has anything to do with his legal status, which has been decided through due process of law. Rather, the issue at present is to understand what led to his heinous act of violence. In our view, it is necessary to recognize the salient role of mental illness in order to understand what occurred. An extraordinary national event coincided with a developmentally vulnerable period in his life in a chance and tragic manner. Had they not coincided, he might not have done what he did—but he still would have been mentally ill. Contrary to the prevailing arguments in his court proceedings, our study concludes that his illness was severe (see Table 2-2).

No one recognized that illness, because of his age and circumstances, the gradual developmental progress of mental illness during adolescence, and the nature of the particular form of depression that he suffered. This study is therefore relevant not only to efforts to understand, prevent, and control the sensational school shootings that have terrified the public, but also to broader concerns about mental illness and its prevention and treat

TABLE 2-2 Timeline of T.J.’s Significant Life Events

September 6, 1983

T.J. is born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

June 1988

T.J.’s father and mother separate. All contact between T.J. and his biological father ceases. T.J. is 4 years old.


T.J. moves to Denim Springs, Louisiana, with his mother. and sister. His mother remarries. At age 7, T.J. begins use of firearms.


T.J. moves with family to Penbrook Pines, Florida. At the beginning of 4th grade T.J. begins taking Ritalin after diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.


T.J. moves with family to Kernersville, North Carolina.

November 1996

T.J. moves to Conyers, Georgia, with family. T.J. loses interest in organized sports and fails to make meaningful friendships. Grades begin to decline.

May 1998

T.J. tells two fellow students that he doesn’t want to live. Counselor notifies T.J.’s parents.

December 1998

T.J. steals .22-caliber handgun from stepfather’s boat and sells it to a teenaged neighbor.

February 11, 1999

T.J. steals a CD from a teacher’s desk at school.

February 26, 1999

T.J. allegedly takes gun to school showing it to a fellow student. Skips school in afternoon returning home at midnight after drinking all day. Parents reported T.J. as missing.

April 20, 1999

Columbine, Colorado, massacre takes place.

April/May 1999

T.J. makes statement to others in reference to Columbine about doing it differently and saying how cool it was.

May 19, 1999

T.J. is caught with cigarettes and receives lecture from parents.

May 20, 1999

T.J. enters Heritage High School and opens fire. Begins incarceration.

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