Thursday, October 11, 2007

Cleveland's Coon: A Columbine Copycat

The Cleveland school shooter Asa H. Coon was Caucasian. He was a "death Goth" Columbine copycat in a trenchcoat.

You won't read or hear about that too many other places. I've not seen one photograph of the shooter anywhere on the web in the 24 hours since he tried to kill his teachers and fellow students, then ended his own life.

Buried in a Yahoo News story on October 11, 2007, you will find his one line:

"Coon, who was white, stood out in the predominantly black school for dressing in a goth style, wearing a black trench coat, black boots, a dog collar and chains...."

Is it important? I think so. It is not about "causes" and "blaming." It is about understanding the evolution and changing landscape of school shootings.

School shootings follow predictable patterns, and this one was no different. Coon was suspended, and was a suicidal young man, full of rage, ready to go off. This is common.

On October 10, 2007, Asa Coon, a 14-year-old student at SuccessTech Academy high school in Cleveland, Ohio shot four people, including two teachers and two students. Coon had been suspended for fighting two days previously, and returned on October 10 with a .22- caliber revolver and .38-caliber revolver shooting. He had a duffel bag filled with ammo and three knives. (SuccessTech is a 250 mostly African American student specialized school that concentrates on math and technology, funded by a Gates Foundation grant.)

The four shooting victims who were seriously injured (none died) are identified as:

Michael Peek, 15, shot in the left side;
Darnell Rodgers, 17, wounded in the elbow;
Michael Grassie, 42, shot in the chest; and
David Kachadourian, 57, shot in the back.

Teachers Kachadourian and Grassie, as well as 15-year-old Peek, remained hospitalized in stable condition on October 11, 2007. Additionally, a 15-year-old girl sustained a knee injury while fleeing.

Coon killed himself.

Reports of Coon being in and out of mental health treatment, slapping his mother in 2000, and being a twin are in the news. That his 19 year old brother was arrested the day after the shooting is inexplicable, so far. Digital video recordings of mass confusion in the halls are being playing unedited on Fox News. Other cable channels are mixing in the Cleveland shooting with Iraq and politics, the day after. At least, the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs haven't been mentioned as being a factor. But thoughtful analysis is lacking and understanding is hardly there.

I've written in recent years of the diverse and ethnic underpinnings that must be acknowledged in these school shootings, and the shifting trend from white rural to white suburban to more ethnicities taking on the mantle of Columbine, over and above their own cultural background. This school shooting cries out for further analysis on that level too.

The shooter had a name that hardly can be ignored, and must have been a burden to carry. "Coon" is an insulting term for a black person. "Coon" is known as a derogatory term for African Americans, and is similar to the n-word. Its origins are traced back to a shortened form of the word "raccoon," used in reference to the animal. The black eye masks and noctural habits of the animal paralleled the characteristics of typical robbers and thiefs. The stereotype was then applied to black people. It was used extensively in the South, but then followed blacks into the Northern urban areas where they settled.

This young man named Coon was a white student living alone with a Goth Columbine mentality among AfricanAmericans. He is said to have liked Marilyn Manson versus God. Allegedly, the fight that resulted in his suspension was related to an argument about his Devil worship. Simplistic ways to describe a life, I know, but that is what you get from the media after a shooting.

No one that was shot was killed, other than the shooter. One hundred percentage of educationally-based school shooters are suicidal. Are we surprised this young male walked into the lion's den the way he did?

The media has grabbed this shooting with a second tier fantastic overkill they did with the Virginia Tech killings of 32 + 1 (i.e. the Korean-American Columbine copycat shooter). The news about Coon will last out the week, to be replaced by other news, while the wait is now for the next shooter.

The fingerprints of the copycat effect are all over this shooting. Beside the long-term behavior contagion from the Trenchcoat Mafia of Littleton, there's the short-term media effect of other recent shooting rampages.

On September 21st, two 17-year-old students were wounded when they were shot by a gunman at Delaware State University. Delaware State is a historically black college established in 1891. It was an atypical "school shooting."

Over this last weekend, on Sunday, a "school shooting" occurred in every detail but the fact it wasn't in a school. On October 7, 2007, Crandon, Wisconsin's Tyler Peterson, an employee of the Forest County Sheriff's Department and a part-time officer for the Crandon Police Department, shot seven people, wounding one and killing six in the town. The supposed reason was a broken relationship and the fact he was belittled. The dead ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old. All were current or former Crandon High School students. Peterson killed himself.

When school shootings begin to increase their frequency, so do workplace rampages. Suicidal people are triggered, forgive the pun, by these events. In Alexandria, Louisiana, on Friday, October 5, police shot and killed a man who shot five people in a downtown law office, killing two of them. On Tuesday, October 9th, two people were killed and two were in critical condition after a shooting at a tire store in Simi Valley, California, northwest of Los Angeles. The gunman was also dead.

"Suicide by cop" is merely another form of suicide.

Then, in the scheme of things, Asa Coon, with black trenchcoat, having told people what he was going to do, with black-painted fingernails, walked into the darkness. He found a way into the school, undetected, decided to go into a bathroom, changed his outfit apparently, and came out with guns in his hands, to kill. His suicidal rage ended in only his death, but it may push someone, somewhere over the edge in its wake to kill others. Perhaps even another Columbine cult copycat.

The fall of 2005 had several of the nine school-related incidents that got widespread media attention. People especially remember Montreal's Dawson College shootings (an Indian Sikh-Canadian Columbine copycat) and the Amish School killings. Then in the spring of 2006, other school shooting events preceded the Virginia Tech massacre on April 16th.

The "warm" fall, "cold" winter, and "hot" spring pattern may be at our doorsteps again for 2007-2008, in a shifting sea of culturally diverse shootings that may surprise even the seasoned law enforcers and newspeople.


Anonymous said...


During my highschool years, I listened to death metal, I wore a black trench coat all of the time and I often thought about destroying my school.

I never did, though. And have never committed a crime.

In my case, the reasons for the way I felt stemmed from a number of different sources and my inability to cope with them in any other way. There was a history of abuse at the hands of my peers that extended well back to the first grade, there were some serious issues at home that involved the gender reassignment of my father, as well as physical and sexual abuse at the hands of neighbors.

The only thing that kept me sane was a few (exactly 5) good friends, the fact that the first part of my family life had been relatively stable and nurturing and the incessant curiosity about the universe that I'm a part of that has been a part of me since my earliest memories.

Without any one of these checks, I might have done the same thing these kids are doing now.

It may be that they see that someone else has already laid the groundwork or done the planning for them, hence the copy cat nature of the incidents.

Whatever the reason, inarguably the rise in these types of situations speaks to something much larger being amiss with both the "system" as an institutional device and with the home lives of the kids involved.

On a personal note, I have to admit that seeing the survivors of these horrible scenes saying things like "why would somebody do something like this" has always caused me to cringe because it's so easy for me to see what would cause some one to want to do something like that.


Anonymous said...

First of all, thanks for making the viewers of Cryptomundo, of which I am one, aware of this article.
Like the previous poster, I too wore a black trenchcoat all the time during high school (Still do actually, as long as the weather's cold enough), and felt estranged and victimized by my fellow students. The abuse also dated back well into early grade school, and largely concentrated upon my above-average intelligence, lack of interest in sports, and the fact that part of my last name spelled out a derogatory term for a homosexual. My home life also left much to be desired, at least until my mother attacked me when I was 14 and I was allowed to live with my grandmother after police intervened. Still, those wounds have taken decades to heal.
I too harboured fantasies concerning my school's destruction, although they were never so dark as those of Columbine, etc., and usually involved some outside force (Nazis, Russians, terrorists, aliens, and so on). I suppose those fantasies were shaped by popular culture (The movie "Red Dawn" for the Russian invasion, certainly) as you seem to suggest, and I guess I should be thankful that my high school days were pre-Columbine and my obsession with weaponry more technical than acquisitive and more medieval than modern. It is much easier to outrun a sword than a bullet, and far harder to conceal one than a handgun.
Like the previous poster, it was perhaps my love of knowledge that saved me, and the camaraderie of a few close friends. I suspect a generally gentle nature may have had much to do with it as well. Those who are abused either gain a sympathy for others who are abused, or at least an abhorrence of abuse, or else they become skilled abusers themselves.
One thing I feel very strongly about, however, is how the media paints such a one-sided picture of these unfortunate people, often describing any trenchcoat-wearing youth as monsters, able to snap suddenly at any moment, and without warning. The reality is that almost all of them have displayed clear warning signs (The bullying and suspension of Coon, for example), and that such demonization only serves to further abuse and alienate those who deviate from the norm. It destroys the tolerance necessary for such people to emerge from their shells and flourish as full human beings.
Bullying and intolerance are huge problems in the schools, always have been, and unless they are addressed up front and unblinkingly, always will be.
Until then, such events as these shooting/suicides will be the unfortunate and lamentable result. We ignore them at our peril, but we also sensationalize and simplify them to our own detriment as well.


Morgaine said...

Hi, Loren -

I just found your posts from April and the link to this blog. Just so you know, all the "tragic month of April" stuff has apparently been expunged from Wikipedia. They're really becoming irritating.

I'm female, but was very angry and depressed during my teen years in the late 70's and used to dream of taking a bunch of people out. I was angry at being picked on, and have always been an outsider for a combination of reasons. Thankfully, I wasn't suicidal enough to risk getting caught and I had no access to that kind of firearms. One of the big contributors to this behavior is the ready availablity of ridiculously lethal weapons. I'm sure you saw the case recently where a boy had amasses a veritable aresenal of weapons, some of which were purchased by his mother.

It's a shame that the Goth mentality is becoming associated with this type of violence. Most of the Goth kids I've ever known were sweet, sensitive and creative. Goth tends toward a particular type of beauty - they often wear velvets and satins as well trench coats and both boys and girls are very conscious of their makeup and hair. The line between the vampiric and the satanic is rarely crossed, though I'm sure it will be much more so now. My wish would be that more kids would learn about Paganism as opposed to satanism, and would find that there are ways to express the shadow self that don't involve dangerous patriarchal dichotomies like "good vs. evil." Adolescents experience a natural rush of psychic energy as a part of their sexual maturation, and this culture ignores it rather than teaching them the proper channels for it, leaving them to get their information from badly written movies and rock songs.

I believe that the unexplored aspect of the psychology of these killers is their sense of entitlement. I believe that is why Americans commit so many more murders in general; that is the reason that the trend toward mass murder began with white males; and our media culture is rapidly spreading that sense of entitlement to other ethnicities who want to feel the entitlement that white men in this culture enjoy.

Our values are completely skewed at this point by a steady stream of revenge fantasy as entertainment in movies, songs, and video games. The same entitlement is evident if you look at the phenomenon of men stalking wives and girlfriends, which often culminates in the murder of the female and often of any children involved as well. As Americans, we've adopted the attitude that no one dares offend us in any way, whether by rejecting romantic advances or making fun of our taste in clothing. There's a related phenomenon in the African-American community that gets little press, in which people are attacked or murdered for "fronting" - which can mean something as small as unintentionally scuffing some boys basketball shoes.

Each one of us is a potential Charles Bronson when it comes to our egos, yet we largely "stand passively mute" in the face of larger issues like the subversion of American democracy and the advent of American Christo-fascism.

I'd like to hear any thoughts you have on the subject.


Anonymous said...


I'm a 23 year old university student from Hungary. First of all thanks for sharing so much knowledge on the Columbine copycat effect. I've just recently wrote a paper on Common motifs in U.S. school shootings and found your blog very useful. I've read all
your posts on this subject and now I'm also considering buying your book.
In the second place I was suddened by the methodical spiral of the Columbine effect. After the Cleveland school shooting -which I don't regard a straight cut Collumbine copycat- came the 14 year old Pennsylvanian boy who wanted to copy Columbine and today the Finnish Pekka-Erik Auvinen. As the facts are gathered by the police, the puzzle comes together.
the NBK movie, The Youtube vid about him testing his gun in the forest, the natural selection idea, the suicide all leads us back to Columbine. Terrible. Now I'be curious how much the media will pick up the case.

I'm looking forward your next post.


Anonymous said...

So I've read a few of these responses and find myself both identifying with the posters and, to an extent, with some of the shooters.

Oddly, my past was not that extreme, and I don't think that one needs to have been physically abused to identify with these kids who feel different, estranged. I, too wore a black trenchcoat because I enjoyed the anonymity it gave me. It was pre-Columbine, so there was nothing sinister in it, just another way to hide. I was shy, smart, and angry at the injustice of high school politics.

Did I shoot up my school? No. Did I have friends who might have gone that route? Possibly. What saved all of us was hope and each other. In all of these cases, Columbine especially and seemingly Asa Coon's situation, there is a lack of hope and of reality. We ought to be asking ourselves, why are so many young people feeling so abandoned that death is the only answer that makes sense.

This is a problem for our entire society to address, not an isolated case where we get to play the blame-game and pass the buck on to Marilyn Manson or Doom.

I was reassured to read such intelligent postings, by the way, in which thoughtful responses were typed with correct spelling and decent grammar. There is hope.