In the days and weeks after the shooting, the media put forth many theories in search of an explanation. Some of the most frequently cited reasons include mental illness, a Southern gun culture or culture of violence, a problematic family setting, bullying, and exposure to media violence or media coverage of previous shootings.

Mental Illness

The easiest explanation would be to believe that these boys were simply mentally ill, that there was something terribly wrong with them that could explain why they did this. We have no evidence to support such an explanation. Psychological evaluations were performed on both Andrew and Mitchell, but we were not allowed access to them. According to some who have read the evaluations, there was no conclusive evidence of mental illness, although Andrew was generally thought to be the “darker” of the two. During the criminal proceedings that followed the shooting, Andrew’s lawyer attempted to argue that Andrew was legally insane and incompetent at the time of the shooting. The courts found that juveniles are not entitled to an insanity defense, however, and therefore the full argument was never presented in or evaluated by the court. In addition, there is no evidence that either boy was on any form of medication.

Family Problems

Problems within the family—including divorce, domestic or sexual abuse, frequent relocations, fragile family relationships, as well as lack of awareness or involvement in children’s lives—are another explanation for school shootings that has been put forth in the popular media. Diminishing adult and parental authority over children is another variant on this theme and was frequently mentioned by community residents as a growing problem. Parents are increasingly losing control of their kids, most often because they work long hours and have little time to spend with them. Moreover, many people in the community feel that parents have relinquished authority for disciplining their children to the school, while the school in turn believes that, increasingly, parents are not supportive of the school’s disciplinary decisions.

Problems within the family may offer one of the more persuasive interpretations for the causes of the shooting in this case, although here, as elsewhere, the evidence is mixed. Clearly, there were serious problems in Mitchell Johnson’s family history. His parents were divorced, he had made frequent moves, and he was a relative newcomer to a community that is still thought of as a place where people spend their whole lives.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement