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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
events and mistreatments by his peers. However, it was also the case that, because of his personality and mental condition, Michael was sensitive to feeling mistreated, and may have reacted strongly to incidents that other students were able to tolerate.”8 When asked by psychiatrists whether he thought about going to jail, he said he thought jail would be better than school because at least the teasing would stop. Because of his paranoia and general inability to read social cues (see the section on mental illness, below), Carneal probably magnified the impact of very real ill treatment such that it provided a motivation for the shooting.
However, it is important to keep in mind that there is no known history of Carneal being teased by any of the students he shot in the prayer group and that the students he identified as his nemeses were not in the prayer group. We would suggest that, as Carneal himself has said, the shooting was not retribution for past wrongs done to him. Instead it was an attention-getting act that he thought would bring him the power and respect that he deserved.
Peer and Social Relations
Some have painted school shooters as children who are particularly socially isolated, have few or no friends, and have trouble making friends of the opposite sex. Michael Carneal fits this stereotype in some respects but not in others. Although many people said they considered him a friend, he thought of himself as someone without any friends, someone whom no one at school liked. He had an ex-girlfriend who said she loved him, even after the shooting. However, he had difficulty forming close relationships with others and was socially insecure about the relationships that he did have. He was not close to his sister or any relatives outside his immediate family. In middle school he considered suicide on a number of occasions, and in August 1997 he intentionally cut himself on the forearm but told adults the self-inflicted would was from a bicycle accident. Undoubtedly his perceived alienation from those around him should be considered one cause of the shooting.
He also expressed considerable antagonism toward the school’s “preps,” a loosely defined group of popular students. He had made buttons that said, “preps suck” and had written a story called “Halloween Surprise” in which preps are attacked with grenades and a shotgun by the brother of a boy named Mike. Carneal said in depositions that he objected to the preps because he thought they acted as if they were better than other students. However, while there are some preps in the prayer circle, on the whole it seems that the prayer circle is heavily composed of students from the band, at least some of whom were also Carneal’s friends. As one respondent plainly put it, “If he wanted to