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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
and nonfictional violent characters, and taking a nickname associated with a violent figure or violent theme.
Precipitating events or triggers, such as personal loss or status threat, were documented in 59 percent of the attacks. These triggers usually preceded the violent event by only a few hours or days.
Meloy and his colleagues (2001) developed a typology of adolescent mass murderers that includes the following categories: family annihilator, classroom avenger, criminal opportunist (who commits mass murder during the commission of a crime, such as eliminating witnesses to a robbery), bifurcated killers (who combine family annihilation and classroom revenge), and a miscellaneous group with diverse motives ranging from sensation-seeking to occult beliefs. Family annihilators and classroom avengers were much more likely to consciously ponder mass murder and premeditate an attack plan. Classroom avengers were more likely to be the victims of bullying and preoccupied with fantasies compared with family annihilators and criminal opportunists. However, criminal opportunists were more likely to have a preoccupation with weapons. Classroom avengers were more likely than family annihilators and criminal opportunists to experience clinical depression, while a history of antisocial behavior predominated among the latter groups.
Two researchers took an approach that focused even more closely on our subject. McGee and DeBernardo (1999) examined 12 shooting incidents that occurred in American middle and high schools between 1993 and 1998. These incidents were selected for study by the authors because they considered them “nontraditional” school shootings. In their view, traditional school shooting incidents involved juvenile gangs, inner-city problems, minority or ethnic status, turf warfare, drugs or other criminal activity, like armed robbery or extortion. And nontraditional incidents involved multiple rather than single victims and were more similar to episodes of adult workplace violence, described as workplace vengeance, than to incidents of violence associated with gangs, drugs, and street crime.
These authors developed a behavioral profile of the 12 shooters in these incidents through a subjective analysis of available data, including unconfirmed anecdotal accounts from official police reports and popular media. The authors caution that their behavioral profile is not a definitive portrait and might well change as more complete information becomes available.
The picture of the “classroom avenger” that emerged from these sources is one of a physically healthy, working-class or middle-class white