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School shooting

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I wouldn't say a single word to them. I would listen to what they have to say and that's what no one did.
Marilyn Manson in Bowling for Columbine, when asked what he would say to the shooters

A "school shooting" is a term used to describe an incident of mass violence involving a firearm at an educational institution, usually caused by heavy metal music, video games, and the absence of classroom prayer.[1]

While a school shooting can, technically speaking, encompass any kind of criminal event involving a gun at a school (including gang violence, etc), the term is most widely used to refer to a specific type of massacre involving few participants shooting a large number of innocent/unarmed people before typically turning the gun on themselves. Although the number of school shootings in the United States is extraordinarily high [2][3][4], they have happened in many countries around the world. Pundits will typically declare that school shootings are "on the rise," though it is questionable how accurate this statement is.

Incidents involving law enforcement on school campuses, even where innocents may be killed (like the Kent State massacre), are not usually considered "school shootings." Incidents involving military or terrorist groups that happen to take place on or near a school campus are not usually considered "school shootings" either, although some are.

School shooter profiling[edit]

Although nearly every reputable organization has said there is no reliable way to profile a potential school shooter, this has not stopped hundreds of politicians, news organizations, and media shows from developing stereotypes about what a shooter supposedly looks like or enjoys doing in their spare time. A major study, performed by the US Secret Service in 2002, found that not only is there no particular profile that school shooters meet, but that it is actually dangerous and counterproductive to focus on certain stereotypes.[5]

The Secret Service report found five major questions that can be asked of educators and parents if they are worried about their teenager's mental health:

  1. What has this child said?
  2. Do they have grievances?
  3. What do their friends know?
  4. Do they have access to weapons?
  5. Are they depressed or despondent?

The only reliable profiling indicator of school shooters is that almost every single one is male. Only two major attempts at a spree shooting by female students have ever been documented.[6] The correlation between bullying and school shootings has also been widely discussed. The most well-known example of "bullying victims gone bad," the Columbine shooting, has helped cement the idea in the national consciousness of bullying victims bringing a gun to school. However, in the years since the massacre, numerous studies and former classmates of the shooters have challenged the idea that they were victims, with some even alleging the perpetrators were bullies themselves.

Things that cause school shootings (according to the media and politicians)[edit]

All of the above are purely speculative and are merely the opinion of the media and/or politicians that support these views. While there may be some correlation evidence, none of the above should be considered to be a direct cause of school shootings.

Notable school shootings[edit]

University of Texas (1966)[edit]

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, an engineering student and former marine, killed his wife and mother and then proceeded to fire at students on the campus from a large tower. Including his wife and mother, 16 people were murdered and another 32 were injured. Whitman himself was shot and killed by a police officer.

University of Montreal (1989)[edit]

On December 6, 1989, Marc Lépine killed 14 women plus himself at the University of Montreal. Lépine's actions were motivated by his hatred of women in general and of feminists in particular.

Pearl High School (1997)[edit]

16-year-old Luke Woodham killed two students and injured seven others at Pearl high school, Mississippi. Before the shooting began, Woodham stabbed and bludgeoned his mother to death in his home.

This incident is often cited by lovers of teh gun as evidence that arming teachers is an effective deterrent to school violence.[9] An assistant principal, Joel Myrick, fetched a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol from his truck and halted Woodham's rampage. This talking point would be more persuasive if easy access to the gun had not cost the lives of two young people.

Westside Middle School (1998)[edit]

On March 24, 1998, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden killed four female students and a teacher at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, injuring ten others in the massacre. The two boys were known as the stereotypical bully-type and wannabe gangsters, though Johnson attributed his behaviors to prior child sexual abuse. The two have since served time, only to get into further trouble with the law.

The shooting inspired writers at The Onion to write a piece about a similar shooting which satirized both the students' motivations as well as the inevitable media responses to it.[10]

Columbine High School (1999)[edit]

The most well-known school shooting to which most others are compared and from which most stereotypes about shooter profiling have emerged. On April 20, 1999, two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and a teacher, injured 21 other students, and then shot themselves at Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado. They also unsuccessfully attempted to set off homemade bombs in the school cafeteria which, had they worked, may have killed hundreds of students. The incident attracted international attention and, within the United States, a heated controversy about gun control and the role of video games in the shooters' lives. Columbine was the first major tragedy to occur after the beginning of the 24-hour cable news cycle; as a result, news organizations reported a number of inaccurate statements about the shooters and the massacre itself that endure to this day.

Christian martyrs and "do you believe in God?"[edit]

Arguably the most well-known myth and controversy to emerge from the Columbine shooting is the idea that Harris and Klebold were specifically hunting devout Christian students. Even though all investigations and eyewitness testimonies confirm the fact that the shooters killed randomly and indiscriminately, conservative politicians and church advocacy groups wasted no time (or maybe wasted lots of time) in insisting that they had been the victims of an anti-Christian terror attack. Harris and Klebold were known to hate organized religion and wrote about the subject in their journals, but there is no evidence to suggest they specifically targeted devout Christians during the massacre.

One particularly controversial subject revolves around an alleged conversation the shooters had with two different students. The family of slain student Cassie Bernall has insisted for 13 years that their daughter had been asked "do you believe in God?" by the shooters; upon answering "yes," she was fatally shot. While bearing in mind that people can absolutely misremember events, especially traumatic events, all but two of the eyewitnesses to this event said this conversation actually happened with another student, Valeen Schnurr, who was not killed.[11][12] The two eyewitnesses who claim Bernall was the participant in this conversation were asked to point to where they heard the discussion; both pointed to where Schnurr, not Bernall, was located. Despite this, Bernall's family has cashed in on their daughter's "martyrdom," as has the family of Rachel Scott, a Christian student who was killed by random gunfire and was clearly not a specific target. Some in Scott's family have insisted the "do you believe in God?" conversation happened with her as well, once again despite all eyewitness evidence to the contrary.[13] Many Columbine students have expressed anger at the cashing-in by families of students who were killed and their desire to spread blatantly false myths about the day's events.[14]


Columbine had a major effect on the American sociopolitical landscape. Many school systems and districts passed reactionary policies in an attempt to prevent future incidents. Many school districts were given stereotypical traits to "watch out" for, and would encourage students to report their peers for any remotely suspicious behavior that fit these stereotypes, similar to other "If you see something, say something" profiling campaigns. These zero-tolerance campaigns have been widely criticized.[15] Numerous attempted or successful school shooters, both in the US and abroad, have cited Harris and Klebold as being inspirations.[16] The Michael Moore documentary Bowling for Columbine was inspired by the idea that lax gun control was responsible for the massacre. Eminem's heavily sarcastic lyric, "middle America, now it's a tragedy" - from his 2000 song "The Way I Am" - accused the American mainstream media of giving Columbine too much coverage compared to their downplaying of shootings in urban areas with much larger African-American populations.

Red Lake Senior High School (2005)[edit]

On March 21, 2005, 16-year-old student Jeffrey Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather's girlfriend, then drove to Red Lake Senior High School on the Red Lake reservation in Red Lake, Minnesota and killed five students, a teacher, and a security guard, and injured five other students before shooting himself. As with Columbine, most media attention focused on the role of video games and subcultures rather than mental illness or lax gun control as the culprit behind Weise's shooting.

Virginia Tech (2007)[edit]

Taking place on April 16, 2007, the Virginia Tech massacre involved Seung-Hui Cho, a student at the university who murdered 29 students and three professors, injured 23 others, and then killed himself. Much of the post-shooting controversy focused on the fact that Cho was severely mentally ill, but that privacy laws and gun ownership loopholes had prevented both the school and firearms background checks from detecting his instability. An additional controversy involved the school's poor communication with students, many of whom were unaware that a gunman was loose on the campus until the shootings had already concluded.

Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012)[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Sandy Hook massacre

Umpqua Community College (2015)[edit]

On October 1, 2015, 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer went to his writing class and murdered 9 people (8 students and one assistant professor), and injured 9 others at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon. He then killed himself after engaging in a two-minute confrontation with the police. Harper-Mercer's intent was apparently fame through the exact same fame and "immortality" he believed was given other mass shooters through media attention. The media was quick to jump on rumors that he only targeted Christians (Harper-Mercer appears to be an anti-theist based on his writings), however, eyewitnesses state that he only asked this to taunt the person before shooting them.[17] He also left behind writings glorifying previous shooting massacres (specifically the 2014 Isla Vista killings), problems with his sex life (defining himself as an "involuntary virgin" and a "beta male"), his hatred towards black men, and hatred of having lived so isolated. He allegedly praised Vester Flanagan, a television newscaster who shot two of his former coworkers when they were broadcasting live in August. He belonged to a file sharing platform where he shared Nazi and Illuminati documentaries, as well as documentaries on the Sandy Hook, Columbine, and Virginia Tech shootings.[18] Posts on 4chan's /r9k/ board were allegedly made by Harper-Mercer and warned others of his planned shooting spree, and where he was encouraged to go through with it.[19]

Also the sheriff in charge of the investigation is a Sandy Hook truther.[20]

Conspiracy theories[edit]

Many wingnutty conspiracy theorists believe that most, if not all, acts of mass murder committed with guns in the US are actually false flag operations committed by the US government to increase public support for stricter gun control and even confiscation. Conspiracy theorists typically focus their (f)ire on the fact that the shooters in these incidents have access to extremely deadly semi-automatic weapons which, they believe, could only have been obtained through the government. This ignores the more disturbing fact that these weapons actually can be obtained, often with ease, in many parts of the country.

Since these theories date back at least to Columbine (1999,) the fact that there has been no confiscation and no appreciable restrictions on weaponry rather undermines the theorists.

Columbine theories[edit]

To this day, rumors of a third Columbine shooter persist. These rumors typically claim the third shooter was wearing elaborate paramilitary gear or was using more powerful weapons than Harris and Klebold. However, the autopsy reports and investigations have shown that all victims of the attacks were shot by the weapons wielded by Harris and Klebold.

Some theorists have linked the Columbine shooting to the sixth anniversary of the attack on the Branch Davidians or the fourth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, despite that these events happened on April 19th and not April 20th. This is one of those theories that turned out to be true; in home videos, Harris and Klebold mentioned that they wanted their actions to overshadow what had happened in 1993 and 1995. The shooting happened on the 20th because they were unable to get all of their ammunition and supplies ready on the 19th.

Other theorists try to make a connection to April 20th instead. Some have suggested that they struck on "4/20" because that was the day when many of the school's stoners, who they had little issue with, would be cutting class, while others have pointed out that April 20th was Adolf Hitler's birthday and tried to connect that to a neo-Nazi motivation. While it is known that Eric Harris held a disturbingly high regard for the Nazis, it seems to have amounted mainly to an admiration of the efficiency of their killing machine and a fetishization of authoritarianism and violence for their own sake; while the latter is a classic hallmark of fascism, Harris didn't seem to particularly care about ideology.[21] Either way, given that the shooting was planned for April 19th but later delayed, both of these hypotheses can be written off.

A few idiots, such as Gene Ray, jumped on the fact that Harris and Klebold, being nerds and outcasts, had been described as fans of the collectible card game Magic: The Gathering, and for a short time the game received the same kind of unwarranted attention that role-playing games had received in the early 1980s. Still others blamed video games, as Harris and Klebold were fans of the first-person shooter games Doom and Wolfenstein 3D. Some of the victims' parents tried to sue the video game makers, but were (rightly) unsuccessful. When it came out that Harris had made a number of game mods for Doom II: Hell on Earth, speculation immediately erupted that they were maps of the school that he and Klebold used to practice and plan their massacre. The actual "Harris levels" turned out to be more mundane; only one of them, a multiplayer map set in a hockey arena, even remotely resembled a location that could exist in real life, and if he did create a Columbine map, it is likely lost to history.[22][23] Fittingly enough, somebody did go on to create a Columbine-themed level for Doom.[24]

Not even a day after the shooting occurred, some news programs tried to make a connection to the 1995 film Basketball Diaries[25], which features a dream sequence where Leonardo DiCaprio's character, clad in a trench coat and wielding a shotgun, kicks down the classroom door and shoots his classmates and his teacher.[26] Harris and Klebold were, however, definitely fans of the 1994 Oliver Stone film Natural Born Killers[27], having given their plan the codename "NBK" in videos and journals. Columbine was hardly the only high-profile crime that Natural Born Killers was attached to, the film being accused of inspiring a laundry list of copycat murders.[28] Given that the film, about a Bonnie & Clyde-esque outlaw couple who become celebrities and cult icons thanks to an unscrupulous, ratings-hungry tabloid hack, was made as a satire of how the news media treats real-life violence and glamorizes criminals, the fact that life seemingly imitated art so dramatically makes for a bitter irony.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Speaking is Difficult, a short film by the Intercept that documents America's mass shootings from the Tulsa (2011) shooting to San Bernadino (2015)

using 911 responder calls.


  1. For your sake, we hope you noticed the sarcasm
  2. http://qz.com/37015/how-school-killings-in-the-us-stack-up-against-36-other-countries-put-together/
  3. http://o.canada.com/news/politics-and-the-nation/crime-and-justice/interactive-mass-shootings-around-the-world-since-1996
  4. http://www.stoptheshootings.org/
  5. US Department of Education. "The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative."
  6. CNN. "Police: Female student kills 2 others, self at Louisiana college."
  7. http://politix.topix.com/homepage/9433-you-wont-believe-what-rush-limbaugh-said-about-school-shootings
  8. Yes, really.
  9. See, for example, this essay by Ann Coulter
  10. "School Shooting solves all of Troubled Youth's Problems", The Onion, 20 May 1998
  11. Thomas Larson. "Review: The Martyrs of Columbine by Justin Watson."
  12. TruthOrFiction.com. "Columbine Student Cassie Bernall Said "Yes" When Asked By One of the Shooters if She Believed In God-Disputed!"
  13. Greg Toppo. "10 years later, the real story behind Columbine." USA Today
  14. Dave Cullen. "Who said 'Yes'?" Salon
  15. ZeroIntelligence.com. "Five years after Columbine--is zero tolerance working?"
  16. CNN. "Shooter: 'You have blood on your hands'."
  17. Brad Schmidt, "Gunman in Oregon college shooting executed classmates, saying 'I'll see you soon'", Oregon Live
  18. T. Rees Shapiro, Caitlin Dewey, and Lenny Bernstein, "Probe in college slayings peers into Web rants and possible religious rage", The Washington Post
  19. Nick Statt, "4chan thread under federal investigation after Oregon college shooting", The Verge
  20. Catherine Thompson, "Sheriff In Charge Of Oregon Massacre Probe Posted Sandy Hook Truther Video", TPM Livewire
  21. "The Nazi Culture", a ten-page essay Eric Harris wrote for class in which he goes into obsessive detail about all the ways in which the Nazis oppressed people, with a fairly unconvincing "and that's terrible!" tacked onto the final two paragraphs.
  22. Snopes: Columbine Doom Levels
  23. A Columbine Site: REB's Doom & Quake
  24. Doom 2 - Columbine.wad (REB and VoDKa gameplay)
  25. Basketball Diaries on IMDb.com
  26. The Basketball Diaries — School Shooting Scene
  27. Natural Born Killers on IMDb.com
  28. Wikipedia: List of alleged Natural Born Killers copycat crimes