ing sprees were often preceded by journal or letter writing in which the details of the looming outburst were spelled out. Classroom avengers often verbalized their impending attack in the form of threats, boasts, assertions of intent, or warnings.
The school shooting sprees were premeditated and motivated by vengeance (McGee and DeBernardo, 1999). The shooters fantasized about revenge and retaliatory triumphs over their adversaries, and mental rehearsals of their acts of violence began well in advance of the actual attack. In fantasies, they selected victims and witnesses, time, location, means, and course of action. They planned predatory aggression that was selective, calculating, and premeditated. These acts were sophisticated and creative, unlike purely impulsive acts of suddenly erupting rage. The authors observe that all elements of the “Menninger triad” (1938) were present: (1) they wished to die (suicide), (2) they wished to kill (homicide), and (3) they wished to be killed (victim-precipitated homicide). The authors suggest that the psychiatric diagnoses of a classroom avenger are atypical depression and mixed personality disorder with paranoid, antisocial, and narcissistic features.
Since the early 1990s, researchers at the United States Secret Service have been working on ways to improve the agency’s assessment of threats in order to better protect dignitaries from targeted violence. To many in the Secret Service and at the U.S. Department of Education, the problem of protecting dignitaries from violent attacks seemed similar to the problem facing those interested in preventing school rampages.
With the support of the secretary of education, the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center studied 37 school shooting incidents involving 41 attackers (Vossekuil et al., 2000).
The incidents examined were limited to shootings in which the attacker chose the school for a particular purpose (not simply as a site of opportunity) and that were not related either to gang or drug activity, or an interpersonal or relationship dispute that happened to occur on school grounds. For each incident, teams of researchers and investigators reviewed primary source materials, such as investigative, school, court, and mental health records. In addition, center personnel conducted interviews with 10 of the attackers.
All of the incidents were committed by boys or young men. In more than two-thirds of them, one or more students, faculty, or others at the school were killed. Firearms were the primary weapons used. In over half of the incidents, the attacker selected at least one school administrator, faculty, or staff member as a victim.