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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
Andrew had a reputation in his neighborhood as a menace and was reported to have been cruel to animals; he appeared to many in the community to be spoiled by his family, and some speculated that a lack of discipline at home may have led him to think he could get away with anything. Andrew may also have been teased at school. However, nothing in the disciplinary histories of either child suggested to school officials that these boys were particularly troubled. There is also no evidence that either boy had formed close or long-lasting relationships with adults outside their families who might have helped them deal with their problems, but they were clearly well loved by members of their own households.
As a team, Andrew and Mitchell were able to access a veritable arsenal of weapons. Some of those weapons were left unsecured in Andrew’s home, and the others used in the attack were secured only by a cable in Andrew’s grandfather’s locked home. None of the weapons used were equipped with trigger locks. Not only did the boys have access to firearms, but Andrew had the experience and facility with rifles and hunting that allowed them to plan and execute the attack with a degree of proficiency that surprised even the local police.
Finally, while it is not clear what role the media played in this tragedy, many felt that it was a factor. Both Andrew and Mitchell were known to play violent shooting video games with friends, although Mitchell’s family did not have such games at home. The extent and the explicit content of their media viewing habits are not known, but a friend said that Mitchell watched and talked about gory movies, and teachers and other adults who knew Andrew said that he watched and mimicked television programs such as South Park and Beavis and Butthead. While there is no evidence that either Andrew or Mitchell got the idea of a school shooting from previous media coverage of the Pearl or Paducah incidents, a few people close to the boys say that they may have been influenced by the fame and attention, though negative, that such an attack would bring. Yet it must be said that millions of American teenagers watch the same films and TV programs, so it is problematic to assign their viewing undue weight.
While residents in the Westside and Jonesboro communities are still unable to explain why this tragedy happened, they are generally quick to tell us, “If it could happen at Westside, it could happen anywhere.” Many urged that school districts, communities, and indeed the nation simultaneously work to prevent and prepare for school shootings.
Like a powerful earthquake, the impact of the Westside school shooting was felt far and wide. Few were unaffected by the images of the young boys who were responsible for such a heinous crime. While most people have moved on, those closest to the epicenter are still affected in powerful ways, and their lives will never be the same.