Vossekuil and his colleagues (2000) reported that the incidents of targeted school violence were rarely impulsive. In almost all of them, the attacker developed the idea to harm the target before the attack; in well over three-fourths of the incidents, the attacker planned the violent event.
Insofar as these events were premeditated and deliberate, they can be seen as rational. What seem less rational, however, are the attacker’s perceptions of the circumstances that prompted and focused the action and the normative rules that seemed either to require or allow the attacks to take place.
More than half of the attackers had as their motive a general kind of revenge against an undifferentiated target, and over two-thirds had multiple reasons for their attack. Yet most witnesses to the events leading up to these incidents did not see the same reasons for anger and vengeance that the attackers saw, nor did they think the concerns rose to a level that would justify such reckless attacks. If the idea of rationality includes some sense of objectivity in assessing threats to one’s status and welfare and some commitment to protecting rather than attacking the welfare of one’s fellows, then these events were less than rational.
Prior to most of the incidents, the shooter told someone about his idea or plan (Vossekuil et al., 2000). In more than three-quarters of the cases, the attacker told someone, almost always a friend or peer, about his interest in launching an attack at school. In less than one-quarter of the cases, the attacker directly communicated a threat to his target before the outburst. In almost every incident, the attacker engaged in some type of behavior—such as attempting to get a gun, writing disturbing essays or poetry, inappropriate humor—that caused others, such as school officials, police, and fellow students, to be concerned about him.
In contrast to the McGee and DeBernardo (1999) study, the National Threat Assessment Center report concludes that there is no accurate or useful profile of the school rampage shooters. They were much more impressed by the diverse characteristics of the shooters than their similarities. The school shooters were described as coming from a wide variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds (in nearly one-quarter of the cases, the attackers were not white); coming from a wide range of family situations, ranging from intact families with numerous ties to the community to foster homes with histories of neglect; having academic performances that ranged from excellent to failing; having a range of friendship patterns, ranging from popular to socially isolated; having varied behavioral histories, ranging from no observed problems to multiple problem behaviors; and most having little change in academic performance, friend status, disciplinary problems, or drug or alcohol abuse prior to the attack. Although access to firearms was common among the attackers, the report also differed from other research on the importance of weapons to the