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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
astonishing degree of distance in the relationship. There was no evidence either of family violence or child abuse and neglect in any of the cases examined. The parents seemed to remain involved with their children and vigilant of their conduct. Relationships within the family did not change markedly in the period leading up to the shooting.
The case writers also gathered information about the social standing of the offenders and the quality of relationships they had with their peers. Although the expectation was that the shooters would be isolated loners, this was true of only one suburban shooter—the one diagnosed with attention deficit disorder before the shooting and who attempted suicide shortly after the incident occurred. All the others had a status that could be described as marginal. The urban youth were members of marginal groups, and the rural youth seemed to be on the periphery of many groups rather than firmly at the center of any single group. One theme was that the offenders were the kinds of youth who sought to draw attention to themselves through practical jokes or joking around. Often, their humor seemed inappropriate to others. This may suggest the importance to these youth of their standing in their peer community, and that they were struggling with a significant gap between their desired status and the status they actually experienced.
More interesting and important is that, in six of the seven shootings, the offenders had recently changed their relationship with their peers. The only case in which this was not true was the case involving the loner. Also of importance is that in the three suburban-rural cases, the shooters had a recent experience of being rejected by a girl. This supports the idea that one of the factors fueling these shootings was a struggle to find status, understand masculinity, and develop relations with members of the opposite sex. When these desires were frustrated and there seemed to be nowhere to turn, a dramatic, violent act may have provided an attractive avenue of expression.
The case study method allowed the committee to explore whether important contagion mechanisms were operating to spread and elevate the violence. While we cannot say much about whether such mechanisms were at work in spreading lethal violence in inner-city schools, or the extent to which inner-city violence seemed to have leapt out of the inner city and touched off the increase in lethal violence in the suburban and rural areas, we can address the extent to which contagion mechanisms seemed to elevate and spread school rampage shootings.
It turns out that only some of the suburban shooters were aware of other shootings, and in only one case (the one involving the loner) were the