One of the sessions I attended at ASCA14 was Carleton Brown’s session regarding School Shooting Implications.  There were several reasons that I decided to attend this session:

1.  I work in a school (enough said…right?)
2.  I work with a lot of potentially violent, hostile students.
3.  I wanted to know more about the phenomenon of the rampage shooter.
4.  I live in a community where a school shooting occurred in May, 1999.

The Event

On May 19, 1999, 15 year old T.J. Solomon came to Heritage High School packing a loaded rifle and a handgun. At the end of his shooting rampage, he wounded six students.  After shooting random classmates, he pulled out his handgun and tried to commit suicide. T.J.’s attempt to kill himself was stopped by one of the assistant principals when he put his hand on his shoulder and told him it would be alright.  Amazingly, T.J. gave up his weapon and fell into his arms sobbing.

The back story on T.J. shows that this wasn’t a “good boy gone bad” scenario.  Although T.J. was a quiet young man who lived with his mother and step father in a well kept upper middle class neighborhood, he had some emotional and social issues.  T.J. was medicated for his hyperactivity and had problems in school. Before the event, T.J.’s grades started to fall, his girlfriend had broken up with him, and he started harboring a grudge against one of the school athletes who picked on him regularly (T.J. believed his girlfriend had betrayed him by “taking up” with the jock). Out of his feelings of rejection, T.J. decided to take out his anger on his classmates. Following the shooting, T.J. was arrested, tried, and is now serving 40 years for the shooting.

Heritage High School

  School Shooting at Heritage High School, Georgia

School Shootings

Although school homicides are rare (only 2% occur at school), there are a reality in today’s society. Here are some findings about school violence from the 2002 Safe School Initiative Report released by the Secret Service:
1.  They are rare, but often sudden attacks.
2.  Prior to the attack, other students knew about the plan.
3.  Most attackers did not threaten their targets before the attack.
4.  There is no accurate profile to identify a school shooter.
5.  Most attackers engage in some behaviors that cause concern prior to the attack.
6.  Most attackers had difficulty with a loss prior to the incident.
7.  Most attackers felt bullied or picked on.
8.  Most attackers had access to weapons.
9.  Other students were involved in the event to some degree.
10. Although law enforcement was present, the attack was stopped by someone other than law enforcement.

Assessing Threats at School-Handout from AzSCA 14

School Shootings Go “Pop”

One day my kids and I were riding in the car and this catchy song came on the radio. I caught myself singing it and rolling the chorus over and over in my head. One day I was listening to the song by myself and actually listened to the lyrics. The song was called “Pumped Up Kicks” and it detailed the story about a young man who was plotting some violent act.  The young man was portrayed as an outcast who was probably abused and neglected by his dad. Since his dad was not home, he had a lot of time to think about getting even with those who had teased or hurt him.  Here are the lyrics and their meaning.

“Robert’s got a quick hand
He’ll look around the room
He won’t tell you his plan
He’s got a rolled cigarette hanging out his mouth”
This plays out like a movie. This is what is currently happening. He’s walking into the room, he has a “quick hand”, he’s getting ready to shoot people with a “cigarette” hanging out of his mouth. We’ll get back to the “cigarette” in a moment.

[Flash back in Robert’s minds eye]
He’s a cowboy kid
Yeah, he found a six-shooter gun
In his dad’s closet hidden in a box of fun [He’s home alone with nothing better to do but go through his father’s stuff. Probably a social outcast at school and abused at home]

And I don’t even know what [drug paraphernalia?]

But he’s coming for you, yeah, he’s coming for you

Daddy works a long day [It appears as his dad’s days are long, but he probably gets off work and heads right to the bar, which would make a long day.]

He be coming home late, yeah, he’s coming home late [again… from the bar]

And he’s bringing me a surprise [A beating? Physical abuse?]

Because dinner’s in the kitchen and it’s packed in ice [More alcohol– beer, liquor, etc.?]

I’ve waited for a long time [this has been building up over a long time and has finally reached a boiling point]

Yeah, the slight of my hand is now a quick pull trigger [he’s practicing his quick draw while he waits?]

I reason with my cigarette [Back to the “cigarette”. I believe that this is a joint that he found in his father’s box with the gun. The “I don’t know what…” stuff. Now he’s high and trying to reason with the joint, justifying to himself what he is about to do]

And say your hair’s on fire [The end of the lit joint burning]
You must have lost your wits, yeah [He’s high. He’s personified a joint, he MUST have lost his wits]

As I was listening to the song, I thought about how many students I had in my caseload that probably have a similar situation: isolated, abused, substance abuse, teased or picked on, and odd behavior. I began to think about the 1999 shooting and how schools fail to take proactive measures to prevent school violence. As a school counselor, I feel that is important to know how to intervene with potentially violent students.  Maybe, you are concerned about violence in your school.  So, I have attached the notes from Mr. Brown’s presentation for you to view and share with your counseling colleagues. I hope you get something useful out of his presentation.

ASCA14 School Shooter Presentation

If you have any resources to share, please email me so I can share them with others. 

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