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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
fork) attached to a chain that he wore. In attempts to win approval from this group, Carneal stole $100 bills from his father and a fax machine from the home of a friend to give to them. At the time of the shooting, the police believed that at least some of these boys were part of a larger plot to participate in the shooting. Carneal and some of these boys did fantasize together about taking over the mall or the school, but there is no evidence that these boys thought that was more than fantasy or that the fantasy involved actually shooting anyone.
One of the psychologists believes that, at the very least, the older boys manipulated and encouraged Carneal to engage in a variety of illegal activities. When he read the psychologists evaluation, Carneal said that while he agreed that he attempted to gain favor among this group, they did not encourage him in his actions. While it is always possible that Carneal is still protecting his former friends, the kid from the “good” family was not simply a victim of manipulation. Instead, given the consistency with which we heard Carneal described as a “wild” youth, one who stole regularly even in middle school, it seems more likely that Carneal was simply trying to win attention and approval from a new peer group. We have no way of knowing with certainty the internal dynamics of this group; particularly how, if at all, they contributed to Carneal’s decision to proceed with the shooting.
Overall, it seems that Carneal was at a particularly difficult and fragile moment in the development of his identity—academically, socially, and sexually. Coming from a high-achieving family, he seems to have been ambivalent about his middling academic performance, simultaneously striving to improve his grades from middle school and aligning himself with a group that rejected such standards. While he was becoming friends with the unconventional Goth group, he also retained video game-playing friends from middle school and made friends with band students, many of whom fit the “good kid” stereotype that he derided with his Goth friends. He had a crush on Nicole Hadley, who was in the band, a devout Christian who was trying to persuade Carneal to become more religious.
Carneal believed that he did not have the status that he wanted in any of the social groups with which he was connected. He was not the student his sister was; he was the youngest, newest, and least-well known member of the Goth group; he was one of two students who did not get to march in the band; and his romantic interest in Hadley went unreturned. In short, despite the fact that he had a number of roles in different groups, he had not found a successful niche of his own. Given this context, it seems reasonable to assume that Carneal was neither targeting the Christian students nor the preps who tormented him. Rather, the shooting gave him a very public way of asserting power and winning respect from all of the groups in which he felt only marginally included.