illegal behavior, including those involved in the gun and drinking incidents just described. It does not appear, however, that T.J.’s associations with them were much closer than those with any other youth. They never came to his house, and they seem to have sought him out because of his knowledge of and access to firearms.

T.J.’s own position in the configuration of peer groups and group identities in the area was not well defined. Although there were recognized labels in the area, they were not hard and fast but rather fluid and overlapping. Although a handwritten note introduced in court proceedings contained language about getting revenge on “jocks and preps,” there is no indication that T.J. was strongly identified by others or himself as a member or opponent of these or other categories. One boy who knew him in school said that the group T.J. sat with at lunch could be considered “nerds, preps, or jocks.” In subsequent psychological interviews, T.J. identified categories of “skaters, jocks, freaks, people that were and weren’t cool” and said that he fit none of them.

The record does contain some reports that T.J. had been taunted on some occasions by other boys in school, but there does not appear to have been a pattern of persistent bullying, and T.J. was not seen as different from others in having to put up with more of this kind of behavior than others.

Despite T.J.’s rather amorphous social identity, there was one source of identity that was salient for him and reported subsequently by many others. He was proud of his knowledge of guns, shooting, and hunting. He talked avidly of his excitement about getting a new gun and his hunting trips with his family. He also invoked this aspect of his identity inappropriately at times. A teacher later reported that he had been socially inappropriate in class, making sexual remarks that fell flat and also saying at one point, “Don’t mess with me. I have access to guns.”

The other significant event indicated in the record as occurring in the months just prior to the shooting was a suicide attempt, or at least a strong ideation. This came to light only in psychological interviews after the incident, but he had apparently gone down to the basement one night and put the barrel of a gun into his mouth. He was not able to articulate his intentions at that time, just as he has never been able to articulate his intentions behind the shooting since it occurred.


It is our contention that, at the time of shootings at Columbine High School, T.J. was suffering from mental illness that had grown steadily more serious since the family’s move to Georgia two years before and had

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement