Tracking School Shooters

Website focused on shooters in educational settings offers array of data.

Posted Feb 01, 2016

Peter Langman
Source: Peter Langman

According to the stats, we’ve had an uptick in school shootings. On January 23, 2016, there was a rare shooting at a school in Canada. In my undergraduate course, I cover these incidents, so I invited Dr. Peter Langman to give a lecture. He is the author of School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators, which covers 48 cases. (I reviewed his book here.)

Langman’s website, schoolshooters.info, is an impressive trove of facts, summaries, documents and analyses. On the home page, along with various articles, is a drop-down list of 120 individual shooters. “This site is a compendium of documents relating to a wide range of active shooter incidents in educational settings,” the home page states. Its purpose is “to help prevent school shootings and to provide insight into the perpetrators of large-scale school violence.”

You can browse the database, look at research on prevention, and even perform an advanced search within defined parameters for a subject area. You specify the criteria and then select a shooter to see relevant documents. Langman also includes research by other experts. For example, one article compares potential perpetrators of violence across four assessment tools. 

Langman groups the shooters by three types (psychopathic, psychotic and traumatized), three populations (secondary school shooters, college shooters, and aberrant adult shooters) and four types of attacks (random, targeted individuals, targeted groups, and mixed). No category is absolute. At times, Langman spots new information and reconsiders. Thus, you will see a posting like “T. J. Lane: Further Reflections.”

I’ve learned a lot from the website. I recall when Langman referred me to an article he’d written about Luke Woodham, the 1997 shooter in Mississippi. I’d read the media reports and thought I had a good grasp of the dynamics and motives, but I was wrong.

As Langman points out, “the fact that a shooter makes a statement justifying what he is about to do, is doing, or has done, does not mean that his statement is true,” or that it is “the whole truth.”

Woodham had stated that revenge on bullies was his motivation. Yet he’d told police that he was getting back at a girl who’d rejected him, and at some point he’d also blamed demons. But there was more to the story.

Few accounts included the potential influence of an older friend, Grant Boyette, who’d led a group of supposed satanists. Woodham would eventually admit that he’d wanted to please Boyette, who’d “put a lot of bad things into my head.” In his article, Langman quotes what Woodham said in court about Boyette’s specific commands and demands.

Schoolshooters.info is easy to use, offers a wide variety of subjects, and gets updated often.

“The website is continually a work-in-progress,” Langman says. “I update it regularly and in multiple ways. I add shooters to the site, both from new incidents that occur as well as older incidents that I track down. I also add new documents of all kinds as I find them or create them. Finally, I update existing documents to make them as complete as possible.”

You’ll find court cases, mental health records, school records, law enforcement records, and even some autopsy reports. One of the most interesting topics to me is the collection of shooters’ words, taken from statements, journals, stories, online postings, and other writings. For example:

Kipland Kinkel (Springfield, OR 1998): “I sit here all alone. I am always alone. I don’t know who I am. I want to be something I can never be. I try so hard every day. But in the end, I hate myself for what I’ve become.”

Adam Lanza (Newtown, CT 2012): “I don’t have the persistent sense of fear that you described, but around once every couple months when I’ve gotten arbitrarily fatigued and it’s around 12:00–5:00 in the morning, I have images of distorted faces flashing through my mind.”

Christopher Harper-Mercer (UCC, Roseburg, OR 2015) “A man named Vester Flanagan opened fire on two former colleagues on live TV. He also recorded his own footage of the event. While reading about the event, I read some excerpts of his manifesto the media was releasing. And I have to say, anyone who knew him could have seen this coming.”

There are few such well-organized sources of information focused specifically on shooters in educational settings. This website offers an invaluable resource for counselors, school administrators, threat assessment teams, attorneys, researchers, educators, and pretty much everyone in the forensic arena who might have to deal with a school shooting one day. No one can say where the next one might happen.

More Posts