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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
His troubled relationship with his father was a source of much anxiety for him, and the thought of possibly having to live with his father made him feel hopeless. He had suffered repeated sexual abuse, and while it is not uncommon for children to fear telling anyone about such abuse, Mitchell’s fears were aggravated by his worries about his father’s temper.
Mitchell also seemed to have inherited that temper and was known to overreact and to displace his anger. For example, his teachers said that he felt slighted or put upon by even light teasing or jabs. They also said that he took dating quite seriously, and his friends believed that he would overreact when girls dumped him. Mitchell also seemed to have problems with particular teachers and was known to hold a personal grudge against a teacher who disciplined him. His response to anger, frustration, and abuse was to lash out, frequently not at those responsible for the abuse but at innocent bystanders. When Mitchell was being picked on or bullied, he bullied others, and his fondling of a 2-year-old may have been a response to the sexual abuse he suffered himself. Various people close to Mitchell have suggested that the shooting was a displacement of the anger and frustration he felt toward some family members and his abuse.
Still, Mitchell’s life with his mother and stepfather in Bono was more stable than he had ever known before. His mother and stepfather were seen as caring and concerned parents and, by all accounts, Mitchell got along with both of them. His mother was at home and had made efforts to get Mitchell help for some of his problems, at least in connection to the fondling incident. Although Mitchell may have had a lot of unstructured time when his parents were not aware of his activities, it was not necessarily more so than other children. It is not clear whether Mitchell received enough attention and supervision from his family, but family members were certainly available for him and involved at least in his disciplinary problems at school.
In contrast to Mitchell’s more clearly troubled family history, Andrew Golden’s family background seemed to be remarkably stable. His family was close, and they were well-respected long-time residents of the community. In general, his father and his grandmother were involved in his life at school and wanted him to keep out of trouble; when teachers raised minor issues—like Andrew’s making other children feel jealous in kindergarten by selecting who could and could not play with a bag of toy guns he had brought to school—his parents were willing to oblige the teachers and have him keep the toy guns at home. Yet his family was overindulgent and generally gave him his way. In the middle school, Andrew’s parents pulled him out of a class when he complained to them that a teacher had spoken harshly to him about not acting up in class and distracting other students. Teachers and neighbors suspected that Andrew was not disciplined for misbehaving. His family may have even