By Pod 1: Skylar Cole, Alexis Townsend, Sophia Pearson
In examining the aspects in Mass Murders & Murderers, this article will focus on school shootings as the topic of investigation. This article will address some of the worst mass school shootings in history and elaborate on the cultural, ethical, and scientific impacts these events have distilled upon American society. On April 20, 1999, at a high school located in Littleton Colorado, “two teens went on a shooting spree” leaving 13 people dead and over 20 others wounded.On December 14, 2012, at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut, a “mass shooting [occurred] that left 28 people dead and 2 injured.”On May 18, 1927, a man bombed Bath Consolidated School which likely took “months to plan and prepare for”, leaving 38 children and six adults dead. To what extent do these tragedies impact our culture as Americans? Are there specific victims targeted during these mass shootings by mass murderers?
At exactly 11:19 in the morning on April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “dressed in trench coats [and] began shooting fellow students outside Columbine High School.” After leaving a mass number of innocent individuals dead from gunshot wounds, Klebold and Harris turned the guns on themselves and committed suicide shortly after 12 in the afternoon. Upon investigating the motives behind the mass shootings, investigators speculated that “Harris and Klebold purposefully chose athletes, minorities, and Christians” as their victims. One of the victims named Cassie, admitted to one of the gunmen that she believed in God. Upon his inquisition, he shot her in the head. Cassie’s parents went on to write a book called She Said Yes as a tribute to their beloved daughter who so tragically lost her life during this mass shooting. Ever since the Columbine High School shooting occurred, there have been numerous publications both in the media and on television bringing awareness to this horrible tragedy. One of high popularity and attention is the song Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People which debuted in 2010 and has received a lot of public attention. The chorus of the song which sings, “All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun…You’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet” has a dark meaning correlated to the Columbine mass shooting that took place in 1999. The band wrote this song as a tribute to the victims who lost their lives, culturally appealing to the general population as songs and artists are listened to and valued by society.
On the morning of December 14, 2012, shortly after 9:30, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place “that left 28 people dead and 2 injured.” Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza first shot his own mother at their home and then took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. Afterwards, he proceeded to take his own life. Upon breaching security and invading the school, Lanza first shot the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach. Fortunately, the gunshots were heard over the school’s public-address broadcast system and teachers immediately took action to protect their students. Despite their safety protocol and precautions to take cover, Lanza was able to break into Mrs. Lauren Rousseau’s classroom and kill everyone in the room. At around 9:35 AM, law enforcement received their first call from the school and arrived on the scene within minutes. Police found Lanza “near the door to Soto’s classroom, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”This mass shooting was considered to be one of the worst school shootings in history. Yet in 2004, the bill passed by the United States Congress banning the AR-15 gun that Lanza had used, was allowed to lapse. What does this have to say about our culture and values?
At 8:45 on the morning of May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, former Township Treasurer and school board member killed 44 people, one of them being his own wife by setting off explosives at Bath School in Township, Michigan. After he bombed the school, Kehoe “killed himself by detonating a final device in his truck.” As Irene Dunham, former student at Bath School who stayed at home due to being sick described it, “I wish I could really tell you, dear, how awful it was.” This is coming from a 109-year-old woman who survived the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression and both World Wars, yet considered this tragedy at Bath School to be even more atrocious. The cultural representation here is displayed by the age of this incident and the fact that even in the 2000’s, reporters and investigators are still exploring a mass murder that happened over 80 years ago.
Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Bath all cumulate to form some of the worst mass school shootings/murders that have been recorded in history. As a culture, these events have been impactful, yet instances like these continue to occur. This leads to the conclusion that although society is impacted by cultural beliefs and despite the urgency to accept all types of beliefs, there are still people out there who will take extreme measures to promote their opinions, which wreaks havoc on society. Whether it be ethnic groups, religion, skin color, or any other difference in human composition, there has proven to be a correlation between cultural beliefs and mass school shootings as revealed through patterns in mass murderers’ victims.
School shootings are, for the most part, solely an American phenomenon. Why is this? Some may suggest it is because of the lack of gun control and ethics in the media. In 1994, Bill Clinton signed into law a ban on assault weapons that had an effective period of 10 years. Congress let the law lapse after it expired. After a period of fourteen years, DiMaggio and his coauthors studied the effects of the law, before, during, and after the law was in effect. They concluded that the ban on assault weapons did have a significant impact on the number of mass shootings occurring in America. The study concluded that, “mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur during the federal ban period” and “the assault weapons ban period was associated with an approximately 85% reduction in mass shooting fatalities.” However, some shooters did not use automatic weapons to carry out their crimes. Many used whatever was already available to them at their own homes.
This argument leads many away from the ethics of gun control and towards the ethics of the media and how these tragedies are reported. Guns have been legal in our country since the ratification of the second amendment in 1791. Why are mass shootings at schools recently becoming such a problem? Advanced weaponry and automatic weapons certainly can aid it, but this cannot be the only reason. What has changed is our culture and reactions to these violent acts. The media glorifies the shooters. Their names are plastered on every TV channel and newspaper. These shooters are almost always ignored or bullied by classmates, but after the shooting, their names are known by everyone. This promotes the next kid who feels the same ostracism to respond the same way and go out in a “blaze of glory.”
In our culture, breaking news is more of a sensational account made for entertainment than for factual retelling of events as they happened. Viewers prefer to watch the entertaining version, so there is capital gain for the companies to put out sensationalized reports. One writer outlines the stages of media coverage as the following: tragic shock, first witness reports, identification of shooter, description of shooter’s character, branding of the shooting, official response and report, and a repetition of the cycle as more information becomes known. Reporters build on the shock as more knowledge becomes available, usually making the shooter out to be a white male who was troubled from bullying, mental illness, and/or a traumatic home life. The shooter is not represented as a monster for the most part. Instead, the media focuses on the fact that they themselves were children, ignoring the dozens of children killed by the shooters. This media encourages future shooters to commit their own heinous acts against their own schools. Studies have shown, “significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are inspired by similar events in the immediate past, with the highest risk within 13 days.” Thousands of threats against schools were heard in the weeks following Columbine. Apart from just threats, in the 17 years following the Columbine shootings, over 115 school shootings actually occurred. These were in part due to young adult novels, which are a form of media, which were dedicated to the topic of school shootings. The popular song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People also talks about students running away from a shooter in their school. Many children sang this song when it was popular while giving no thought to the actual lyrics. They were considered to be a normal and ethical part of our culture.
In the news, higher body count is considered to be a more atrocious story, which is, in turn, more entertaining to the masses. Entertaining does not mean that all Americans watching the news are enjoying the stories that are put before them, but, rather simply, that they are watching at all and talking about the stories. Killing more people gives a shooter more media coverage and a longer period in the infamous limelight. Broadcasting and making known the names of these killers tells the story of their troubled pasts. This gives other troubled kids a martyr to look up to. Past shooters, because of the attention they have received, inspire future shooters. According to his diaries and writings found in the investigation following the event, the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters inspired the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza. Their stories were made known and resounded with Lanza’s own feelings, leading him to decide that a similar act would get him the attention he desired. To combat this repercussion of reporting, some outlets have begun refusing to name the shooter at all in certain cases.
These tragedies must be reported, but the reports seem to be causing more problems. This is because the reports are not ethical in nature. Children are the victims of school shootings. Children do not understand the culture around them as much as adults do, and are growing up in a traumatic world. Children are not mature enough to handle the visceral reporting styles so often used today, especially when their own peers are the subjects of these reports. A professor at Brown University expressed that “children’s vulnerability means they have right to greater privacy even if such heightened protection is not provided by laws.” Parental consent is not currently required in these situations, and children can be broadcast without their knowledge. The child could be haunted by their own memory of this trauma and doesn’t need a media reminder of the incident. Therefore, protecting the children affected by the tragedy should always be the first priority to the reporters. This ethical reporting that protects victims and doesn’t glorify the immoral criminal could cut down on future shootings more effectively than gun control would.
Another approach to cut down on future shootings would be to prioritize mental health in America. School shootings, although there are more than there should be, are still relatively new and uncommon. Therefore, there is a lack of scientific information surrounding the topic. There is also a lack of a uniformed system to identify a school shooter due to the fact that all cases are different, including the psychology of the shooters. There has been an initiative recently to understand the psychology behind school shooters and mass murders in general. The Safe School Initiative (SSI) has been trying to identify potential threats by making a “threat assessment” for schools. They have strayed away from the idea of making a profile and trying to find children who fit that profile, but instead have made the threat assessment more individualized. Professionals in this capacity would focus on a troubled individual and acquire information about them from the people that know them to see if they are a potential threat and to prevent anything from happening. Although every shooter and school shooting is different psychologically, there are many similarities in the majority of the cases. Typically, the shooters are young white males that have a mental disorder. Most of the time the assailant has depression and feels rejected from society. Shooters can also suffer from schizophrenia and/or an antisocial personality disorder such as sociopathy or psychopathy, but this is not true for all shooters.
School shooters often times are depressed to the point where they are suicidal and have lots of built up anger within them. In fact, many times after going on shooting rampages, trying to make a big impact and kill as many people as possible, the shooter kills himself. School shooters are hard to predict most of the time because they typically do not have a history of violent behavior and many make good grades. Although they do not outwardly display violence, many shooters engage in violence through video games, movies, and writing. These offenders also have a history of anger issues and outbursts due to these issues. Although they constantly feel like they are worthless loners, rejected from society, a majority of the time there is an event that can be pinpointed that sets the shooter on their path. Typically, this event is triggering, like being rejected by someone specific. On occasion during the shooting spree, they will target the person who they feel wronged them. These shootings are well thought out beforehand and meticulously planned, the shooter usually is trying to convey a message and go out with a bang. A theme that has been noted is that prior to the incident there is a “leakage” of information about the shooting, where the assailant either tells someone about their plans or it is seen through their writing or schoolwork. Another theme is that there is a lack of closeness at home with their family.
The shooter is not the only person who psychologists look at. The victims and surrounding community are deeply affected as well. The survivors of a shooting are severely impacted because they tend to develop mental health problems. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the most prevalent in survivors as well as Major Depressive Disorder. The distress from the incident can also lead to alcoholism and substance abuse. Most of the time, with help from professionals the effect from these disorders can be reduced over time. There are many different reactions survivors may have after a school shooting. After time, some survivors develop a newfound appreciation for life, because they know that that could change quickly. Others, especially people who were closer to the incident or victims, tend to continue to have mental health issues. The closer in proximity or relation the person is, the more severely their mental health is impacted. The community is affected too, and people tend to feel unsafe in public places. Females and people of lower socioeconomic status tend to develop more problems with their mental health as well. Having a strong support system is critical in the recovery process, as people without a support system tend to feel the effects of mental disorders more than those with one. Victims and survivors have a plethora of emotions after a shooting. Mental health care professionals are necessary to help them sort through these emotions and overcome disorders. Even if the survivors do not use the professional’s help, it is good for their mental health to know that the resource is there if they need it and that people are there for them. Although children tend to bounce back faster than adults, mental health professionals need to stay and help the survivors long term because for many, the effects will still be present and they will need help coping.
In conclusion, school shootings are a result of cultural, ethical, and scientific factors. As seen, there are many examples of shootings being influenced by other shootings. Shooters see people with similar mentalities and carry out their own crimes in response to get the same glorification. This is representative of their mental health problems that are usually undiagnosed or untreated. This produces the frightening culture of America and the fear children have of going to school, not knowing whether or not they will make it home that day.
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