School shootings are a form of murder that indiscriminatelytargets victims and wreaks havoc on campuses and across the nation.
Since the massacre at Virginia Tech,attention has sparked with regard to violence, gun control, and campussecurity. There is, without a doubt, agrowing concern among students and families as to the safety of schoolsnationwide. In the wake of the Columbineand Virginia Tech attacks, researchers have been able to identify specificcharacteristics that these unique shooters possess. This research will aid in the implementationof various training, prevention, and response techniques. Following the mass shooting at Virginia Tech,several issues are being debated on campuses, in law enforcement agencies,media, and government entities. The issuesof debate are access to guns and the control of firearms, campus carry laws,the availability of mental health services and its utilization, and preventionand training techniques (Greenberg,2007). The potential characteristicsand identifiable behavioral patterns will be discussed as well as theaforementioned debated issues.The Federal Bureau of Investigation conducted a study on massshooting incidents in an attempt to better understand and better prepare forthese specific acts of violence.
The FBIuses the term “active shooter” to define a shooting that is in progress,located in a largely populated, enclosed area, and being carried out by asingle individual. These parametersallowed the FBI to identify 160 active shooter incidents between the years of2000 and 2013. This is an average of11.4 incidents per year, with the number of incidents increasing significantlybetween the years of 2006 and 2013. There were over 1000 victims of these active shooter incidents,including the 486 deaths as a result (U.S. Department of Justice, 2014).
There have been several criminological theories that are meant toexplain criminal and violent behavior, but the complexity of human behaviorcontinues to elude researchers with regard to campus shooters. As researchers have found through paststudies, identifying the reasoning behind the behavior after the act proves tobe difficult when attempting to implement techniques in aiming to prevent it (U.S.
Department of Justice, 1999). AnExamination of a School ShooterOn April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho carried out the worst schoolshooting in our nation’s history. Atapproximately 7:15 a.m., Cho opened fire on the campus of Virginia PolytechnicInstitute and State University, killing 32 people and wounding 17 beforeturning his weapon on himself and committing suicide (U.S. Department of Justice, 2010).
This quickly sparked questions regarding thereasoning behind such a heinous act. This brought Cho’s personal and mental health history into question asresearchers attempt to understand his behavior.Seung-Hui Cho was considered to be quiet and timid in socialsituations.
He suffered great setbacksboth personally and scholastically due to his elevated level of socialawkwardness. In middle school he often suffered from paranoid delusions andmorbid ideations of repeating the actions at Columbine. It was during this time that his behavior andwritings began to concern school officials.
Upon receipt of the school concerns, Cho’s parents obtained apsychological evaluation, which resulted in diagnoses of major depression andselective mutism and a prescription for paroxetine (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008). These diagnoses combined with his socialawkwardness only further perpetuated life of seclusion. Upon his acceptance to Virginia Tech, the information regardinghis mental health history did not accompany him, but his alienation from othersand isolation continued to escalate.
Hislimited interactions with others were deemed disturbing and threatening tooneself, which resulted in a mental health evaluation. He was held overnight due to his perceivedthreat of harm to oneself and returned home.Cho lived a life of solitude and isolation. He often felt persecuted by others and had ahistory of paranoia, suicidal thoughts, and homicidal ideations (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008). Studies have shown that a history ofisolation, hate, desire for attention, and a desire to punish due to feelingsof persecution are characteristics of a school shooter (U.S. Department of Justice, 1999). Cho differs from other school shooters inthat he kept his carefully laid plans to himself.
He waited until moments before his death tomail his intentions and delusional rationalization for his attack (Flynn & Heitzmann, 2008).Christopher Harper-Mercer made headlines as the newest collegecampus shooter. His history of mentalillness began in his early teenage years. He has spoken about his depression due to being unwanted and hated sincechildhood.
He had Asberger’s syndrome,which is known to inhibit social development and ignite emotional meltdowns(O’Meara, 2015). School shootings have been plaguing schools for decades and isbecoming increasingly more worrisome across the nation. This is a crime that rarely discriminates andaffects those whom experience it, their families, and the community. School campus shootings are becoming moreprevalent and are occurring throughout all school settings. From elementary educational settings tocollege campuses, school shooters have made their presence known, forcing anincrease in precautionary detail. Thereare several underlying issues, including their familial background, biologicalor psychological disorders that may cause a change in personality that resultsin the drive to harm others and/or themselves. Psychological AbnormalitiesThe mental health history of the perpetrator is an extremely vitalcomponent in the understanding of school rampage shootings. Mental illness plays a significant role inthe likelihood to commit violent acts.
Althoughmental illness is not considered to be a cause for the commission of crimes, itdoes play a significant role in the commonalities of the school shooter. During late adolescence through mid-20s ismany people begin showing symptoms of mental illness. Stress has been found to be a contributingfactor in the onset of mental illness. In fact, several extreme psychological disorders are said to presentthemselves when the individual reaches an elevated level of stress, as in youngadulthood. The most common forms ofmental illness and psychological disorders that have a tendency to manifest inadolescence and early adulthood are schizophrenia, depression, bipolardisorder, and various anxiety disorders (American Psychiatric AssociationAPA, 2000). College students are morelikely to develop a psychotic break than any other age group due to the influxof stress during that time.In recent studies concerning campus shootings, researchers havebeen able to show a strong correlation between mental illness and psychiatricdrugs and an increase likelihood of engaging violent acts such as schoolshootings. Recent research shows thatindividuals between the ages of 15 and 24 and currently taking antidepressants,are 50% more likely to commit a violent crime.
Out of at least 35 campus shootings, nearly 250 people were killed orwounded by a person currently taking or withdrawing from a psychiatric drug(O’Meara, 2015). In a 2009 study of fivecampus rampage shootings, all of the perpetrators possessed some form ofpsychological disorder or mental illness. The five perpetrators that were studied were diagnosed with disorderssuch as schizophrenia and paranoia, and all of them were linked to psychiatricmedications such as mood stabilizers and antipsychotics (Newman & Fox,2009). Risk FactorsMass shooters often share some of the same characteristics, manythat have very little to do with mental illness. For example, Cho was extremely shy and oftenbullied by his classmates and members of his family’s church. He kept himself isolated from others andwrote disturbing stories.
He purchasedhis first handgun five weeks before the incident, and he carefully planned outhis attack on Virginia Tech.Harper-Mercer, on the other hand was a product of divorcedparents. He lived a relatively quiet andisolated life with his mother while he attended a private school foremotionally disturbed students.
Heenlisted in the U.S. Army only to be discharged for failing basic training andan inability to pass administration duties and basic math and science. According to Dr. James Knoll, these types of murderers collect injusticesand often have feelings of resentment and social persecution due to theirperceived notion of rejection and humiliation. It is because of this resentment that they begin to harbor grudgestowards their peers and focus inward on their paranoid worldviews. They often long for a situation in which theyare in control and have power over people. Before long, anger, despair, and selfishness begin to take over andproject violence and revenge, and others begin to see this person in adifferent light.
They often expect todie in the commission of their crime, either by their own hand or scriptedperfectly as to be killed by police (Frances, 2014).PsychopathologyThe identification of crime as a psychopathology, or thedevelopment or manifestations of mental or behavioral disorders, is often atopic for debate. Crime can beconsidered a psychopathology in that it often manifests as a result of a mentaldisorder, familial instability or neglect, and various biological factors. Furthermore, various strain theories that areused to explain deviant or criminal behavior have also been used to explain theprogression of mental illness. There are several areas of psychopathology, of which crime wouldidentify.
Raine states that crimeinvolves a deviation from the norm, weakened mental and social functioning, andconcern for health. Previous evidencehas shown that antisocial personality disorder often correlates to criminalactivity and violent behavior. Sociologyand antisocial personality disorder possess criterion that are synonymous withthat of crime. Those diagnosed withantisocial personality disorder have personality traits such as egocentricity,pathological lying, and callousness, all of which are traits ofcriminality. He stated that criminalbehavior is may be more biological than once thought (Raine, 1993). Conclusion Schooland campus violence continues to escalate across the country. The implementation of training for students,educators, and law enforcement officials is imperative in the prevention offuture attacks on school grounds.
Providing training in the recognition behavioral patterns and cues are necessaryin both the prevention of violent behavior and ensuring the individual obtainthe necessary treatment for any underlying issues from which they may besuffering. Research, training, protection, and prevention is the key toreducing the number of campus shootings across the nation.