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Action Needed: School Shooting

Xenia Kozlov, CCWF Interns

10 Factors Involved in Shooters’ Personality Formation

When a school shooting happens, it brings grief, anger, despair, and frustration. Why it had happened? How could we prevent this?

The problem is that when school shooting occurs it’s too late to think what was wrong, and it’s definitely not the right time. Take care of victims, support scared people, restore the crime scene - specialists are overloaded, and in public, there’s a kind of undirected discussion which emerges because people need to be assured they are safe. Usually, it somehow turns into the search for who’s guilty. Family, teachers, school administration, authorities, specialists are exposed, and the levels of anger may become really dangerous. We improve security systems, develop strategies but sooner or later we face school shooting again. Probably, our prevention actions should start earlier?

Shooters’ Profile

Our group has observed ten most famous, most horrible cases which had the biggest numbers of victims to answer the question: what may impact individual throughout their lifespan to contribute into shooter’s decision to start killing? Can we give a profile of this individual?

According to our research, the common shooter profile is - teenager or young adult, white, male, “loner”. He has school problems, usually social issues, but may be accompanied by the poor academic result. School problems are frequently related to bullying, passive or active.

He probably has access to weapons, he already had held a weapon in his hands. He has behavioral problems, usually unable to deal with anger and frustration, refuses to recognize problems with socialization, demonstrates violent behavior or speech, involved in or exposed to the hate environment.

As for mental disorders, it may seem like a prerequisite, but actually, it’s not. Unlike common opinion, it is not autism or schizophrenia what holds the first places in shooter’s profile. The prevailing role goes to depression, second, it’s anxiety/panic disorder, frequently combined with self-harm which returns us to the point that, probably, a mass shooting is actually a suicide.

A significant part of factors falls on parenting and raising problems. As it was noticed, 100% of shooters from our research are male, and from 20 to 40% of them were brought up by single mother, faced divorce or family separation, which, in its turn, occurred, mostly, due to fathers’ abuse.

Matrix Overview: the Highest Scores

School problems - 100%

Most of the shooters were described as poor students due to social and/or academic issues; some of them faced dramatic changes like being withdrawn or held back or changed school or specialization. Most of the shooters were either bullies or bullied demonstrated violent behaviors at school and used hate speech like swearing or expressing approval for violence.

Access/exposure to weapons - 90%

Basically, at least one of the shooters’ family members had a gun or gun collections. Hunting or shooting events as a kind of recreation are mentioned. Also, shooters had the ability to purchase weapons and to keep it secret from parents.

Behavioral problems - 80%

Among behavioral problems, there’s curiosity about or preoccupation with violence and several kinds of disorderly conduct. Making bombs, setting fires, breaking into a van, hacking, stealing; drawing violent pictures, swearing, reasoning about taking off responsibility for the violence; chatting in specific online groups - all of these are presented in behavioral problems.

Also, this paragraph includes anger issues, inability to deal with frustration - or quite opposite, when shooters were described as shy, quiet, “loners”. (60% of shooters were recognized as “loners”. Difficulties with recognizing and addressing their inabilities together with refuse to work with specialists both from the side of a shooter and one of the parents were noticed.

Involvement in hate environment (speeches, symbols, materials) - 70%

By this term, we mean actions or views which were present in society and the shooter was somehow involved in them. White male hegemony, fascism, mass murders, hate writings, hate speeches against women, defending or admiring violence (including school shooting) - all of these had certain support in shooters’ surroundings.

Mental disorders - 60%

Four of ten shooters struggled with depression, three had anxiety/panic disorders. ADHD, schizophrenia, and OCD occurred twice in ten cases, autistic spectrum disorder and anorexia - just once.

Self-harm - 50%

Four of ten shooters attempted suicide, three of them needed hospitalization, one was reported cutting himself.

Bullying - 50%

Half of the shooters faced with bullying. It includes both being bullied by peers and bullying. When bullying, shooters used to choose just one target. In two cases it’s classmate, in one case, shooter bullied his sister.

Gender Issues - 40 %

Gender issues include two aspects - self-identity and demonstrative behaviors. Usually, there’s a pattern when shooter somehow reported his dissatisfaction or confusion due to “not enough masculinity” and demonstrated stressed masculinity through violent behaviors, like bullying or harassing females - peers, sisters, teachers, playing violent computer games, involving in fascist circles, and shooting.

Family Issues - 40%

By family issues, we mean divorce or separated family, child-parent conflict, abuse by a parent, and conflict between parents. All of the shooters in divorced families were raised by mother. Mothers demonstrated either harsh parenting (including abuse, high expectations) or neglect (including refusing from therapy for the son or/and leaving him alone).

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