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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
RESEARCH ON SCHOOL RAMPAGE SHOOTINGS
A small number of very recent studies have focused on incidents in which students at a school opened fire on other members of their school community, killing or seriously injuring more than one person. Four studies of youth school rampage shootings are reviewed here: two from the academic literature, two from the professional practitioner literature. While there are some noteworthy discrepancies, the studies paint broadly similar pictures of this rare phenomenon.
Adolescent Mass Murderers
In the wake of the Columbine High School mass murders in April 1999, a group of researchers focused their attention on adolescent mass murders—many of which occurred in school settings and resembled the shootings at Columbine (Meloy et al., 2001). The researchers defined adolescent mass murder as the intentional killing of at least three victims (other than the perpetrator) in a single incident by an individual age 19 or younger. They identified cases through a search of medical, social science, and criminal computer databases. A case was included only if there was sufficient credible information.
The researchers collected evidence from primary data sources—for example, courtroom testimony, scientific articles, interviews with law enforcement personnel involved in the case, and video interviews with the perpetrators, survivors, family members, and witnesses—as well as secondary data sources—for example, newspaper articles. They produced a dataset that covers 27 incidents of mass murder involving 34 perpetrators. Eight of the perpetrators committed their attacks at school. The 27 mass murders accounted for 126 people killed and 84 people injured. All the mass murders occurred between 1958 and 1999, with more than half occurring between 1995 and 1999.
The adolescent mass murderers had the following characteristics: all were male, 80 percent were white, 70 percent were described as “loners,” 43 percent had been bullied by others, 37 percent came from separated or divorced families, 44 percent were described as “fantasizers” (daily preoccupation with fantasy games, book, or hobbies), 42 percent had a history of violence, 46 percent had an arrest history, 62 percent had a substance abuse history, and 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history.
The researchers also noted that 48 percent of the mass murderers were preoccupied with war or weapons. This measure included such behaviors as the acquisition of a large number of weapons, war and weapons-related media, military uniforms, frequent trips to the shooting range, infatuation with street gangs, preoccupation with martial arts, idealization of fictional