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings
Crime | 08.12.2006
Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Some 3,700 police officers have been deployed in Baden-Württemberg's schools
Hysteria hit high schools across Germany this week as police struggle to deal with a wave of threatened copycat crimes triggered by a student's storming of his school in late November. Is the country overreacting?
Weeks after an armed 18-year-old attacked the Scholl secondary school in Emsdetten, wounding five people before killing himself, Germany is in the grip of a security scare.
The panic was unleashed Wednesday when Baden-Württemberg's education minister, Helmut Rau, sent the region's schools a chilling e-mail.
"An anonymous person has threatened a killing spree in his school in Baden-Württemberg on Dec. 6," it read. "The person has confirmed his intention is serious."
By Friday, some 4,800 local schools had been placed under police protection; many parents kept their children at home, and a spate of copycat threats had swept the country.
Schleswig-Holstein's interior minister, Social Democrat Ralf Stegner, announced that copycat callers would face stiff penalties. "Police and prosecutors will do everything in their power to investigate these people," he said. "Anyone who claims they intend to perpetrate violence is punishable."
* * *
"The warning spread fear and uncertainty among the population and created a framework for copycat callers," said Ute Vogt, leader of Baden-Württemberg's opposition SPD.
Jürgen Giessler from the Offenburg police department predicted that the number of copycat incidents would continue to climb over the next few weeks and stressed the entailing financial burden.
"It could add up to a figure it will take a lifetime to pay off," he said.
* * *
Inevitably, the threats have hit Germany's headlines. But many are wondering if the media interest does not in fact serve to spur on disaffected young people rather than to deter them.
"Some people use the media interest to draw attention to themselves," Federal Police Union President Wolfgang Speck told the daily Die Welt.
Micha Hilgers, a psychoanalyst based in Aachen, agreed. "The enormous public attention -- if not hysteria -- is nothing less than balm to the damaged souls of these potential spree killers," she said on radio station SWR2.
Youth violence expert Adolf Gallwitz pointed out in an interview with the daily tageszeitung that media revelations about characters such as the Emsdetten student also prompt young people to sympathize with them.
"The surfeit of intimate details encourages teenagers to identify with the culprit," he said. "They think: he was as old as me, he goes to the same sort of school I do -- all I need now is my grandfather's firearm."
To read the complete article, see: Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings
According to some online chatter, the "anonymous person" who sent the "killing spree" threat has been found, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Monday, November 27, 2006
In an intriguing news blackout that may have been due to several parts politics and some portions circumstances has occurred regarding the fiery immolation death of anti-Iraq war protester Malachi Ritscher. The event has gone mostly unreported in the mass media since his death in Chicago on November 3, 2006.
I don't think it is a coincidence, however, that Ritscher's death happened so closely to the date of Norman Morrison's immolation on November 2, 1965, which took place underneath the window of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara at the Pentagon, Washington, D. C.
Here's how the media is reporting the news of Malachi Ritscher's death on November 27, 2006, with large doses of popular psychological phrasing near the end to lead one to the conclusion that Ritscher's protest was more about a mental illness than it was a political protest:
CBS News - Chicago
Fiery Anti-War Suicide Goes Unnoticed
He carefully planned the details, mailed a copy of his apartment key to a friend, created to-do lists for his family. On his Web site, the 52-year-old experimental musician who'd fought with depression even penned his obituary.
At 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 3 — four days before an election caused a seismic shift in Washington politics — Ritscher, a frequent anti-war protester, stood by an off-ramp in downtown Chicago near a statue of a giant flame, set up a video camera, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire.
Aglow for the crush of morning commuters, his flaming body was supposed to be a call to the nation, a symbol of his rage and discontent with the U.S. war in Iraq.
"Here is the statement I want to make: if I am required to pay for your barbaric war, I choose not to live in your world. I refuse to finance the mass murder of innocent civilians, who did nothing to threaten our country," he wrote in his suicide note. "... If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."
There was only one problem: No one was listening.
The rest of the article is here.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
The AFP News Service disseminated an article, "Police foil plans to attack school" on November 25, 2006.
German law enforcement officials said on Friday, November 24,
...that they had foiled an attack by a teenage boy on a high school in Berlin just days after a firearms fanatic shot and wounded 11 people at his old school in western Germany before committing suicide.
The police said that they were tipped off by fellow students whom the 17-year-old had told that he planned to storm the Bertha-von-Suttner High School in Reinickendorf in northern Berlin.
Police arrested the boy on Thursday and searched his home. They found evidence pointing to an attack, including a list of names of people he wanted to kill or spare, but no firearms or explosives. He has been sent for psychiatric observation.
AFP reviewed the Sebastian Bosse incident, and then also mentioned:
In April 2002, a former pupil at a school in the eastern German city of Erfurt massacred 16 people before turning the gun on himself.
The triggering of the German copycats has begun.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
The TC blogger uses an article upon which they are basing their comments, and that news item gets sidetracked on the "video game" excuse. The media looks away from itself and the copycat effect, instead trying to blame the gamer personality, which in and of itself is symbolic and reflective of the cult of Columbine followers who appear to be Goth, but are not. They are the violent death worships who mirror their behavior contagion on the killers at Columbine, but they, in the end, have more to do with a separate cliche developing versus Goths who share a lifestyle that merely freaks out and is misunderstood by the mainstream status quo society.
The following is the German article TC points to as having extensive information, in English, about Bosse. Read it critically:
November 21, 2006
GERMAN SCHOOL SHOOTING
Armed to the Teeth and Crying for Help
By Julia Jüttner in Emsdetten
When he strode into school wearing a flowing black coat and a gas mask the children laughed at him. But the shooting rampage that followed has shocked Germany. The 18-year-old former pupil, named only as Sebastian B., wounded 37 before killing himself. He left a farewell message vowing revenge for a life of frustration.
It was shortly before 9:30 a.m., in the middle of the first break of the day when he strode into the schoolyard dressed in a long black coat and wearing a black gas mask.
"At first we all laughed at him, the way he was standing there. He looked totally ridiculous," said Dennis, a pupil in the seventh grade of the Geschwister Scholl secondary school in Emsdetten, a small town of 36,000 in northwestern Germany, near the city of Münster.
"Then he suddenly started firing and it scared us." Dennis ran to safety with his friend Jannick, 12. The bullets wounded a pregnant teacher, the janitor and seven pupils. Other people were injured through smoke inhalation from the smoke canisters he set off in his rampage around the school on Monday morning. None of the injuries are life-threatening.
Fellow pupils used to call Sebastian "Man in Black." "He was always totally dressed in black." He often hid his bright blue eyes behind sunglasses "even when the sun wasn't shining." "No one liked him," said Jannick. "But we didn't think he'd be capable of something like this. He somehow always seemed so shy, never laughed and always stood on his own in the schoolyard."
Sebastian killed himself at the end of his rampage and his body wasn't recovered until late on Monday night after experts had removed the explosive packs strapped to him. A total of 13 pipe bombs were found distributed around the school and in his car.
There's no school today and probably not tomorrow either but Dennis and Jannick aren't happy about it. "I'd rather never have a holiday again than go through something like this again."
Filled with hate
It's the same pattern as with the many other school shootings that have shocked communities around the world for years: Lonely teenagers obsessed with guns and violent computer games venting their frustration.
Sebastian was a good example. He was a gun freak who filmed himself posing in full combat gear wielding an array of weapons, setting off small bombs and carrying out a mock execution in the woods with a friend. He posted photos and video clips of himself in the Internet. He was due in court on Tuesday for illegal possession of a Walther P38 pistol.
Sebastian had planned his rampage long in advance, as a final showdown with all the people who he felt had humiliated him over the years. Guns blazing like in the computer video games he played, he wanted to eradicate himself and take his former fellow pupils and teachers with him.
"If you realize you'll never find happiness in your life and the reasons for this pile up day by day, the only option you have is to disappear from this life," he wrote in a farewell message he posted on the Internet. "The only thing I learned intensively at school was that I'm a loser," he wrote.
Peer pressure seems to have plagued him throughout his adolescence. He said he realized he lived in a "world in which money rules everything, even in school it was only about that. You had to have the latest cell phone, the latest clothes and the right 'friends.' If you didn't, you weren't worth any attention. I loathe these people, no, I loathe people," wrote Sebastian. "What's it all for? Why should I work? To break myself and retire at 65 and kick the bucket five years later?"
He entered his old school with two rifles with sawn-off barrels, a pistol, a gas-powered handgun, three bombs strapped to his body, a knife attached to his leg, 10 further homemade bombs and a petrol bomb in his backpack.
"It was clear he would flip out at some point, the way he used to talk," said a 17-year-old pupil who knew Sebastian. He was known as someone who spent all day at his computer playing games such as "Counterstrike", a game in which the player moves down corridors trying to shoot as many people as possible.
Obsessed with computer games
"He had a huge hatred of the world. Of his school, the teachers, everything," said the young man who declined to be named. "He was boiling with rage." He vented some of his aggression by listening to aggressive Death Metal music, and he dreamt of an army career. "He thought that was cool, going into battle in a uniform or combat gear. He liked to wear camouflage gear, no one objected to it."
In school breaks, Sebastian, generally known as Bastian, used to stand on his own, possibly because he was ashamed of having had to repeat two school years due to poor grades, and because he felt alienated from his new classmates.
In June 2004 he had posted a message in the Internet making his intentions clear. "This fear is slowly turning to rage. I am consuming all this rage and will let it all out at some point to take revenge on all the arseholes who wrecked my life! For those who haven't understood it exactly: Yes, this is about a shooting."
Yet he finished school with good grades in 2005 and even got an A in arithmetic. His rage remained, though. "Much of my revenge will be directed at the teachers, because they are people who intervened in my life against my will and helped put me where I am now: On the battlefield!" he wrote in his farewell note.
"I hate you and the way you are! You've all got to die! Since I was 6 you've all been taking the piss out of me! Now you're going to pay. Finally, I want to apologise for all this to the people who mean something to me or who were ever good to me! I'm gone ..."
Rudolf Egg, a criminal psychologist, described the letter as a "harrowing document" that marked a last appeal for help. It's unknown what relationship he had with his parents. He often went hunting with his father, a postman. Both collapsed after hearing the news and were treated in hospital for shock. His 16-year-old brother and 15-year-old sister are also receiving counselling.
In Berlin, the shooting provoked new calls for a ban on violent computer games, reigniting a debate that followed the Erfurt school massacre in April 2002 when former pupil Robert Steinhäuser shot dead 13 teachers, two pupils, a police officer and himself in Germany's worst shooting since World War II.
Gun controls were tightened in Germany after Erfurt with stricter checks on gun buyers. Pump-action shotguns with pistol grips were outlawed and the minimum age for gun purchasing was raised to 21 years from 18. Certain types of knives have also been banned.
Steinhäuser too was a games fanatic. Wolfgang Bosbach, deputy parliamentary group leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, said: "If it's true that the 18-year-old perpetrator intensively played so-called killer games, it's finally time for parliament to take action."
The interior minister of the eastern state of Brandenburg, Jörg Schönbohm, said: "Killer games make a fatal contribution to a growing tendency towards violence and they promote aggressive behavior. That's why strict action is needed against games that glorify violence."
The opposition Greens said the real problem had been the man's isolation rather than his obsession with computer games.
"We need to discuss this growing readiness to behave violently," said Jürgen Rüttgers, premier of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia where Emsdetten is located. "We can't allow our children to be confronted with violence in their daily lives."
"A lot of these students had a guardian angel yesterday and it will take them time to come to terms with what happened. One boy told me about how he slammed a classroom door shut and a bullet came flying though it."
Monday, November 20, 2006
According to Deutsche Presse-Agentur:
Emsdetten, Germany - A masked ex-pupil opened fire in the playground of his former high school in Germany Monday, wounding at least nine people before apparently killing himself with his pistol.
Police had to delay an inspection of his prone body because it appeared to have explosives attached to it. A school caretaker and two pupils were in serious condition, said Ingo Wolf, interior minister of North Rhine Westphalia state.
The youth, 18, left a farewell message on the internet that suggested the attack was retaliation for being mocked at the school in the town of Emsdetten near the Dutch border.
Several students were grazed by bullets, but it remained unclear if the youth had taken any hostages during the two hours when the ex-pupil was holed up in a school building ringed by armed police.
School children scattered as the youth arrived and fired his pistol, just under two hours after the start of school. Most took refuge in another building or on nearby premises. The youth later threw smoke bombs.
Police said web pages which contained photos of the youth holding weapons including a sub-machine-gun appeared to be the youth's own.
Criticising his former high school, the Geschwister Scholl School (GSS), the youth said, 'The only thing I was properly taught at GSS was that I'm a loser.' The message contained the words, 'I hate people,' and ended with the words, 'I'm outta here.'
Teachers in Emsdetten, 150 kilometres north of Cologne in North Rhine Westphalia state, said the attacker had been a loner who had been interested in Satanism and gothic music.
A prosecutor in the nearby city of Muenster said the youth appeared to have shot himself, but how he died could only be proved by an autopsy. Police said they had not shot him.
Explosives experts were called to remove what might be bombs attached to his body.
A teacher told the TV broadcaster WDR the attacker was not a dropout but had graduated from the Scholl school.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Bobby is a 2006 motion picture written and directed by Emilio Estevez. The film is a fictional account of the lives of several people during the final hours in the life of the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy (RFK), an active candidate for President of the United States, at the time of his assassination. RFK won the California primary that occurred on June 4, was shot in the early morning hours of June 5, and died on June 6, 1968.
The movie Bobby was set for release on November 17, 2006, but apparently the general release date is now Thanksgiving Day 2006.
What few have pointed out is the importance of the date of RFK's assassination. As I detail in my 2004 book, the date has twilight connotations.
On June 5, 1968, Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, 24, who is generally described in quick historical overviews as a "Jordanian Arab," shot RFK in the Hotel Ambassador in Los Angeles. RFK died the following day, but the actual day he was shot – and this is a significant fact overlooked time and time again - was the first anniversary of the first day of the Six-Day War between Israel and its Arab neighbors that began on June 5, 1967 (or as Charles Bishara Bishop, the young man who flew into the Tampa bank building on January 5, 2002, labeled it in his suicide note as "the 1967 Israeli-Syrian war").
The Six-Day War, also known as the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, the Third Arab-Israeli War, Six Days' War, an-Naksah (The Setback), or the June War, was fought between Israel and the Arab states of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria, from June 5 through June 10, 1967.
Sirhan Sirhan's shooting down of a successful presidential candidate is often characterized as one of the first acts of Palestine or Arab terrorism to take place on American soil, with 9/11 being the most recent example. Sirhan Bishara Sirhan saw himself as a Palestinian militant.
In a diary police found at Sirhan's home, he allegedly wrote: "My determination to eliminate RFK is becoming more the more [sic] of an unshakable obsession. RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated. .... Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated before 5 June 1968."
Sirhan and his family had been uprooted from their home in Jordan by the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, and prosecutors at his trial claimed Sirhan, who was a Christian Arab, was vehemently anti-Israel. Charles Bishara Bishop, whose suicide note clearly indicated he was a student of the 1967 Israeli-Arab conflict, may have also read what another Bishara, as America's first Palestinian assassin, had done because of it.
I don't expect to find anything about the Six-Day War in the new movie, Bobby, but at least now you know.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
It is good to see there is already a discussion about this occurring.
The UPI carried an article, on October 21, 2006, "Suicide documentary haunts audiences" that mentions:
Suicide experts say Eric Steel's The Bridge, which shows six people killing themselves, glamorizes his subjects and could trigger copycat deaths.
"All research suggests that showing, in detail, methods of suicide does result in an increase of those methods immediately afterwards, so portrayal of methods of suicide is ill-advised," Professor Keith Hawton of the Center for Suicide Research at Oxford University tells The Times of London.
Steel, 42, says the most popular suicide spot in the world "already has a copycat problem." He says the real issue is dealing with mental illness.
The film, screened at The Times BFI London Film Festival, gives brief portraits of the six people's tragic lives, pieced together from interviews with family and friends.
But it is the footage of the jumpers that haunts audiences long after the credits have rolled, the Times said.
ABC News also published an online article about this new documentary on October 20th, "The Bridge of Death."
From January through December 2004, Steel used 10-to-12-person crews to train his cameras day and night on this landmark -- using both close-up lenses and wide angle shots to see the full expanse of the bridge.
By the time he finished, he had taped 23 of the 24 suicides that occurred that year. Now he has released a documentary called "The Bridge" that shows some of the jumps. The film has produced both praise and condemnation for his choices.
And ...the documentary has raised hackles over the appropriateness of documenting suicide, and heightened fears that it could encourage copycat suicide acts. Celia Kupersmith, CEO and general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District said that when Steel's film first began to get publicity in festivals earlier this year, there was an increase in suicide attempts at the bridge.
"I don't think it's just his movie," Kupersmith said. "Any sort of press coverage of this phenomenon here causes people to get ideas."
Some critics are also worried because they believe that seeing suicides often prompts others, but Steel doesn't believe that the causal chain is that direct.
"Most suicides are the end product of a long struggle with mental illness," Steel said. "They're not the end product of seeing images of people killing themselves. We don't show anything that people don't already know. The images themselves I don't think are the things that are driving people to the bridge."
Steel seems unaware of the research on the copycat effect.
Friday, October 20, 2006
Textbooks Will Stop Bullets? Is this Oklahoma candidate only trying to get media attention?
Sometimes you hear the strangest things from people who obviously have good intentions.
In the wake of the recent school shootings, one of the most bizarre campaign statements comes from a man running for Oklahoma's state superintendent of education. It is so hard to believe that someone would put out this kind of thought, I will quote directly and rather completely from News Net 5's Education page, for October 19, 2006:
Bill Crozier, a Union City Republican going against incumbent Democrat Sandy Garrett, said he believes old textbooks could be used to stop bullets shot from weapons wielded by school intruders. If elected, he said he would put thick used textbooks under every desk for students to use in self-defense.
He gave Eyewitness News 5 a videotape showing he and others shooting weapons, such as an AK-47 and a 9 mm pistol, at books in a field near Minco. They conducted the experiment to see how far bullets would penetrate the books.
"We are doing this as an experiment because at Fort Gibson, many young people were shot in the back," Crozier said in the videotape, referencing a December 1999 middle school shooting in eastern Oklahoma, in which a student wounded four students with a 9 mm semiautomatic handgun. Crozier's experiment began with shots fired at a calculus textbook from an AK-47 Russian-style assault rifle. The shot penetrated two textbooks at once.
"We need to look at protection of young people that sometimes people may think you are a little smarter than everybody else or a higher IQ or whatever. They need to look at what the end result would be," Crozier said.
However, when the shooters took aim at textbooks with handguns, the books stopped bullets. Crozier said he acknowledges his idea might seem a bit unusual, but he's sticking with it.
"This would be to protect the children in an immediate situation. This is something that any student, any classroom in the country could do immediately," he said.
Crozier said he believes his test was not scientific. Instead, he said, he wanted to demonstrate what might happen if a student used a textbook as protection in the event of a school shooting.
"Not everybody would be saved in that situation, of course. But many of them would, and instead of running away or being lined up ... this is a way for the children to fight back," he said.
Representatives for current Superintendent Sandy Garrett said they had no comment on Crozier's ideas.
Well, I have a comment: This is one of the least intelligent ideas I've heard coming out of the "what to do" discussion, which always occurs after school shootings. It would not work. It assumes, incorrectly, a bullet path pattern of where the school shooters will aim that is predictable. It gives students a false sense of security that they can hide under desks and live. School shootings do not so appropriately comply with Mr. Crozier's example. Shootings in hallways, cafeterias, and now via lineups at chalkboards outnumber the injuries from AK-47s aimed under desks.
My gosh. What was he thinking?
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
According to early reports, there is some confusion about whether the "student shot" is from a school shooting or via an attempted suicide in the school.
As I have mentioned often, 80%-100% of school shootings begin with a suicidal individual, who becomes homicidal in the process of their plan. I am not surprised that such situations are now developing in the wake of the recent wave of school shootings. The copycat effect involves any and all suicidal and suicidal-homicidal vulnerable folks in its wildfire response. The media is confused, but the foundation of every school shooting, I sense, lies in a thought of suicide - whether by "suicide by cop" or suicide by their own hand.
Now online...here's the dispatch, in part:
Oct 17, 2006 11:33 am US/Pacific
Texas H.S. On Lockdown After 17 Year Old Shot
(CBS 13) KATY, Texas A high school in Katy, Texas is on lockdown after a 17-year-old was shot on campus late Tuesday morning. Initial reports indicate that the teen attempted to commit suicide at Seven Lakes High School. Officials are not confirming if the victim is a student at the school.
Unfortunately, the late news is that this young man in Texas has taken his own life:
The sophomore went to a secluded area next to the Seven Lakes High School's cafeteria courtyard around noon and shot himself, said Steve Stanford, a Katy Independent School District spokesman.
The boy left a note, Stanford said. Officials would not release its contents.
A student who witnessed the shooting ran to a school nurse for help, and the nurse and an assistant principal called 911. A helicopter transported the boy to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where he later died.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Why madmen set their sights on schools
Some blame media. Theories include bullying, convenience and the copycat effect
by Catherine Solyom - Montreal, Canada The Gazette
Saturday, October 07, 2006
Beware of Oct. 13 - one month after the Dawson college shooting, something bad is bound to happen.
So predicts Loren Coleman, author of The Copycat Effect, who has tracked school shootings for three decades.
Over and over again, Coleman says, whenever a school shooting is given blanket coverage across the continent, it triggers others to seek notoriety exactly one week, one month, or one year later - often using the same method and leaving similar victims.
"When I turned on my television the morning of Sept. 13 and saw MSNBC, Fox and CNN doing wall-to-wall coverage and saying it's like Columbine, with the helicopters overhead, I knew it would get worse," Coleman said. "And of course then we had Wisconsin, Colorado and Pennsylvania ...
"I know it's eerie to put dates down, but Oct. 11th or 13th will be the end of a month-long cycle since Dawson and that will be a dangerous time. People let their guard down, then one month later pop pop pop we have these school shootings."
Not everyone, however, is so quick to make the link between media over-coverage and clusters of school shootings.
Princeton University professor Katherine Newman says it's difficult to know the true motivation - or inspiration - behind the killings when the shooter almost invariably commits suicide.
"To know a copycat pattern is developing we have to know that shooters are aware of previous incidents and have them in mind while planning their own terrible deeds," said Newman, whose recent book Rampage chronicles 21 school shootings since the 1970s. "We can't ask them when they shoot themselves."
Indeed, while school shootings tend to garner the media's attention longer than shootings in malls or workplaces, instant fame is not the only motivation.
Schools can be locations of opportunity: unprotected, in small towns they are among the few places where large numbers of people can be found in confined places.
In the Colorado and Pennsylvania incidents, the perpetrators were specifically looking for young girls.
James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, says schools are preferred targets for those wanting to vent their rage at society in general.
"If you want to hurt society in the most profound way, you kill its children," said Fox, author of The Will to Kill: Explaining Senseless Murder. "And where do you find a lot of children all conveniently together? A school."
Finally, a shooter's life history may include traumatic experiences at schools, with bullies and/or teachers, which leads them back to a school to commit their crimes.
A U.S. government study, which examined all major school shootings from 1974 to 2000, found few factors in common other than that many of the perpetrators felt they had been bullied at school.
But despite Newman's caution, there is often evidence that a copycat or contagion effect, spread by the media, is at hand.
In some cases, the perpetrators make reference to previous incidents broadcast by media.
Kimveer Gill, who shot and killed 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa and injured 20 others at Dawson College, is believed to have made several postings on a blogsite called the Trenchcoat Chronicles, revealing a fascination with school shootings.
Two weeks before the Dawson shooting, a 19-year-old in Hillsborough, N.C., when asked by police why he killed his father and wounded two students at school, said: "Columbine. Remember Columbine," referring to the 1999 massacre of 12 students and a teacher in Colorado.
Then there is evidence gleaned from the lack of media coverage at certain times. The period immediately following 9/11, spanning to November 2002, was one such time.
"What happened was a grand experiment in media blackout," says Coleman. "The media had turned their cameras on terrorism, the coming war in Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan. It's remarkable that we began to see large body count school shootings in foreign countries, but not in North America."
"If there is no reporting on it, it doesn't happen," Coleman says. "There is no possibility of a copycat because there's nothing to be copycatting."
The clearest evidence of copycatting, however, might lie in the events themselves, in the setting, time and modus operandi of the shooters.
Much has been made of differences among recent incidents to counter the copycat thesis. Unlike in the 1990s, the latest school shootings have involved primarily outsiders: people, like Gill, with no attachment to the schools they chose as the setting for their crimes.
Of the 400-plus deaths in school violence in North America since 1994, only a handful were at the hands of outsiders. The past month has seen seven more.
But experts point out that before the 1990s, many school shootings were perpetrated by adults, including a string of nine schoolyard snipers.
The most famous, says Fox, was Laurie Dann, who killed one second grader and wounded five others in 1988.
She subsequently made the cover of People Magazine, just as Charles Roberts has made this week's cover after killing five Amish schoolgirls. Four months later, James Wilson, in whose apartment police later found pictures of Dann, went on a similar rampage and killed two 8-year-olds in a school cafeteria.
The other major difference pointed out in some of the recent shootings is the sexual nature of the assaults.
The commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police told reporters he didn't believe the killing of Amish girls was a copycat crime in part because of Roberts's intention to molest the girls.
Both Fox and Coleman dispute that finding, however, pointing out the striking similarities with the sexual assaults of girls and murder in Bailey, Colo., and Roberts's actions a week later in Pennsylvania.
Of course the copycat effect does not explain everything. A well-adjusted individual will not turn into a mass murderer no matter how many times he sees a school shooting on television, Fox said. All other factors, including life circumstances and personality, must be there.
"But in the case of Roberts, had it not been for the Colorado shooting, he would probably have not killed on Monday in a school," Fox said. "It might have been in a shopping mall, city hall or church sometime. So copycatting and contagion tends to influence the form and timing, but not the motivation for murder."
So how does the copycat effect work - and how can it be interrupted?
It takes a vulnerable, disturbed, suicidal and homicidal individual to want to mimic a previous school shooting.
But beyond that, several factors are at play.
Abe Worenklein, a professor at both Concordia University and Dawson College, tells forensic psychology students about the "mean world syndrome": when news reports devote so much attention to extremely rare events like school shootings, they begin to appear normal and common to fragile minds, breaking down the cognitive barriers that would normally stop them from committing such acts themselves.
"Fifty per cent of the news on a given day can be about the Dawson or the Amish shooting," Worenklein said. "The media sends a message that this is what a lot of people do, even though it's the rare exception."
Meanwhile, detailed reports of a shooter's motivation, personality and grudges humanize a shooter and can turn him into a role model for others, said Fox.
"For the copycat effect to be most pronounced, a copier has to identify with the role model. When a 14-year-old white kid from a small town in California learns about a 15-year-old white kid from Jonesboro, he says, 'I understand what he's going through.' A black kid from the Bronx doesn't. It's not his world," Fox said.
He is particularly concerned with the effect of all the continuing retrospectives of Columbine, with their images of fleeing, panicked students.
"While 99 per cent of people will identify with the pain and suffering of the victims and pray it will not happen in their community, there are a few who would very much like to see it so long as they are on the right end of the gun ... They think not only did they have the nerve or guts to get even with bullies or teachers, but they got famous for it."
There is also a practical side to sensationalistic news reports, says Coleman: they often provide too much tactical information on how to do the same thing, but better, including how police got into the building. And school shooters increasingly compete with others to up the body count, he said.
"Why do we want to give them this information?" Coleman asked, comparing the situation to how sportscasters ignore fans who run onto a baseball field so as not to encourage others.
If there is a positive side to media coverage, however, it is that students are made aware of the potential gravity of threats.
Princeton's Katherine Newman believes the hiatus in school shootings around 9/11 is attributable to students reporting threats and foiling plots.
Unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the school year.
"(Shootings) used to happen in the spring, when kids' ability to cope with whatever was happening at school was wearing thin," Fox said. "The end of the school year came mercifully and whatever contagion there was would dissipate over the summer. In the fall, students would be thinking of making the football team or who to take to the prom, not who to kill in the cafeteria. Now they're happening in the fall and there are many more months to go."
Recent school shootings in North America
Aug. 24, 2006 - Essex, Vt. - Christopher Williams, 26, attempted to kill his ex-girlfriend, Grade One schoolteacher Andrea Lambesis. Dead are Lambesis's mother, Linda, 57, and Grade Two teacher Alicia Shanks, 56, slain in her classroom.
Aug. 29, 2006 - Hillsborough, N.C. - One dead (father of teenage shooter) - two wounded students - shooter showed up in a trench coat with guns and pipe bombs in a copycat of Columbine. Asked why he went to Orange High School, Alvaro Rafael Castillo, 19, said: "Columbine. Remember Columbine."
Sept. 13, 2006 - Montreal - Kimveer Gill, the 25-year-old shooter, came to Dawson College fully armed. He opened fire, killing Anastasia De Sousa, 18, and wounded 11 other students. Police fired on him. Then Gill turned the gun on himself.
Sept. 27, 2006 - Bailey, Colo. - (near Columbine) - Duane Morrison, 54, walked into a classroom at Platte Canyon High School and took six female students hostage. After releasing four hostages, the students told police sexual assaults were occurring.
As the situation neared a 4 p.m. deadline and discussions broke down, a police SWAT team blew open the door to Room 206 with explosives. Morrison fired a handgun at SWAT officers, and then at 16-year-old Emily Keyes, killing her. The gunman then killed himself. The last hostage was saved.
(A suicide note from the shooter was found on Sept. 28th.)
Sept. 29, 2006 - Cazenovia, Wis. - A recently expelled student, Eric Hainstock, 15, arrived at school at 8 a.m. with a shotgun. A custodian, teacher and students wrestled the shotgun away, but the student broke free and pulled out a revolver. Principal John Klang, 49, was shot with a handgun three times, once in the head. Klang later died at the hospital. The shooter was arrested.
Oct. 2, 2006 - Nickel Mines, Pa. - Charles Roberts, a 32-year-old milkman, entered a one-room Amish school at the beginning of the school day. He brought into the school three guns, a stun gun, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition - as well as restraints, boards, and other items to molest or sexually abuse the children.
He told the boys and adult females to leave. He took 10 hostages, all young females. Then, after the police arrived, he began shooting all of the girls, killing five. Roberts is died when he shot himself.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006 Permission to reprint granted.
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Nevertheless, are there temporal signposts that still alert us to possible dates of some concern?
What might occur on Friday the 13th and around Halloween?
As the Canadian Press are reporting on October 12th, the Amish school that was the site of the October 2 school shooting has been torn down.
From Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, reports Martha Raffaelle:
Construction lights glared in the predawn mist as an excavator began removing the porch of the school about 4:45 a.m., and heavy equipment knocked down the bell tower and toppled the walls within a few minutes. The quaint schoolhouse had been boarded up since the killings, with schooling moved to a nearby farm. The Amish hoped to bring some closure to the tragedy by razing the schoolhouse and leaving in its place a quiet pasture.
"It's going to be razed and topsoil brought in and green grass planted," said Mike Hart, a spokesman for the Bart Fire Company.
In general, most people have expressed calmness and respect to the Amish positive, forgiving reaction to what one unidentified Amish bishop called their "Amish 9/11."
With regard to the copycat effect, despite the Joplin, Missouri, AK-47 incident of Monday, October 9th, we may be seeing a diminishing amount of media attention to these events.
On Wednesday, October 11, as opposed to hearing about more new school shooting incidents, the wall-to-wall coverage was of the plane that flew into a New York City building. (Don't ignore the fact that this was on 10/11, and many people had a post-traumatic 9/11 reaction.) When the media discovered it was a Major League Baseball player, Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle, all story leads - on news and sports cable channels - as well as on radio and in newspapers - told of the tragic and sad Lidle story.
As sociologist Steven Stack's research has shown, less suicides occur during national moments of mourning after assassinations and during financial depressions. Will less suicidal behavior occur in the wake of Cory Lidle's untimely and well-publicized (apparently accidental) death? If Lidle's death had been a suicide, more copycats would be expected.
The move from media attention about the suicidal-homicidal school shootings may decrease the chances for similar copycats this week and throughout the rest of the month. Still, the Friday the 13th month anniversary looms for Montreal's Dawson College shooting incident tomorrow. The timing for the month anniversary of the copycat cluster of Colorado-Wisconsin-Pennsylvania school shootings overlaps with the lead-up to Halloween. What are we to make from the horrific fact that Duane R. Morrison, the sexual molesting Bailey, Colorado, school shooter was a builder of Halloween "haunted houses"? Should we look for some twilight anniversary outbursts around these creepy upcoming dates - Friday the 13th and just before Halloween in this October 2006?
Is it time to let our guard down or to lower our awareness even a little? Or for the safety of our children, should we keep your antennae up?
Monday, October 09, 2006
Part of the article reads:
No one injured in middle school shooting
Joplin, Mo. - A student armed with an AK-47 assault rifle walked into Memorial Middle School on Monday morning and fired a weapon, but did not hit anyone, police said. No injuries were reported.
The student, who was not identified, pointed the gun at two students and Principal Steve Gilbreth and Assistant Superintendent Steve Doerr and asked them, "not to make me do this," said School Superintendent Jim Simpson.
The 13-year-old male student then raised the gun and fired a shot into the ceiling, breaking a water pipe. After firing the shot, he said again, "Please don't make me do this," Simpson said.
"It was a very close call," Simpson said.
Doerr and Gilbreth persuaded the student to leave the building, where he was confronted by two police officers who had their weapons drawn. The student dropped the rifle and was taken into custody, Simpson said.
Joplin police Officer Curt Farmer said officers found a note in the student's backpack indicating that he had placed an explosive in the school, which has about 700 students. Students in the school were moved to nearby Joplin Memorial Hall, where parents were advised they could take them home.
Simpson said the school will be closed for the day while police search the building.
The student was wearing a makeshift mask, and had been planning an attack for a "long time," Simpson said.
Simpson said authorities did not know whether others were involved in the possible attack.
The shooting happened about 7:45 a.m., 10 minutes before school started.
Various articles about my predictions and insights on the comparative nature between the 2006 school shootings including Dawson College and the latter contagion incidents have appeared in the following:
"Author predicts pattern to 'copycat' crimes"
Ottawa Citizen, Canada - October 9, 2006
"Copycat slayings coming"
Edmonton Journal, Canada - Oct 8, 2006
"Why madmen set their sights on schools"
Montreal Gazette, Canada - Oct 7, 2006
"Link made between media coverage and copycats"
Regina Leader-Post, Canada - Oct 7, 2006
"Author predicts more violence month after Dawson shootings"
Vancouver Sun, Canada - Oct 7, 2006
"Expert predicted 'cluster' of school shootings"
CTV.ca, Canada - Oct 3, 2006
"Six school shootings in less than six weeks"
940 News, Canada - Oct 3, 2006
"'Copycat effect' may explain cluster"
Toronto Star, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
"Six school shootings in less than six weeks"
Vancouver Sun, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
"Six school shootings in less than six weeks: experts comment on cluster"
Canada.com, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
Also the above "Six school shootings" article appeared in the following:
Winnipeg Free Press, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
680 News, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
Brandon Sun, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
Macleans, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
News1130, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
Canoe.ca, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
570 News, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
940 News, Canada - Oct 2, 2006
Televised interviews with me were carried across Canada, twice after Dawson College, via CBC.
Coverage in the USA has been spotty, sketchy, and sometimes skeptical. It has had more to do with Colorado and Pennsylvania, of course, than about my warnings after Montreal:
"Kopel: Only press itself can stop copycats"
Rocky Mountain News, CO - Oct 6, 2006
"Can we root out school violence?"
Daily Inter Lake, MT - Oct 5, 2006
"Are NJ schools secure?"
NorthJersey.com, NJ - Oct 3, 2006
Blinq, PA - Oct 3, 2006
"On school shootings"
seattlepi.com Buzzworthy - Oct 2, 2006
One of the earliest American bloggers (with an international audience) to note my copycat concepts is Xeni Jardin at Boing Boing, especially when she wrote on October 2, her "School shootings: malignant, contagious social meme?" and followed it up on the Tibetan college shootings. Because Boing Boing carries her entries, the October 2nd one was copied by many other bloggers.
The copycat effect concept is worthy of spreading.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
An older Caucasian man, who has in the past repressed his pedophilic urges, comes into a school only two days after a suicidal school incident, attacks a classroom, shooting and killing children, then turns his gun on himself. Later there's a copycat incident based on his horrible act.
Sound familiar? Of course it does as at least two of the recent six school shootings follow this pattern. But what I am talking about happened in 1996, not in 2006.
What occurred in Bailey and Nickel Mines is no surprise to those that remember Dunblane.
On Wednesday, March 13, 1996, an unemployed man Thomas Hamilton, 43, walked into an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, armed with two 9mm Browning HP pistols and two Smith and Wesson .357 revolvers. He was carrying 743 cartridges.
Hamilton, a former scout director who had gotten in trouble for taking photos of unclothed little boys, took his rampage into a classroom of 5-6 year olds, killing or wounding every person present except one student. Fifteen children and a teacher (Mrs. Gwen Mayor) died at the scene.
He then moved onto another room, but the teacher told all her pupils to get under their desks. He shot up the room, hitting 15 more kids and three teachers. He then turned the gun on himself. One of the children in that room died on the way to the hospital.
By the end of what today is known as the Dunblane Massacre, eighteen people were dead (i.e. five boys, eleven girls, one female teacher, and the male shooter). So many children died. So many.
Some earlier hints of the new "modern" era of school shootings in America began on Groundhog Day, February 2, 1996, when Barry Loukaitis, 14, dressed all in black with a long coat to hide a rifle and two guns, walked into his Frontier Junior High's fifth-period algebra class at Moses Lake, Washington State. He killed two students, severely wounded another, and then turned his gun on algebra teacher Leona Caires as she was writing an equation on the chalkboard, killing her. With 15 students in the room crying hysterically, Loukaitis said to them: "This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?" The line was a quote from the 1977 Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman) novel Rage. (Loukaitis said he planned his attack carefully, getting ideas from the King book. In that story, a troubled youth takes a gun to Placerville High School, kills the algebra teacher and another adult, and takes the students hostage.) Loukaitis was taken into custody after he was tackled by reluctant hero Jon M. Lane, a physical eduation teacher.
Chillingly, two days before the Dunblane Massacre, on March 11, 1996, just before taking a quiz in an algebra class - a subtle link to Loukaitis - at the North Stanly High School, New London, North Carolina, Jamie Hurley, 15, took his own life with a 9mm pistol that he had hidden in his coat.
The Dunblane Massacre took place on March 13, 1996.
On April 28, 1996, a month and half after the Dunblane events, Martin Bryant, 28, killed 35 people and seriously injured 37, in the Port Arthur Massacre, at a historic tourist location in Tasmania, Australia. The chief defense psychiatrist in the case revealed that the Dunblane Massacre, and in particular the early treatment of Thomas Hamilton, was the trigger in Bryant's mind for the Port Arthur massacre.
With the consent of Bob Dylan, a Dunblane musician named Ted Christopher wrote a new verse for Knockin' On Heaven's Door in memory of the Dunblane school children and their teacher. The recording of the revised version of the song, which included brothers and sisters of the victims singing chorus and Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler on guitar, was released on December 9, 1996 in the UK, and reached number 1. The proceeds went to charities for the Dunblane children.
Christopher's new lyrics are:
Lord these guns have caused too much pain
This town will never be the same
So, for the bairns of Dunblane,
We ask, please, never again.
These words seem appropriate for these days, don't they?
How President Bush is, verbally, responding to the 2006 series of school shootings is in contrast to his silence on Red Lake in 2005.
On Monday, October 2, 2006, five little girls died in Amish country, in a school shooting, the latest of six North American school shootings since August 24. The day after the Pennsylvania outrage, the President of the United States appeared at the George W. Bush Elementary School in Stockton, California, the only school in the United States to ever be named for a sitting President.
[Unmentioned and perhaps unknown to Bush, Stockton was the site of one of the country's worst "outsider" school shootings. At Stockton's Cleveland Elementary School, 20 East Fulton, on January 17, 1989, drifter Patrick Edward Purdy, who had attended this school 15 years earlier, killed five children (four were Cambodian immigrants, one was born in Vietnam) and wounded twenty-nine others and a teacher. This school is only 3 miles from George W. Bush Elementary School, 5420 Fred Russo Drive, Stockton.]
On October 3, 2006, at the school with his name, President Bush read a statement, devoting these two paragraphs to school violence:
You know, being at this school reminds us we have a special responsibility to protect our children. The most important jobs of those involved with schools and government is to make sure that children are safe. And Laura and I were saddened and deeply concerned, like a lot of other citizens around the country, about the school shootings that took place in Pennsylvania and Colorado and Wisconsin. We grieve with the parents and we share the concerns of those who worry about safety in schools.
Yesterday, I instructed Attorney General Gonzales and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to convene a meeting next Tuesday, a meeting of leading experts and stakeholders to determine how best the federal government can help states and local governments improve school safety. Our schoolchildren should never fear their safety when then enter to a classroom. And, of course, the superintendent and principal know that.
Then President Bush read three paragraphs, which were about the sex scandal of resigned Congressman Mark Foley and defending Speaker "Denny" Hastert with Bush's now often-quoted "father, teacher, coach" comment.
(Have you ever wondered, who decides who attends such inside-the-beltway quickly called gatherings of experts? I certainly don't know. I have yet to receive my invitation.)
President Bush then on Saturday, October 7, 2006, talked of the school shootings on his weekly radio address, before launching in to a call for passing some of his education bills.
Jennifer Loven, writing for the Associated Press on October 8, 2006, noted:
President Bush yesterday lamented recent "shocking acts of violence" in schools and promised that his administration will do what it can to keep them safe for students.
The White House will convene a conference on school safety Tuesday. Federal officials, school workers, parents, law enforcement officials, and other specialists will gather in Chevy Chase, Md., a Washington suburb noted for exceptional schools.
The conference will be hosted by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. The president and first lady Laura Bush are expected to attend part of it.
"Our goal is clear: Children and teachers should never fear for their safety when they enter a classroom," the president said in his weekly radio address.
In contrast, President Bush was quiet for days after the last major school shooting in the country, the incident at the Red Lake Ojibwa (Chippewa) Reservation School on March 21, 2005. Washington Post reporter Ceci Connolly, in her March 2005 article entitled "Native Americans Criticize Bush's Silence: Response to School Shooting Is Contrasted With President's Intervention in Schiavo Case", wrote:.
Native Americans across the country -- including tribal leaders, academics and rank-and-file tribe members -- voiced anger and frustration Thursday that President Bush has responded to the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history with silence.
Three days after 16-year-old Jeff Weise killed nine members of his Red Lake tribe before taking his own life, grief-stricken American Indians complained that the White House has offered little in the way of sympathy for the tribe situated in the uppermost region of Minnesota.
"From all over the world we are getting letters of condolence, the Red Cross has come, but the so-called Great White Father in Washington hasn't said or done a thing," said Clyde Bellecourt, a Chippewa Indian who is the founder and national director of the American Indian Movement here. "When people's children are murdered and others are in the hospital hanging on to life, he should be the first one to offer his condolences. . . . If this was a white community, I don't think he'd have any problem doing that."
"I hope that he would say something," said Victoria Graves, a cultural educator at Red Lake Elementary School on the reservation. "It's important that there's acknowledgment of the tragedy. It's important he sees the tribes are out here. We need help."
The reaction to Bush's silence was particularly bitter given his high-profile, late-night intervention on behalf of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman caught in a legal battle over whether her feeding tube should be reinserted.
"The fact that Bush preempted his vacation to say something about Ms. Schiavo and here you have 10 native people gunned down and he can't take time to speak is very telling," said David Wilkins, interim chairman of the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota and a member of the North Carolina-based Lumbee tribe.
"He has not been real visible in Indian country," said former senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-Colo.). "He's got a lot of irons in the fire, but this is important."
At the Red Lake Urban Indian Office here, volunteer Marilyn Westbrook said she was disappointed but not surprised.
"I don't feel he cares about the American Indian people," said Westbrook, as she collected donations of gas cards and money to enable fellow Red Lake members to make the 260-mile journey to the reservation. "Why hasn't he made any statements about what happened with this shooting?"
Ah, perhaps that's why I've not been invited to Washington D.C. Maybe someone heard that my grandmother that I talk about being the victim of a murder-suicide on Valentine's Day 1940, was an Eastern Band Cherokee?
Saturday, October 07, 2006
A good examination of the copycat effect is only hindered by its fogginess on my stance on censorship, which I am against.
Colorado's former assistant attorney general and currently the research director for the Independence Institute in Golden, Dave Kopel has written a thoughtful column, "Kopel: Only Press Itself Can Stop Copycats" in the October 7, 2006 issue of the Rocky Mountain News. Subtitled "Killers, suicides thrive on publicity given those who perpetrated earlier crimes," Kopel asks and answers:
Do the media play a role in causing mass murders in schools and other public places? Certainly. Can anything be done about it? Perhaps.
Kopel highlights the copycat confirmations he sees in the Colorado to Pennsylvania events, and records reinforcing views of recent press statements of Regis University professor Don Lindley and commentary from Clay Cramer's early 1990s Journal of Mass Media Ethics article "Ethical Problems of Mass Murder Coverage in the Mass Media."
Next Kopel writes, "In the 2004 book The Copycat Effect, Loren Coleman documents, in horrific detail, how the publicity about mass murders and suicides leads to more murders and suicides." Kopel also notes I've been talking about the recent school shootings on this blog, and then goes into a summary of some of my book's contents and conclusions, plus his insights:
Copycat violence from media sensationalism dates back at least to 1888, when Jack the Ripper mutilated and murdered five prostitutes in London. Improvements in printing technology, such as typesetting machines, had led to the creation of low-cost, mass-market daily newspapers - "the penny press" - which thrived on lurid crime reporting. The immense publicity given to Jack the Ripper led to many copycat murders and rapes.
Although Coleman does not explicitly say so, his evidence suggests that a Chinese-style system of strict and comprehensive censorship would deprive would-be copycats of inspiration.
However, censoring the American media to prevent school shootings runs into the same problem as banning guns in order to prevent school shootings. An effective gun ban - including confiscation of the more than 200 million guns currently in private hands - would drastically reduce mass murders at schools, since there are no other weapons which are so easy to use and which allow one person to control a crowd at a distance. But it is unrealistic to believe that a gun ban would actually prevent guns from being plentiful on the black market, just as legally prohibited drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin are plentifully supplied on a black market that even a high school student can reach.
Similarly, it is difficult to believe that an official system of censorship in the U.S. could prevent the informal spread of news about school shootings - especially in an era when everyone has cell phones and e-mail. Moreover, official censorship would inadvertently give credibility to false rumors and hoaxes about shootings. (Of course there would also be insurmountable constitutional problems with censorship or gun bans.)
However, we know that media self-censorship does work. Almost all media voluntarily decide not to publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims, and not to show pictures of the corpses of murder victims.
Because, as Coleman details, copycat attacks often take place one month after a previous attack, or on an attack's anniversary, the media should greatly reduce or eliminate anniversary coverage, and thereby avoid giving the date an inflated importance in the mind of a sick or evil individual.
Coleman suggests that every story about a suicide or murder-suicide should include information about hot lines, or other sources of help for suicidal people.
More fundamentally, he writes, "the media has got to stop using rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers, and school shootings the way it uses tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes to get people to watch their programs." He urges an end to "graphic and sensational wall-to-wall coverage and commentary of violent acts."
Because of the First Amendment, it is up to the media themselves, and not government, to search for ways to reduce the media's role the vicious cycle of copycat murders and suicides. But the evidence produced by Cramer and Coleman suggests that it is long past time for the media to begin the necessary self-examination.
Kopel's column is an excellent overview of many of these issues, and his call for media self-examination joins my own, of course. However, it appears I need to share a bit of clarification on my stance on media censorship, which I am firmly against.
As Kopel must know, in my book, the quotation he extracted comes from the middle of a paragraph that states this fact clearly, on page 256:
No one is asking the media to stop reporting the news. This is not about censorship. It is not about the right or left, conservative or liberal. It is about looking at how the stories are being presented, how the current approach has backfired and triggered the copycat effect. In essence, the media has to stop using rampage shootings, celebrity suicides, bridge jumpers, and school shootings the way it uses tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes to get people to watch their programs. Human behavior reporting impacts future human behaviors. Copycats are a consequence of a thoughtless, sensational media, and denial and ignorance of the problem will not make it go away.
There are two National Public Radio (NPR) programs with interviews with me, to be broadcast on October 6th and October 7th. These will be online for later downloads, as well as on the radio.
On the Media (from NPR)
October 6, 2006
Picturing the Worst
The assault this week in Pennsylvania's Amish country was the sixth deadly school shooting in as many weeks. Media commentators are pointing to the possibility of a copycat effect, but few are examining the media's own complicity therein. School violence researcher Loren Coleman tells Bob that a little more restraint on the part of the media wouldn't hurt.
Weekend America (from NPR)
October 07, 2006
Causes and Effects
Were two school shootings in quick succession, one in Colorado and the other in Pennsylvania, related in some way? They shared several characteristics, but the towns were thousands of miles apart, with entirely different school communities, so it couldn't be more than a coincidence, right? Not so, says school violence expert Loren Coleman. He'll talk to us about why these acts of violence happen at certain times in the year, what the media effect is, and how the two recent school shootings are related to one another.
Friday, October 06, 2006
October 6, 2006
An unrelated series of shootings at schools in recent weeks has people wondering about the safety of their children and how they can help prevent future attacks. We talked with one of our behavioral analysts, Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., to get some insights.
First, be vigilant, especially now, when the events are still generating headlines, says O’Toole, who works in the Behavior Analysis Unit of our Critical Incident Response Group at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. “We do believe a copycat effect takes place after these events.”
That means more than just being watchful and wary of who’s out of place in a neighborhood or school. It also means paying attention to the behavior of the people around you—especially those you know. “Be aware of people’s moods. Don’t depend just on how they answer the question, ‘How are you doing?’”
There can be plenty of signs. Most school shootings are not spur-of-the moment events, she says. They take planning and coordination. Supplies—and weapons—have to be purchased or collected. Some attackers practice firing their gun or scout locations. They often write suicide notes or other correspondence explaining their last acts.
“People who act out violently don’t wake up one morning and snap. There are clues,” O’Toole says.
Second, take all threats seriously, especially those leveled by teens, and have a strategy in place to deal with them. “Adolescents will sometimes alert you ahead of time that they will commit violence,” O’Toole says. “Don’t dismiss it as idle talk.”
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School killings, most schools in the U.S. have implemented some kind of threat assessment system. Unfortunately, there is no single profile for a potential mass killer, young or old.
“There is no typical school shooter. They don’t fall within a set of traits and characteristics,” she says. “That’s why it is so important for schools to have a fair, rational, and standardized method of evaluating and responding to threats.”
Third, please know that no matter how watchful we may be, some tragedies may simply not be preventable.
“There may not be a single thing that can be done to prevent a mission-oriented person from committing an act of violence,” she says.
“We all want to believe that if we choose just the right community or just the right neighborhood we won’t be a victim of crime,” O’Toole says. “Unfortunately, school shootings can happen anywhere in the country. There is no one location that’s necessarily immune from this kind of violence.”
“But remember,” she says, “despite the images splashed across televisions, the web, and newspapers, these attacks are relatively rare.”
Thursday, October 05, 2006
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?
Can we root out school violence?
Daily Inter Lake, Montana - Oct 5, 2006
Children used as human targets in their schools — it’s the worst news a community could imagine hearing.
Three times in the past week, in Colorado and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, communities have reeled with gunshots and death in their schools. Instead of studying history, students have witnessed it in the most tragic way possible.
Part of the agony is that the shootings seem so random. Who would target little girls in a one-room Amish schoolhouse?
Surely, the answer is no more clear than who would strap on a bomb and blow himself up in a busy marketplace in Baghdad or Amman. Terrorism is the institutionalization of random violence, and this epidemic of school violence is really nothing more than a form of private, idiosyncratic terrorism.
The purpose of such attacks is almost unfathomable to a sane mind, but to the sick individuals who wage these private wars, there is a hard, cruel logic that leads inevitably to death. It might have started with some personal trauma, or it might have started innocently.
In some case, the seeds of violence may even be planted by a society that values action movies on the basis of their body counts and which condones video games dedicated to gunning down cops and innocent civilians. Parents who allow their children to ingest such brain food should not be surprised if the “garbage in, garbage out” principle rears its ugly head later in life. If we teach our children that human life is of no consequence, then it follows that some children will take the lesson to heart.
There is also the influence of cable news to be accounted for, as wall-to-wall coverage of shootings and murder could easily sway sick minds to think of killers as culture heroes. Indeed, researcher Loren Coleman believes copycats imitate previous violent attacks on a regular basis. He says school attacks follow a pattern after a media event in a day, a week, two weeks, a month, a year, or 10 years. “Vulnerable humans have internal media clocks,” he maintains.
Coleman names Oct. 11-13 as a “dangerous hot window” for a next wave of shootings, along with Oct. 27-29. Who knows? Maybe nothing will happen then, but we can be sure that more school shootings will follow at some point and that more communities will be devastated.
Since the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, schools have worked to minimize bullying and ostracizing of students who didn’t fit in, as the two teenage killers in Columbine were described as outcasts.
But there is no easy antidote for whatever festers inside the souls of people like Charles Roberts, 32, who took little girls and a teacher’s aide hostage on Monday, bound them and shot them execution-style before killing himself in Pennsylvania. He, like many other school killers, was an outsider, not a student, and we will never be able to build adequate defenses against all such attacks in all possible locations.
Still, as a society we ought not to surrender to this wave of senseless violence either. That is why it is appropriate for President Bush to assemble a summit on school violence, although critics will probably belittle him for thinking that a summit can change anything.
To those critics we say, believing you can make a difference is the first step to making a difference. Whereas believing that action is pointless and that our problems are beyond solution is the beginning of the kind of despair that eventually leads people to suicidal attacks in the first place.
Yes, we had better pay attention to the horror, and we had better not surrender to it.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
This Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish community has already:
- refused most interviews to the media, because their image is not to be recorded by cameras,
- forgiven the shooter,
- visited the family of the shooter to see if they need support, bringing food and other comforting items to them, and
- openly said they will be using mental health services.
Also, quite instructively, this Amish community has decided that they will be not using the school (the site of the shooting) ever again, and will be tearing it down so it will not be a permanent memorial to remind their children of their trauma.
Reporter Mike Wereschagin, in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Friday, October 6, 2006, writes:
To preserve privacy, police and volunteer fire companies set up checkpoints on roads around Amish homes and the cemetery, said Duane Hagelgans, spokesman for the South Central Pennsylvania Task Force, a state emergency management agency. A state police airplane and helicopter patrolled the airspace above, keeping news helicopters away. Journalists were kept in or around Georgetown United Methodist Church, a small, white building bordered by Amish farms and a hamlet of about 20 homes.
Two Tibetans Dead After College Shooting
Radio Free Asia
KATHMANDU—Two senior Tibetan college officials have died following a shooting incident at a teacher training college in the Amdo region of China’s remote Gansu province.
Separate sources confirmed the deaths of two top school officials in the shooting incident, at the Hezuo Teacher Training College in Kanlho (in Chinese, Gannan) prefecture during the college’s 20th anniversary celebrations in late September, according to RFA’s Tibetan service.
Lobsang, principal of the Hezuo Teacher Training College, shot Yang Zhihong, head of the school’s Communist Party unit, killing him on the spot, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. He then shot himself, and died later from gunshot wounds.
“It is true the incident took place. There were some disputes between these two local officers,” a resident of the Amdo region said.
We don’t know the reason for the shooting. There are no senior officials in the office right now due to a holiday—I am on duty answering calls.
Officer on duty at the Kanlho Public Security Bureau
Reasons for violence unclear
“Lobsang was the head of the Teacher Training College and Yang Zhihong was head of college’s Communist Party,” the source said, adding that Lobsang was a Tibetan from Cho-ne county and Yang Zhihong was also a Tibetan from Tewo county, both in Kanlho prefecture.
An officer on duty at the Kanlho Public Security Bureau, contacted by telephone, confirmed the incident but said the circumstances were unclear.
“We don’t know the reason for the shooting. There are no senior officials in the office right now due to a holiday—I am on duty answering calls,” the official said.
An official at the Hezuo Teacher Training College who also asked not to be named said, “I still don’t know the reasons for the shooting. Right now the college is closed for a holiday.”
It is true the incident took place. There were some disputes between these two local officers.
The reasons for the dispute were unclear, according to several sources.
One source in Amdo said Lobsang was due to be transferred elsewhere following his promotion to a provincial institution. Before his departure, he had to get a clearance certificate from the local Party secretary.
But Lobsang was unable to account for missing school funds of around 30,000 yuan, the source said.
When he asked Yang to show the funds as college expenses, Yang refused. The source said Lobsang owned several properties that would have cost more than what a college principal could afford, and Yang had already reported this to higher officials.
Original reporting by RFA’s Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
CTV, Toronto, Canada
Expert predicted 'cluster' of school shootings
Updated Tue. Oct. 3 2006 11:23 PM ET
Bridget Brown, Special to CTV.ca
Monday's shooting makes six school shootings in the past six weeks in North America, but an expert says it's no tragic coincidence.
Loren Coleman, behavioral expert and author of Copycat Effect, predicted a continued cluster of school shootings after the Dawson College shooting on September 13.
In a September 18 email to CTV, Coleman said, "I predict that this week or next, there may be another major 'going postal' workplace rampage or school shooting."
While Coleman's email may now seem eerily prophetic, he told CTV.ca his prediction two weeks ago was simply the result of observing patterns among widely-publicized events.
According to Coleman, the first shooting in the current cluster happened August 24, 2006 in Essex, Vermont. Christopher Williams, 27, went into a school looking for his ex-girlfriend, a teacher. He never found her, but killed another teacher, and wounded one more. He ultimately shot himself twice in the head. [He also killed his ex-girlfriend's mother; he survived his own suicide attempt and was arrested.]
The next cluster killing happened in Hillsborough, North Carolina, six days later. A 19-year-old man was arrested after the shooting death of his father. Eight shots were also fired in Hillsborough's Orange High School. Two students were wounded.
Dawson Raised Red Flag
On September 13, a third shooting occurred when 25-year-old Kimveer Gill stormed Montreal's Dawson College, and sprayed students with bullets, killing 18-year-old Anastassia De Sousa before turning the gun on himself.
Coleman immediately began pointing out similarities between that high-profile shooting and the previous two.
According to Coleman, the size and time of the cluster can depend on the amount of media coverage. The Dawson College shooting received a tremendous amount of attention. When he sees an event like that, he immediately considers the possibility of more, as he indicated to CTV.
His predictions came to life, two weeks later.
On September 27, 53-year-old drifter Duane Morrison entered a Bailey, Colorado high school. He took six female students hostage, and sexually assaulted them before killing 16-year-old Emily Keyes and killing himself.
Two days later, in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, a school principal was shot and killed. A ninth grader has been charged with that murder.
Then, three days later came the shooting in Amish country, the deadliest of the cluster with five dead. Coleman says violent offenders, intent on shocking the public, sometimes "compete for the highest body count."
"Disturbed individuals choose schools because that's the pattern put in front of them, either by reading about it or hearing about it," says Coleman, "it's a location of opportunity. [Charles Carl Roberts] lived a mile away, he delivered milk there. It had nothing to do with any hatred of the Amish."
Coleman says most people who encounter adversity will turn to friends, or look for someone to talk to, like a minister. But because school shooters don't have an outlet for their problems, they mimic a school shooting they see on television as an outlet for their self-hatred. And the similarities between the perpetrators are significant.
"One hundred percent of these people are suicidal. One hundred percent of these people are male. Most of them are Caucasian. They're outsiders. They almost always target the same group, authority figures and girls. If you pull suicide so far inward, it turns to homicide."
Coleman says school shootings occurred as early as the 1970s, but the last significant cluster involved the now historic Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, followed by a school shooting in Taber, Alberta, only a week later.
Coleman hopes we've seen the last school shooting, but says it would not surprise him to see more this fall. He says that while the Pennsylvania shootings may not be the last in this cluster, the copycat crimes will likely slow down as we near winter. He says spring, and the anniversary of Columbine, could be enough to spark another cycle of tragedy.