Bullying and rampage school shootings

By Lynn Bentley
Staff writer

Since the school shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in 1999, parents, educators and government officials have been worried about a link between bullying and school shootings.

Before killing themselves in the school library, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 11 students, one teacher and wounded 23 others. The number of students and faculty killed would have been in the hundreds if the bombs they had planted in the cafeteria and their cars had gone off as planned.

Initial reports on the Columbine shooting indicated that the shootings might be in retaliation for the two boys having been bullied. Because it made people fear that there was a connection between bullying and school massacres or suicide, Columbine changed the way many people treat bullying. In Georgia, those fears soon led to the passage of anti-bullying legislation. Almost all states have since followed. Bill Belsey, the Canadian educator who created cyberbulling.ca and bullying.org, says that Columbine helped motivate him to be an anti-bullying activist.

However, 13 years later, after reviewing journals, videos and other evidence, psychologists, law enforcement officials and other experts have concluded that the shootings were the actions of individuals with personality disorders.

Dr. Peter Langman, an expert on the psychology of youths who commit rampage school shootings, concurs. In his book, “Why Kids Kill: In The Minds Of School Shooters,” Langman lists three types of school shooter: psychopathic (Eric Harris), psychotic (Dylan Klebold) and traumatized (Mitchell Johnson).

Traumatized shooters are those who came from broken homes and experienced multiple forms of abuse. Mitchell Johnson, for example, came from an unstable home life in which his father abused alcohol and was known to beat Mitchell when angered. From the age of 8, Mitchell was sexually abused by an older boy. Mitchell and his friend, 11-year old Andrew Golden, shot and killed four students, one teacher and wounded ten others at Westside Middle School in Arkansas.

Langman recently studied 35 school shooters, including Harris, Klebold and Johnson, but found that only two of the shooters had killed someone who had actually picked on them.

“Teasing [or bullying] may have been a significant factor in a few shootings, but the idea that the shootings are retaliation against bullies is usually wrong,” Langman said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 19.9% (or 3,400,000 kids) in grades 9 through 12 reported an incident of bullying in 2009, yet The National School Safety Center’s Report on School Associated Violent Deaths for that same period details only eight fatal incidents.

In trying to understand the motives of a school-associated shooting, reporters will often ask if the shooter had ever been bullied.

“The answer would be yes for most students in the country,” Langman points out, “but almost none of them will ever commit mass murder.”

It is clear that bullying is a major problem in U.S. schools, but it is not the deciding factor in school-associated fatalities.

Schizophrenia and depression often become overt in adolescence according to Dr. Frank Ochberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University and former associate director of the National Institute of Mental Health.  These forms of mental illness are more frequently dangerous to the individual who suffers from them but when, like Virginia Tech, these illnesses do become lethal to others, we need better answers.

Ochberg, who was one of the experts who worked on the Columbine shooting, also believes that it is the access that these seriously ill kids have to guns that is the significant factor in American school shootings.

“If kids could not and did not bring guns to school, we wouldn’t have Columbine, Virginia Tech or Chardon, Ohio,” he recently wrote for CNN.

7 Responses to Bullying and rampage school shootings

  1. Cindy Sage says:

    I whole heartily disagree with this article. There may have been factors like personality disorder, however, it is CLEAR the bullying from teachers and students non-stop can easily cause a child to go off the deep end. What about the suicides?? There is an obvious connection people are avoiding here. Take responsibility!! Principals, school staff and ESPECIALLY teachers must pay attention and put some effort by providing strict guidelines to bullying. One would think this issue would wake school staff members up a bit and think about their own safety. Continue allowing the bullies to do as they wish, continue turning your cheek, and perhaps one day you will be taking your last breath.

  2. post says:

    Despite kids are small and looks like angels, frequently they behave more aggressively than adults making suffering their peers and hurting them.

  3. Deanna Moore says:

    Bullying is a serious problem. It takes many forms. I also believe that it stems from childhood. The parents should be held accountable for their child’s bullying behavior, just as they are held accountable for their attendance today. Thats right, parents can be fined and,or, prosecuted, if their child does not attend school.It is all about higher education. How can a child rise to their full potential if he or she is a victim of bullying. Bully’s need counseling and psychiatric help as well. Provide assistance for them in our schools, or ban them. it is just that simple. Build a school for bullies. One proven suicide, or murder, because of bullying is enough for me. Enough already parents. Get your children!!

    • Juanita says:

      that is a crazy and socialist statement. Parents cannot control their children 100% of the time. Many parents teach their children to love and respect others, it is mostly peers that make them bully. wanting to fit in so they bully.

      this is not USSR

  4. […] bullying has been linked to active shooter thoughts and actions. Columbine , the most notorious school shooting in modern history that […]

  5. […] other. Paired with bullying, sexual assault in schools poses a great threat to students. Bullying has been linked to active shooter thoughts and actions that have played out in active shooter incidents like Columbine and Sandy […]

  6. […] Bullying has been linked to active shooter thoughts and actions. Columbine, the most notorious school shooting in modern history that prompted extreme responses in schools to take preventative action, has often had bullying cited for the shooters’ motives. Most recently, Freeman High School in Spokane, WA suffered an active shooter incident where the perpetrator openly admitted to the police that his lesson was to “teach them a lesson” (e.g. teachers and students there) about bullying,demonstrating this very real link. […]

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