Keeping Kids Safe

Inside the minds of school shooters, with general insight into adolescent mental health.

Season of Rampages?

Why do school shootings happen most in the spring?

For the last several years, spring has been a nervous time for me. Particularly the second half of April. Why? Because I worry about rampage school shootings, which seem to happen more in the spring than any other time of year.

In an effort to confirm this impression, I recently reviewed two dozen rampage school shootings where students attacked their own schools. This is not hard data, but it does suggest a pattern. In the months of September through November there were six attacks. Similarly, there were six attacks from December through February. From March through May, however, there were twelve attacks. Not only that, but the four most deadly attacks all occurred in the spring. Two of these were in Germany, and two in the United States: Virginia Tech and Columbine. In fact, the anniversaries of these two attacks are just days apart: April 16 and April 20.

Why the apparent connection between mass murder at school and springtime? There is no answer, but there is speculation. Conventional wisdom regarding depression and suicide says that suicides don't necessarily occur in the depths of depression, but rather often happen as someone is coming out of a severe depression. Why? Because in a deep depression people do not have the energy to carry out such a decisive act as suicide. As the depression lifts somewhat, they gain the ability to take action. Perhaps this phenomenon is related to school shooters, most of whom have histories of being suicidal. For some people, mood is related to weather, and the coming of spring may lighten their depressions just enough to act on their suicidal-and homicidal-urges.

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Another factor is the influence one attack has on another. Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson committed a school shooting in Arkansas on March 24, 1998. Andrew Wurst in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, thought that this was cool and said somebody should do that at his school. A month later, April 24, Wurst did just that. Kip Kinkel, in Springfield, Oregon, also thought that what Golden and Johnson did was cool and commented that someone should do that at his school. Two months later, on May 21, Kip did so.

Similarly, the attack at Columbine occurred on April 20, 1999. A month later to the day (May 20), Thomas Solomon-who had been impressed by Columbine but had ideas on how the attack could have been improved-committed a shooting at Conyers, Georgia. Thus, we can often trace how one attack seems to influence subsequent attacks in the near future.

In addition to influencing potential shooters in the short term, there are people who wish to commemorate a previous attack by committing a rampage on an anniversary of that attack. For example, last year was the tenth anniversary of the attack at Columbine. Though the annivesary passed without incident, two young men in England had been planning a large-scale rampage on the tenth anniversary of Columbine. Fortunately, they were caught before they could carry out their plans.

Not only does April include the annivesaries of Columbine and Virginia Tech, but also the anniversaries for the incident at Waco, Texas and the Oklahoma City bombing-both on April 19. In addition, besides April 20 being the anniversary of Columbine, it is also Hitler's birthday-a fact that Eric Harris knew well. This leads to another possible explanation of the timing of at least some school shootings. Maybe it has nothing to do with spring. Maybe the dates are significant to the shooters.

For example, Eric Harris appears to have selected April 20 because it was Hitler's birthday, and Eric (as he made clear in his journal) was a big fan of Hitler and the Nazis. A secondary factor may have been the release of a new album by one of Eric's favorite bands: KMFDM. As Eric wrote in his journal: "heh, get this. KMFDM's new album's entitled ‘Adios' and its release date is in April. How f--- appropriate, a subliminal final ‘Adios' tribute to Reb and Vodka, thanks KMFDM." (Reb and Vodka were nicknames for Eric and Dylan Klebold). As it turned out, the album was released on April 20. This may have confirmed in Eric's mind that April 20 was the perfect day to say "Adios."

Regarding the timing of the Virginia Tech attack, Cho did not leave a written record, but there is some suggestive evidence that the day may have been chosen for a reason. On Monday, April 17, 2006, Seung Hui Cho had a meeting with Carl Bean, a professor in the English department who had a strong interest in the Holocaust. Cho was not doing well in Bean's class and recommended that Cho drop the course. This led to Cho's arguing with Bean. Subsequently, Cho dropped the course. Three-hundred-and sixty-five days later, on Monday, April 16, Cho went on his rampage. Not only was this a year later (the date was one day off, but it was the same day of the week as his conflict with Bean one year before), but on the day of his rampage Cho mailed a letter to the English department attacking Bean and stating that Bean "went Holocaust on me." This was apparently a reference to Bean's interest in the Holocaust. Not only that, however, but April 16, 2007, was Holocaust Remembrance Day. Thus, Cho may have picked April 16 because it was year after his confrontation with his professor, and by coincidence, also happened to be Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Whether or not there is a connection between spring and rampage school shootings, the next two weeks will bring us numerous anniversaries of murderous attacks. It is a time to be extra careful and to be on the alert for any warning signs that students are planning to make history repeat itself.

 

 

Dr. Peter Langman is the author of Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters and trains professionals in law enforcement, education, and mental health on preventing school shootings. more...

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