Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Making of a Mass School Shooter

A short-short story.

Geralt, Pixabay, CCO, Public Domain
Source: Geralt, Pixabay, CCO, Public Domain

Here is the latest of my short-short stories that are composites of real-life events with psychological or practical implications.

Tommy seemed so normal. His parents were middle-class: an accountant and a social worker. They lived in a tract home in a middle-class neighborhood. And Tommy conformed. He dressed to fit in, talked to fit in, studied only moderately to fit in.

Until high school. Then, Tommy, overweight, seemed to develop breasts. One kid called him, "Tits Tom." That caught on and Tommy slowly retreated. An early sign was that he began eating lunch at the end rather than at the center of his friends' table. Then, increasingly he ate alone. At home, his former first instinct was to get together with friends, but increasingly, it was to read, watch TV, or play video games.

Tommy's teachers didn’t help. Dutifully, they promulgated the meme du jour: white privilege, male privilege, and their particularly despised intersection: white male privilege. And when Tommy watched a sitcom, commercial, or movie, disproportionately the white male is the bad guy who is shown the way by a spunky, savvy female. (Indeed, nearly all of the all-time top children’s movies have female heroes and inferior males.) Whether on tee shirts, social media, or mainstream media, the message is that the future is female, with The White Male characterized as the oppressor that has erected a glass ceiling. In short, white men suck, and women and people of color are urged to fight it, loud and proud.

Bonzo McGrue, CC 2.0
Source: Bonzo McGrue, CC 2.0

With his peers thinking of him as "Tits Tom" and his core influencers—teachers and the media—thinking his race and gender are bad made Tommy feel sad and angry.

The next step in Tommy’s dissolution was triggered by girls refusing to go out with him, the one social activity he remained eager for. The last straw was when an unpopular girl turned him down and when he asked why, she replied, “Because, well, you're Tits Tom."

Tommy started to fantasize about revenge. He concocted scenarios, never thinking he’d actually do anything, but with each new scheme, he became more inured. One morning, he simply took his mom’s handgun that she kept under the bed for a sense of security, walked into his first-period class and shot the teacher and four students.

The media offered various explanations: He was an entitled child, inadequate parental supervision, bullying, psychological vulnerability and most of all, guns—The politicians brayed, “We must have gun control.” Tommy knew that none of that was the real reason.

The takeaway

This story may be fiction but the concept isn't. Despite the fact that, according to FBI and U.S. census statistics, the white murder rate is much lower than some other groups', all of the major mass school shootings have been by white boys: Dylan Kleibold and Eric Harris at Columbine, Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden at Jonesboro, Patrick Purdy at Cleveland Elementary, Kip Kinkel at Thurston High and Charles Andrew Williams at Santana High.

What are the implications for your son of whatever race? For yourself? For schools? For the media? For the larger society?

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories embedding life lessons are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at