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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
taking over the school and the mall as a genuine desire to do so. Carneal also may have incorrectly assessed the willingness of his friends to participate once the shooting began. His social insecurities led him to believe that he was not respected by his peers and that bringing guns to school would earn him respect. His depression magnified these fears and may have affected his judgment.
However, he was also able to conceal the extent of his fears so that even those living with him had no idea what was going on in his head. Evidently, this is not unusual among adolescents who later develop fullblown cases of psychiatric disorders, which are notoriously difficult to diagnose in 14-year-olds. He believed that anyone he turned to for help would be attacked by the same “demons” who were, by this time, threatening him. This goes some distance toward explaining why he did not turn to his family for help.12
Whatever its extent at the time of the shooting, Carneal’s mental illness has intensified in the time since, developing into a full-blown paranoid schizophrenia, according to treating psychologist Dr. Kathleen O’Connor. After the Columbine shootings he fell into deep psychosis, blaming himself for those shootings, and twice attempted suicide. He has been extensively treated with medications for his psychosis, because, according to the psychologist, who worked in tandem with a psychiatrist in treating him, verbal therapy was not effective with someone whose problems were so severe: “When someone is as paranoid as he became, talking just wasn’t going to get to it. We had to get the psychosis into remission … with medication.”13 O’Connor believes that mental illness was a primary factor in the shootings, that Carneal committed the homicides in part because he was unable to continue functioning in normal society, and that the shooting relieved him of the need to do so.
Exposure to Media Violence
Carneal was undoubtedly exposed to a variety of violent video games, movies, and imagery. He had been playing violent video games since he was a child, according to his reports and those of friends. These games included Mortal Kombat and MechWarrior, favorites of millions of American teenagers. Carneal told a psychologist that he preferred “thinking games” and frequently played chess with his father.14 When asked in a police interview the morning of the shooting whether he had read or seen anything like his shooting spree, he mentioned the movie Basketball Diaries.15 In the movie, the lead figure takes revenge on a Catholic school priest who had abused him by shooting the priest and a number of his classmates to the cheers of some of his friends. While this was widely reported in the media at the time, Carneal later denied that the movie had