Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D.

Deborah Schurman-Kauflin Ph.D.

Disturbed

School Shooters Put Bull's Eye on Children

What motivates school shooters

Posted Apr 01, 2014

I wrote this article many years ago, and it is sad that it is still relevant today. School shooters are more terrifying today than ever. Many could never imagine that a psychopath would into a kindergarten and commit a massacre. But I always knew something like that would happen. Predators always go where there is prey. And children make good prey.

Whenever children are targeted by a mass killer, the news media fixates and the public is sickened. Over the years, the number of attacks at schools has fluctuated. Some years the numbers are greater, and other years, the numbers are much less. But the threat is always there.

I have studied serial and mass murder for over 20 years. I've worked with police around the country, have taught FBI, homicide/sex crimes detectives, and I have interviewed many serial killers and mass murderers. Thus, I have a unique insight into their minds.

There are generally two types of school shooters: terrorists or revenge seekers. While terrorists seek to further a political cause, revenge seekers are getting even with the world. Though many believe that these perpetrators are searching for notoriety, that is only one small part of what motivates them. More than any other factor, revenge is what lights their fuses. These are mentally ill individuals who cling to their anger. As they have said to me, year after year, they are furious with attacks against their identities. They believe that who they are has been compromised. Whether this comes from a loss of a relationship or job, or whether it arises from a perceived failure in his life, the offenders blame others for all of life’s ills. They have lost direction and do not think that they can fix their lives. They do not see a future, and it is essential that they make others suffer so that they are not the only ones feeling pain.

Violent thoughts plague them. Sometimes these bloody fantasies are disturbing to the individuals. But mostly, the offenders feel totally justified. They are angry at everyone, including God. They believe that they have been abandoned, not only by the world, but by their higher power as well. Many of these offenders have told me that they feel like the walking dead. This gives them freedom because if they are already dead, no one can hurt them. It also makes them invincible as they have no fear of retaliation or punishment. They know that either police will kill them, or they will kill themselves. So they know they can fulfill their grandiose plans.

When someone has this mentality, rage builds. Every time they perceive that someone has wronged them, they put it into a mental vault. This vault acts as evidence in a trial that is taking place in their heads. The more evidence that builds, the more they get comfortable with the thought of committing an act of mass violence. By the time they act, they have tried and convicted potential victims in their minds. The victims will be an outlet and punishment for all of the horrors they have endured in life. Beyond these slights, usually there has been a single event to which the offenders can point which changed them irreversibly. They cannot get over this event. It is when these huge events occur that the offenders know that they are more than capable of killing.

 But why target children in schools?

Schools are open soft targets that are easily accessible for mass murderers and terrorists. Though some schools have metal detectors and guards, many others do not. And even those that have such security measures are not nearly as protected as people would like to believe. Having interviewed many serial killers and mass murderers, I can attest to the fact that such offenders are quite prepared to do whatever is necessary to get to their victims. As one murderer said to me “anyone can be gotten. It’s time that’s the thing. It can be like months or, you know, more….who can watch their back every day?” 

Furthermore, children are easy to control. It is much simpler to handle teenagers and young children than it is to handle adults. Adults are too threatening, so these killers seek targets with the least resistance. Second, these offenders know that harming children en mass makes a hard statement. There will be more shock and horror and thus more pain caused. Thus the predators get a 2 for 1 deal: easy victims and devastating pain. Remember, these offenders want revenge. They want to release the anger that is inside. They want to hurt people as much as they believe they have been hurt. So killing many children makes sense to them. What better way to scare and cause chaos? What better way to get even? 

Disturbingly, when offenders are bent on dying themselves, it makes thwarting such attacks very difficult. Metal detectors can be installed everywhere. Armed guards can be in place. However, determined perpetrators will look for ways around such measures. Offenders heavily armed will set off detectors, but they can simply shoot guards before the guards can react. Or, they can wait until children exit the building and pick them off as they move out. There is no guaranteed way to stop these attacks. Predators are cunning and can run down groups of victims with cars if they truly want to cause mass casualties. They can go into gun free zones and use knives to slaughter many victims, just as psychopaths have done in China. Where there is a will, there is a way. And these offenders have a stronger will than you know.

Vigilance is essential. Educating the public as to warning signs is a must. Often these predators will forecast their crimes. People need to listen for such dire predictions and be willing to speak up. More than one school attack has been thwarted by students reporting threats which were overheard. The importance of this cannot be undervalued.

Schools are vulnerable. Playgrounds are vulnerable. Restaurants are vulnerable. Pediatrician's offices are vulnerable. Bus stops are vulnerable. And the list goes on and on. Every time you try to beef up security in one place, the predators simply eye another opening. Somewhere, people are not paying attention. And when people let their guards down, predators strike.

Increased surveillance and security coupled with vigilance can make a world of difference. Both serial and mass murderers have told me that they will take extraordinary steps to get to their victim. But whenever eyes were watching them, they often broke off their attacks. So watchfulness is very important. Keeping eyes and ears open so that plans can be uncovered is essential. Students who hear about plans and report can be heroes.

The trouble is that smart offenders keep their mouths shut. These quiet killers know that if they talk about their plans, then they might be stopped. And when you have one of these offenders, it is only the last line of defense that can stop them.

We haven't had a mass school shooting recently. But that doesn't mean that one isn't being planned as you read this. Whether it will be terrorists or simply some angry soul, they are out there. Always keep your eyes open and watch your surroundings because one day your life may depend on it.