from the Seattle Medical Examiner’s Office and from the Seattle Crisis Center suggests that, although there was a significant increase in suicide crisis calls, there was no significant increase in completed suicides following the suicide of rock star Kurt Cobain in 1994 (Jobes et al., 1996). The lack of an apparent copycat effect in Seattle may be due to various aspects of the media coverage associated with the event that portrayed the act as tragic, selfish, and ultimately wasteful.


This review of research undergirds our investigation in Part I of six specific incidents of lethal school violence, including four that are considered school rampages. The research reviewed here has directed attention to the following broad classes of potential causes of the violence:

  1. Macrosocial structures affecting the communities in which the rampages occurred.

  2. Stable characteristics of the offenders that make them unusually susceptible to committing such acts. These characteristics are produced by some combination of social factors operating on individuals, and individual inheritances and experiences that they have.

  3. Microsocial processes that create the social dynamics that make it important for the offenders to act violently, directing their violence towards more or less particular targets and enabling the action to be taken.

  4. The failure of control mechanisms at the family, community, and institutional level that should have been successful in preventing and controlling the events.

Our interest tends to focus more on the last three of these classes of causal factors for several reasons. First, many of the macrosocial conditions implicated in causing high levels of violence are not present in the communities that experienced school rampages. These communities do experience poverty, discrimination, and alienation, and there are some weaknesses in the quality of the schools. But the communities as a whole seem better off in terms of these characteristics than the communities that have experienced higher levels and different kinds of lethal youth violence.

Second, both the cases of inner-city violence and the school rampage shootings seem to be caused as well as shaped by important microsocial processes that swept the offenders and their victims up in powerful circumstances that drove them to their specific acts. One can look at the events and imagine that if they had gone somewhat differently, the episode might have been prevented from occurring at all.

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