. "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
enthusiasm. In retrospect, however, there appears to have been a dark side to this. The psychologist who interviewed him on retainer from his defense counsel later testified that “guns were the love of his life. He enjoyed watching animals die and looking into their eyes and trying to figure out what it’s like. He’s trying to get, to go to the other side. He enjoyed that.”
His grades also began to suffer again, a process that had already begun prior to the move and worsened afterward. His parents tried to motivate him by saying that he could not get a drivers’ license until they improved. Obtaining a learner’s permit at the age of 15 is social milestone for Georgia teens. He replied that he did not care about driving.
At the time he was arrested, T.J. had been in Georgia for over two years. He had formed no close friendships and had never been on an individual date. He did associate with young people his own age, but only in the context of family, with his cousins, or in organized activities, principally those related to school and scouting.
The press widely reported in the immediate wake of the incident that it had been precipitated by a romantic breakup with a particular girl, but that turned out to be false. The young person in question was merely one of a group of people he spoke with in school. There may have been an element of flirtation, but the closest he had come to dating was going to movies in the same group. There had not been a breakup incident, in her mind or his. Girls frequently called the house, but T.J. never accepted the calls. His mother’s expressed irritation about the calls probably did not encourage him, but he himself stated in interviews that he did not like to have friends and did not want people coming over to his house.
The strongest evidence that a great emotional distance had opened between T.J. and his mother comes from the videotape made by law enforcement officials immediately after the arrest. It is a remarkable tape, obviously not a directly representative record of daily patterns of interaction under normal circumstances, but difficult to ignore nonetheless. Although discussing it at this point is out of chronological sequence with the presentation of the course of his development, it is crucial to the analysis of his state of mind in the months leading up to the incident.
The tape begins at 8:42 a.m., less than an hour after he discharged the firearms at others. He is alone in a room in the sheriff’s office, with the tape running in real time. He is sobbing and breathing heavily. The first person who comes in is the chief of detectives, Warren Summers. Summers tells him he only needs to ascertain his name and birthdate and will hold other questions about what has happened until T.J. has a chance to seek an attorney. Summers is then solicitous of T.J.’s welfare. He tells him repeatedly to calm down. He offers to get him food. T.J. is frightened and respectful, addressing the detective as “Sir.”