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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
healing that people in the community go through, each side thinks the other is wrong. Those closer to the center feel that others are repressing their feelings and will never get through their trauma if they do not talk about it. Those on the periphery think those in the center are dwelling on the past and need to stop.
Some feel that the community has become closer and more cohesive in the aftermath of the shooting. There were many acts of generosity and caring as neighbors banded together to help one another. One victim’s family did not have furniture in their house trailer, and a local business furnished their home for free. A local restaurant sent food to the families and counselors who were meeting at the school on the night of the shooting. The local branch of the United Way established a fund for the victims and collected half a million dollars from around the world. Some rifts within the community were also resolved. There had been a ministerial alliance—a consortium of different churches’ leaders who would meet regularly to discuss issues of common concern. In the previous 10 or 15 years, it had divided over whether or not the churches should get involved in the political issue of the county’s being wet or dry. After the shooting, the two ministerial alliances decided to put their differences aside and work together, uniting to form the Jonesboro Ministerial Alliance.
Some community leaders do say that they feel this cohesion may only be skin deep. The issues that formed the ministerial alliance have not yet been resolved, and the generosity that arises in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy may fall apart and turn sour later on. Yet many in Jonesboro try to focus on more positive interpretations. Several Westside students noted that their class is now much closer and that bullying and cliques are less of a concern because of their shared experiences of the shooting.
No single cause accounts for the behavior of Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden. The cumulative impact of the forces that span the individual, the family, the school and society are all involved. Both boys were troubled. Mitchell had a very difficult and stormy relationship with his father and a history of sexual abuse, both as a victim and in turn as an abuser. He had trouble controlling his temper and flew off the handle over slights—being teased by peers or being dumped by a girlfriend. These incidents became a channel for a deeper anger. Indeed, it is possible that the abuse Mitchell suffered as a child intensified normal adolescent male concern over masculinity that was subsequently reinforced by a real failure with a girl. As we have not seen the psychiatric reports, we do not know whether this possibility has been examined in any therapeutic setting.