. "2. The Copycat Factor: Mental Illness, Guns, and the Shooting Incident at Heritage High School, Rockdale County, Georgia." Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2003.
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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
monitors and recording devices were located in the main office and were primarily used for determining the identity of a student subsequent to a reported problem.
Prior to the day of the shooting incident, T.J. Solomon (hereafter T.J.) had never hurt anyone. Other than a few oblique remarks to peers in the weeks prior to the shooting, he had never threatened or bullied anyone. He had no record of arrest and had apparently committed only a few delinquent acts, all but one quite minor, and none violent. He was well-mannered, neat, and respectful of adults. The subsequent investigations, criminal and psychological, revealed that he suffered from depression. He was found guilty but mentally ill. The depression probably began in early childhood and became much worse after his family moved to Rockdale County from Kernersville, North Carolina, when he was in the eighth grade.
The task of reconstructing his state of mind in the period leading up to the shootings is one that has consumed the efforts of many people since the incident: family members, victims, neighbors, mental health and criminal justice professionals, journalists, and members of the public. The present study, conducted two years after the incident, thus comes in the wake of many previous efforts. The present study suffers from the limits of the increasing distance in time. It also suffers from lack of direct contact with T.J. or his family, although, if contacted at this point, they would not be the same people. At the same time, this study has the benefit of an extensive and diverse record compiled by previous investigators with a wide variety of personal and professional motives and challenges.
The present study differs from past efforts by those involved in the adjudication of the legal charges. Their responsibility was to decide what to do with the offender. In contrast, the goal here is to present an objective, scientific case study. A key difficulty for the present study is how to reconcile the differing viewpoints of the defense and prosecution in the legal deliberations on the question of T.J.’s mental health. The prosecution contended that he was mildly depressed, the defense that he was severely mentally ill.
In assessing the available evidence, we conclude that he was severely mentally ill prior to the incident and that the shooting at Columbine High School, combined with this preexisting illness, triggered the incident. Most of the parties who dealt with him agree that Columbine played a key role in stimulating his behavior. The disagreement was about the previously existing illness.
The importance of assessing T.J.’s mental health at this point no longer