availability and ubiquity of guns appears to have normalized guns in this community. This may help to explain why none of the students who saw Carneal with a gun in school the month before the shooting said anything to adults about it, even though Carneal told them that “something big is going to happen on Monday.”

Bullying and Teasing

When asked by police why he shot his fellow classmates, Carneal’s first response was that he was tired of being picked on. Then, and in later conversations with psychiatrists and psychologists, he detailed patterns of harassment going back to elementary school. Some were relatively minor, like having water flicked on him in the bathroom or being called “four eyes” (for wearing glasses). Others were more serious, including one incident in which he was allegedly hit on the back of the head, and another in which he was “noogied” until his head bled. There was also mild hazing that came with joining the band. On one band trip, Carneal was rolled up in a blanket and hit with sock balls by older band members before a chaperone intervened. Carneal reported that he was picked on by older band members nearly every day.

He also reported being called “gay” and a “faggot” multiple times daily after the publication, in eighth grade, of a student newsletter that noted in the “Rumor Has It” gossip column that he liked another boy. Numerous past and present students at the school said that they did not know anyone their age who was openly gay, and that it was a source of shame to have acquired that label. While such a stigma would be hard for an adolescent boy to manage in any part of the country, it is possible that the conservative social mores of the South make the accusation of homosexuality particularly difficult. Carneal told his therapist that this bullying had increased significantly after the publication of the column. This was one of the factors that precipitated Carneal’s slumping grades in eighth grade.7

There is a considerable discrepancy between what Carneal reported about harassment or teasing and the views expressed in our interviews with his fellow students. From his classmates’ perspective, Carneal was not picked on any more or less than other students, and he quite consistently picked on other students himself. Because he was loud, a prankster and a jokester, many of the other students thought he was better able to defend himself than other, quieter students. How do we reconcile these two images of Carneal? We would largely agree with one of the psychologists, who, after several lengthy interviews with Carneal and conversations with a number of his friends at school, concluded: “Michael’s experience of being teased and harassed at school stems largely from real



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