. "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
ment. Although a study of one event cannot provide definitive answers, it does attempt to raise awareness and pose useful questions.
A particular form of psychological investigation is employed here to organize the analysis of T.J.’s state of mind leading up to the shootings— that of ecological psychology. This approach is introduced here, with a minimum of jargon, primarily because of its value in helping to make sense of an extremely puzzling situation, the commission of a heinous violent act in a nonthreatening situation by an individual with no previous aggressive tendencies.
Ecological psychology is an approach to the study of human development that assumes that development is profoundly influenced by environment and sees the continuous interaction of person and environment in terms of nested levels of environmental context. These levels can be designated here as family, community, and society.
In our view, T.J.’s illness had its roots in his own family, stemming from the event of his biological parents’ divorce in his early childhood and exacerbated by emotional distance from his mother from that point forward. His illness continued at a low level through middle childhood and the onset of adolescence and then became rapidly much worse as a result of a change at the community level, when his family made one more in a long series of residential moves, this time from North Carolina to Georgia. His illness then erupted in unprecedented and irrational violent behavior as the result of an extraordinary event at the national level, the Columbine High School holocaust. It was the unfortunate and unpredictable confluence of processes across these three levels of environmental experience that led to the events of May 20, 1999.
T.J.’s biological parents, Anthony Solomon and Mae Dean Blundell, were married in 1974, nine years before starting a family. T.J., born Anthony Solomon, Junior, and called T.J. for “Tony Junior,” was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1983. His younger sister was born three years later.
His parents separated when he was 4 years old, and their divorce became final two years later. In psychological interviews after the shooting incident, T.J. immediately spoke of the separation from his father at age 4 when asked to describe the worst thing that had ever happened to him. This event appears to have had a permanent effect on his development.
Excavating the circumstances of his biological parents’ marital breakup from the available record is difficult, but the breakup was clearly not amicable. Two versions of the story are available. One, contained in the transcripts of criminal and civil court proceedings, is that of his mother, who repeatedly testified that T.J.’s father abandoned the family suddenly, for no reason, and terminated contact with his children thereafter. The other account, from his father, is brief, pro