noses are difficult to make objectively after the fact in cases like these. Moreover, in young adolescents, it can be hard for nonprofessionals to distinguish the early stages of mental illness from the ordinary confusion that kids tend to have about the world.
Only two of the shooters (both suburban/rural) had any diagnosis or clear sign of mental health problems prior to age 12. One of these had been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in grade 4, and the other, the 11-year old shooter, had shown signs of conduct disorder, noted by the case study authors. After the events occurred, three other offenders (one-inner-city, two suburban) were diagnosed with mental illness. Another, one of the youngest shooters, had molested a two-year-old child. In addition, two of the offenders made an explicit suicidal gesture during the shooting, and one of these (later diagnosed with schizophrenia) repeatedly tried to commit suicide once he was in custody. Suicidal thinking was a prominent feature in all of the suburban and rural shooters studied.
A common legal standard for finding people not guilty by reason of insanity is that they are not aware of the consequences of their actions at the time they took them. None of these cases rises to that standard. In fact, there is evidence of both premeditation and rational calculation. In all the cases, the offenders made preparations to commit the offenses: they acquired weapons. They made plans for the shooting. They warned their peers that something big would happen. All this adds up to strong evidence of a kind of rationality that exposes the shooters to harsh judgments of culpability.
At the same time, in the cases of the rural and suburban shooters, the worries that prompted the shootings appear to be exaggerated, as were the hopes that attended the shootings. The circumstances were not well judged, the purposes were obscure, and the means were inappropriate to the ends. This sort of thinking does not provide a legal excuse for the action, but it is important to recognize it in adolescents in making a just and effective response.
The information gathered on the family background of the shooters included not only the basic structural conditions, but also something about the family interactions and the ways in which they were changing over time. We expected to find a significant amount of family pathology and a low degree of parental involvement in the lives of their children. There was some evidence of this, but it was by no means a universal pattern across the offenders. Two of the three inner-city shooters and two of the five rural and suburban shooters lived in intact, stable families at the time of the shooting. In two rural cases, the case writers found evidence of parental conflict. In one case, a videotape of the interaction between the mother of the offender and the offender suggested to the case writer an