As we continue to attempt to heal and make sense of the latest school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which took the lives of 17 students and educators, we continue to see copycat activities at other schools around the nation. According to a watchdog group cited in a March 8, 2018, Time magazine article, there have been 756 copycat incidents since this year's Valentine's Day massacre.
The article reports that the Educator´s School Safety Network tracked a daily average of 73 threats and incidents at schools nationwide within the three weeks immediately following the Parkland massacre. It describes the Educator’s Safety Network as “a nonprofit group focused on safety training for teachers and staff who work in schools.” The Network reports 810 threats and other incidents of violence at 1,005 schools since Valentine's Day.
According to the article, most of the threats occurred in Texas, reporting 55 threats, followed by Ohio, California, Florida, and Pennsylvania (citing U.S. Today). There were apparently 638 threats reported between February 15 and 27.
Who Becomes a Copycat Shooter?
Research has identified a variety of factors that school shooters have in common. Nonetheless, experts disagree about the physical and mental conditions that predispose individuals to commit school shootings.
Reading these statistics makes us wonder what type of person could possibly watch such senseless violence and become not incensed, but inspired. Not shocked, but stimulated. Researchers who have been studying this phenomena for years have some answers.
Fascination With School Shootings and Shooters
Research by Jenni Raitanen and Atte Oksanen, “Global Online Subculture Surrounding School Shootings” (2018), reveals that people expressing a deep interest in school shootings form a global online subculture. They interviewed 22 people who expressed a significant interest in school shootings, and found that they share common interests, as well as a shared perception of the importance of cultural objects. They also note this subculture is fueled by media accounts of school shootings.
They even note that the interest in school shootings does not only influence online activity, it permeates the daily lives of the subculture group members. They found that some interviewees mentioned actually dressing up as school shooters they were interested in, such as the Columbine gunmen.
They also note that this subculture is not homogenous. Instead, they form four subgroups based on interest and focus: researchers, Columbiners, fan girls, and copycats. Of these groups, they note that copycats are the only subgroup explicitly interested in replicating mass shootings.
They also note, however, that other subgroups bestow fame upon perpetrators, and circulate underlying reasons for the shootings — accounts which may influence future shooters.
Of particular interest is the researchers' description of the four subgroups.
Researchers, as the name implies, do exactly that. They search for information about school shooters and shootings. They note that these investigations are very particular, often including searching for details such as what the weather was like on the day of the incident. Researchers are also interested in why people commit such horrendous acts, and what commonalities between perpetrators. They are also more likely to use the Internet as their main source of information.
Researchers are often motivated by personal reasons, admitting they could relate their own life circumstances to those of mass shooters. One example of this was having personal experience with bullying. Others researched out of romantic feelings toward a particular school shooter, which is linked with the second type of subgroup, fan girls.
Fan girls are (typically) girls or young women focused on particular school shooters, usually with a sexual or romantic interest. Fan girls view school shooters as celebrities, and often search for information on the shooter, or have school shooter memorabilia.
They focus on school shooters as individuals, as opposed to focusing on their violent acts. One interviewee admitting having a photo of the Columbine shooters as the wallscreen of her iPod.
Columbiners are focused on the Columbine shooting, often having conducted extensive research on the massacre, and/or identifying with the shooters.
Then there is a group of individuals who are interested in other school shooters because they are not only curious, but inspired to imitate the murderous actions of the individuals they read about.
Copycats would like to carry out their own school shooting. Although no one interviewed in connection with the Raitanen and Okasnen research admitted to being in this group, some of them brought up the fact that some people fall into this group.
This research demonstrates the atypical, deviant ways in which some individuals react to school shootings, and the atypical, abnormal view they hold of the mass murderers who are responsible for such senseless carnage. It also reveals some of the potential red flags that might indicate a school shooter in the making.
As we continue to pray for healing for the Parkland community, we remain attentive to other threats faced by our schools nationwide. Through continuing to work together, we strive to identify those who would endanger our children, and encourage others to report the warning signs they see sooner rather than later.
This article was first published in Psychology Today.
Wendy L. Patrick is a career prosecutor, named the Ronald M. George Public Lawyer of the Year, and recognized by her peers as one of the Top Ten criminal attorneys in San Diego by the San Diego Daily Transcript. She has completed over 150 trials ranging from human trafficking, to domestic violence, to first-degree murder. She is President of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals San Diego Chapter and an ATAP Certified Threat Manager. Dr. Patrick is a frequent media commentator with over 2,500 appearances including CNN, Fox News Channel, Newsmax, and many others. She is author of "Red Flags" (St. Martin´s Press), and co-author of the revised version of the New York Times bestseller "Reading People" (Random House). On a personal note, Dr. Patrick holds a purple belt in Shorin-Ryu karate, is a concert violinist with the La Jolla Symphony, and plays the electric violin with a rock band. To read more of her reports — Click Here Now.
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