More about school shootings and stereotypes

April 19, 2007

Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone would start talking about “Satanism” in connection with school shootings, in the wake of the Virginia Tech murders — even though the killer at VT, Cho Seung-Hui, had no connection with any kind of Satanism, as far as I can tell.

The first such story I ran into isn’t too bad, but still made me cringe.

  • “Facts About School Shootings,” Know Gangs (Jared Lewis), April 16, 2007

One paragraph says:

Some shooters had a fascination with gangs, white supremacy groups and Satanism, yet none of them made any active commitment to any of these groups.

Well, at least the writer acknowledges there was no “active commitment.”

Many shooters lacked a strong role model in their own home. They looked elsewhere for their role models and heroes with many of them choosing negative role models. Some idolized Hitler, some adopted Satanism, while other chose various music artists, who often produced music with lyrics that focused on death, suicide and hatred.

For the second time in a row, Satanism and racist extremism are mentioned in the same breath. Alas it does happen to be true that some of the same troubled kids who dabble in Satanism also dabble in neo-Nazism. Still….. (See my collection of articles Against Neo-Nazism Among Satanists.)

Later I ran into the following article:

  • “Va. Tech brings back Pearl shootings,” Demopolis Times, Alabama, Tuesday, April 17, 2007

This one is a retrospective story about Luke Woodham, who shot some students at Pearl High School in Mississippi. According to this story:

Police arrested Woodham and six other members of a so-called Satanic cult known as the Kroth. Two of the six members had ties to our college campus, so we made the decision to cover the story. In the end, only three of the six arrested would ever be convicted of crimes associated with the killings. The other four boys would be set free with all charges dropped.

Well, at least this reporter is hip enough to say “so-called.”

In their minds, it seems, they studied Marxism and practiced Satanism.

Well, at least these kids dabbled in Marxism rather than neo-Nazism.

Fortunately, I have not yet seen any claim that Cho himself had any connection with any kind of “Satanism.” If there were any such connection, I’m sure we’d never hear the end of it.

On Tuesday it was revealed that the shooter was a Korean immigrant. At least some Koreans and other Asians are understandably worried about a possible racist backlash. Today I came across the following blog entry by a Korean-American Christian pastor who happens to have the last name of Cho:

Pastor Eugene Cho reports:

Monday night was an incredibly eerie day for me. After watching the news with incredulity and horror, I posted a blog entry about the tragedy in Virginia Tech. About 9pm [PST], I began to literally have over hundred people instantaneously get to my blog in a span of two hours.

As I examined my dashboard through wordpress, it was fairly obvious to me that while the news wouldn’t be shared to the larger world until the next morning, there was strong suspicion – perhaps through authorities or through some of the student body – that the gunman may have been someone named Seung [Hui] Cho. I was speechless, ashamed, angry, and afraid.

I can relate to his fear.

Earlier I read the following blog entry, reporting on some of the ways American youth culture can drive an immigrant kid nuts.

A 17-year-old Korean immigrant girl named Autumn Lee is quoted as saying:

A boy at my church who is 13 came to the United States about a year or two ago.

He gets hated on and punked by the older guys in church because he isn’t used to the way teens joke and ridicule each other in America. He makes smart remarks that piss people off, trying to fit in, but he just seems annoying.

I have huge empathy for him because I also get made fun of for being slow and stupid.

However, by no means have all or most school shooters been immigrants, Korean or otherwise.

The MSNBC site has an interesting two-page article, “10 myths about school shootings” by Bill Dedman, Feb 5, 2007:

The profile of the gun-toting student in a trench coat is just one of the myths about the rare but murderous attacks in the nation’s schools.

Here are 10 myths about school shootings, compiled by from a 2002 study by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education. The researchers studied case files and other primary sources for 37 attacks by current or former students, and also interviewed 10 of the perpetrators.

The stereotypes of teens in Goth makeup or other types of dress are not useful in preventing attacks.

“The demographic, personality, school history, and social characteristics of the attackers varied substantially,” the report said. Attackers were of all races and family situations, with academic achievement ranging from failing to excellent.

Myth No. 5. “He was a loner.”

In many cases, students were considered in the mainstream of the student population and were active in sports, school clubs or other activities.

Only one-quarter of the students hung out with a group of students considered to be part of a “fringe group.”

Although there is no useful profile of a school shooter in terms of personal characteristics, is there at least a recognizable pattern of behavior that typically precedes school shootings? Yes, according to another article on the MSNBC site, “Cho’s words, actions fit school shooting pattern: Behavior typically raises concerns long before the shooting starts” by Bill Dedman, April 18, 2007. But even that idea is disputed in yet another article on the MSNBC site, “What Made Him Do It?” by Mary Carmichael, April 17, 2007.

“There’s no one profile of a mass murderer,” says Jana Martin, a licensed psychologist in Long Beach, California. Some kill for revenge, others kill for fame; some give off obvious warning signs while others strike unexpectedly; some go after people they know, and others simply look for the nearest target. Until details about Cho’s life and death begin to filter out, there will be only one trait that ties him to all the others, says Louis Schlesinger, a professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “He is someone who is filled with such hatred that he doesn’t want to kill one specific person. He just wants to kill.”

Still, psychologists can say a few things with certainly about who is more likely to commit the most serious of crimes. Over 90 percent of killers are male, and the same holds for mass murderers—“I can’t think of a single case where a woman has done this,” says Schlesinger—partly because men tend to have more access to guns, which are usually the weapons of choice. The killers are usually somewhere between the ages of 25 and 35. They generally do not have previous histories of breaking the law in any serious way, says Levin. And they are not, on the whole, psychopaths, although they are often identified in the media as such. “A psychopath is someone with little conscience, little interpersonal bonding, someone who’s smooth and manipulative,” says Schlesinger. “That personality has nothing, zero, to do with mass murder.”

Indeed, the personality type most often associated with mass murder is in some ways the opposite of a psychopath. He is far from cool-headed; instead, he is aggrieved, hurt, and above all paranoid.

Potential killers, especially the young, are highly suggestible.

Some mass murderers spend a year or more hatching their plans. In that time, they may leave clues as to their intentions. But these clues are not always easy to see. Many of the warning signs—a near-daily loss of temper, vandalism, increased alcohol and drug use, overreacting to slight setbacks—are characteristic of depression in general. “These are warning signs that a person is in trouble, not that he’s going to kill 30 people,” says Levin. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who have led lives of frustration, who blame others for their problems, and who are socially isolated, but guess what? They never kill anyone.”

And now for a pattern that I’ve noticed, which no one else has talked about, as far as I am aware.

MSNBC’s first major story on the Virginia Tech shootings was “Worst U.S. shooting ever kills 33 on Va. campus.” An earlier version of this story included the following:

Until Monday, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history was in Killeen, Texas, in 1991, when George Hennard drove his pickup into a Luby’s Cafeteria and shot 23 people to death, then himself.

The deadliest previous campus shooting in U.S. history took place in 1966 at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th-floor observation deck of a clock tower and opened fire. He killed 16 people before he was gunned down by police.

In the Columbine High School bloodbath near Littleton, Colo., in 1999, two teenagers killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before taking their own lives.

Texas, Colorado, and now Virginia. All these states are home to major religious right wing leaders, I noticed.

The MSNBC site has a page, “Massacre at Virginia Tech,” listing all its stories covering the VT shootings. Among the pages listed are these:

The blog raincoaster says that the worst school massacre in U.S. history was NOT Virginia Tech, but rather Andrew Kehoe’s dynamiting (not shooting) of a school in Bath, Michigan, in 1928. (An account can be found on the Crime Library site.) Rural Michigan too is noted for being very conservative, religiously.

Nearly all the worst mass killings have occurred in the Bible Belt. I can’t help but wonder if that fact is at all significant. The Bible Belt just happens to coincide, to a large degree, with the gun belt; and the availability of guns is probably a more important factor than the Bible Belt’s stifling ultra-religiosity. But might the latter play a role too, in driving people crazy enough to commit mass murder?

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