This article summarizes psychological and social characteristics of mass or rampage school shooters. The sample of mostly teen-age males, N=20, wasrestricted to Americans whose shooting was at a secondary school, not college. Many negative characteristics of these or similar shooters already in theliterature were identified in our sample, e.g. obsession with violence, depression, family problems. Also, attention was paid to the possible presence ofpositive characteristics, such as having an active, important goal in sports, the media, professions, or an active participation in pro-social groups at school orin pro-social groups in the community. Not one example of such positive characteristics was found in the biographical material for any shooter in thesample. It was concluded that the absence of positive meaning is an important factor in the lives of school shooters; vaious possible positive responses tothis issue are briefly noted.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Bethea C (2018) The Santa Fe shooting, “A dream I can’t wake up from” The New Yorker, May 20
Cash SJ, Bridge JA (2009) Epidemiology of youth suicide and suicidal behavior. Curr Opin Pediatr 21(5):613–619
Crumbaugh JC, Maholick LT (1969) Manual of instructions for the Purpose in Life Test. Victor Frankl Institute of Logotherapy, Saratoga
Donohue W (2018) Media cover up Texas killer’s atheism. J Catholic Lea Rel Civil Rights 11
Elsass HJ, Schildkrout J, Stafford M (2016) Studying school shootings: challenges and considerations for research. Am J Crim Just 41:444–464
Faria AA (2018) Mass school shootings: psychosocial characteristics in the lives of perpetrators. Doctoral dissertation. Sterling, VA: Institute for the Psychological Sciences, Divine Mercy University
Ferguson CJ, Coulson M, Barnett J (2011) Psychological profiles of school shooters: positive directions and one big wrong turn. J Pol Crisis Nego 11:141–158
Frankl V (1961) The doctor and the soul: an introduction to logotherapy. Knopf, New York, NY
Frankl V (1970) The will to meaning: foundations and applications of logotherapy. Penguin, New York, NY
Frankl V (1978) The unheard cry for meaning: psychotherapy and humanism. Simon & Schuster, New York, NY
Gerard FJ, Whitfield KC, Porter LE, Browne KD (2016) Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling, 13, de nivel 22–38
Glowinski A, D’Amelio G (2016) Depression is a deadly growing threat to our youth: Time to rally. Pediatrics, 136(6). https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-2869
Gottfried AE (2016) Argentine adaptation of the PIL(Purpose in Life Test) of Crumbaugh y Maholick. Rev Psych 12(23):49–63
Gottfried AE (2017) The sense of life of adolescents between 17 and 18 years old of the city of Mendosa, evidence before and after an intervention program based on the postulates of Victor Frankl. Dialogos Pedagogicos 15(29):85–114
Gottfried AE, Fozzatti MJ (2016) El sentido de vida en jovenes de 18 a 25 anos concurrentes a centro educativos de nivel secundario (2015, Mendosa, Argentina). Acta Psiquiatricia y Psicologica de America Latina 62(3):171–179
Langman P (2017) A bio-psycho-social model of school shooters. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/bio_psycho_social_1.0.pdf (Reprinted from the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, 5)
Lapin T (2018) Teen killed in school shooting new suspect would target her. New York Post, May 21. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2018/05/21/teen-killed-in-school-shooting-knew-suspect-would-target-her/
Meloy JR, Hempel AG, Gray BT, Mohandie K, Shiva A, Richards TC (2004) A comparative analysis of North American adolescent and adult mass murderers. Behav Sci Law 22:291–309
Mojtabai R, Olfson M, Han B (2016) National trends in the prevalence and treatment of depression in adolescents and young adults, Pediatrics 138(6)e20161878. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-1878
Newman KS, Fox C, Harding DJ, Mehta J, Roth W (2004) Rampage: The social roots of school shootings. Basic Books, New York, NY
Sigfusdottir ID, Thorlindsson T, Kristjansson AL, Roe KM, Allegrante JP (2008) Substance use prevention for adolescents: the Icelandic Model. Health Prom Intl 24(1):16–25
Wan W, Hauslohner A, Kuzydym S (2018) Alleged school killer Dimitrios Pagourtzis had a fondness for trench coats and a growing darkness. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/alleged-school-killer-dimi...8836-a4a123c359ab_story,htm/?moredirect=0n&utm_term=069acdo951ee
Waters L (2011) A review of school-based positive psychology interventions. Educ Dev Psychol 28(2):75–90
Young E (2017) How Iceland got teens to say no to drugs. The Atlantic, Jan. 19. 1–14. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/01/teens-drugs-iceland/513668/
References in the Appendix
Andersen P (1997) Loukaitis' mother says she told son of plan to kill herself. The Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=19970908&slug=2559214
Bernstein M, Filips J (1998) A Springfield tribute: Kinkels remembered with joy. The Oregonian. Retrieved from http://www.oregonlive.com/special/index.ssf/2008/05/a_springfield_tribute_kinkels.html
Houston CV (2008) Respondent’s Br., California v. Houston, No. S035190 (Cal. Aug. 14, 2008). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Eric%20Houston%20case.pdf
Castillo A (2006) Life’s fantasies: The Journal of Alvaro Castillo. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/castillo_journal.pdf
CBS News & Associated Press (2007). Ohio school shooter had mental problems. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/ohio-school-shooter-had-mental-problems/
Chacon D (2001) Teen shooter’s suicide threats revealed: Granite Hills assailant hanged himself in jail. Union-Tribune Publishing Co. Retrieved from https://legacy.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/metro/granitehills/20011120-9999_1m20hoffman.html
Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon (2002)
Coleman R (2015) Adam Lanza: Timeline, version 2.0. Reprinted from sandyhooklighthouse.wordpress.com. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/lanza_timeline_2.0.pdf
Criminal Justice (n.d.). Luke Woodham. Retrieved from https://criminal-justice.iresearchnet.com/crime/school-violence/luke-woodham/
Defendant-Appellant’s Br, North Carolina v. Castillo, 713 S.E.2d 190 (N.C. Ct. App. Sep. 19, 2010) (No. COA10–814). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info
DeJong W, Epstein J, Hart T (2003) Bad things happen in good communities: the rampage shooting in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, and its aftermath. In: Moore M, Petrie C, Braga A, McLaughlin B (eds) Deadly lessons: Understanding lethal school violence. National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., pp 70–100
Dissell R (2012) Parents of teen accused of shootings faced charges. Cleveland.com. Retrieved fromhttps://www.cleveland.com/chardon/shooting/index.ssf/2012/02/parents_of_teen_accused_of_sho.html
Fast J (2008) Case 13: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold: Events leading to the Columbine shooting. In: Ceremonial violence: Understanding Columbine and other school rampage shootings. New York, NY: Overlook Press
Florida Department of Children and Families (2016) Adult in-home investigation. Retrieved from https://www.schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Cruz_Home_Investigation_Report.pdf
Fox B (2001) School shooter referred to Columbine, says classmate. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2001/03/24/school-shooter-referred-to-columbine-says-classmate/727f7796-e5d8-4c86-818e-73fabb7c943d/
Fox C, Roth W, Newman, K (2003) A deadly partnership: Lethal violence in an Arkansas middle school. In: National Research Council and Institute of Medicine, Deadly lessons: Understanding lethal school violence. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
Geauga County Sheriff’s Office (1997/2002) Incident/offense report, Thomas Lane, Jr. Arrest Documents. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Thomas_LaneJr_Arrest.pdf
Geauga County Sheriff’s Office (2009) Deputy report for incident G09–19327. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Report-involving-TJ-Lane.pdf
Harris E (1997) [Eric Harris: Writings on his childhood]. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Eric_Harris_Childhood.pdf
Hart E (2012) Does anyone like Mondays?: The Brenda Spencer murder case, Hart Publishing
Hicks J (1997) Kip Kinkel: Psychotherapy notes from Dr. Jeffery Hicks. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Kinkel%20therapy%20notes.pdf
Karas B (2009) Man obsessed with Columbine convicted of murder. CNN In Session. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/08/21/north.carolina.castillo.trial/index.html?eref=rss_us#
Kinkel K (n.d.) Kip Kinkel’s writings. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/kinkel_writings_1.1.pdf
Kinkel K (Interviewee), Warthen A (Interviewer) (1998) Kip Kinkel’s confession as told to Detective Al Warthen. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Kip%20Kinkel%27s%20Confession.pdf
Koon D (2008) A boy killer speaks. Arkansas Times, Retrieved from https://ww.arktimes.com/Arkansas/a-boy-killer-speaks/Content?oid=934386
Lam K (2018) Nicholas Cruz showed no warning signs before Florida school shooting, say couple who took him in. Fox News. Retrieved from https://www.foxnews.com/us/2018/02/18/nikolas-cruz-showed-no-warning-signs-before-florida-school-shooting-saycouple-who-took-him-in.html
Lane TJ (2011) T.J. Lane’s Facebook post. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/tj-lane
Langman P (2009) Why kids kill: Inside the minds of school shooters. St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY
Langman P (2014a) Luke Woodham: The search for justification. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/woodham_search_for_justification_1.1.pdf
Langman P (2014b) Statistics on bullying and school shootings, version 1.2. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/bullying_school_shootings_1.2_0.pdf
Langman P (2015a) Charles Andrew Williams: Sorting out the contradictions, version 1.2. https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/williams_contradictions_1.2.pdf
Langman P (2015b) School Shooters .info | Resources on school shootings, perpetrators, and prevention (L. Joshua, Ed.). Retrieved November 24, 2015, from https://schoolshooters.info/
Langman P (2015c) School shooters: understanding high school, college, and adult perpetrators. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield
Langman P (2016a) Brenda Spencer: sorting out the contradictions. https://www.schoolshooters.info Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/spencer_contradictions_1.0.pdf
Langman P (2016b) The enigma of Adam Lanza’s mind and motivations for murder. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/lanza_enigma_1.1.pdf
Langman P (2016c) Expanding the sample: five school shooters, version 1.5. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/expanding_the_sample_1.5.pdf
Langman P (2016d) Influences on the ideology of Eric Harris, version 1.3. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info.
Langman P (2016e) Multi-victim school shootings in the United States: a fifty-year review. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/fifty_year_review_1.1.pdf (Reprinted from The Langman, P. (2016f). Psychiatric medications and school shootings. Retrieved from Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, 4). https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/psychiatric_medications_3.5.pdf
Langman P (2016g) Rampage school shooters: a typology, version 1.2. https://www.schoolshooters.info. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/rampage_school_shooters_typology_1.2.pdf
Langman P (2016h) School shooters: Nine brief sketches. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/nine_brief_sketches_1.1.pdf
Langman P (2016i) T.J. Lane: further reflections. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/lane_further_reflections_1.1.pdf
Leppek C (1999) Dylan Klebold led life of religious contradictions. Intermountain Jewish News. Retrieved from https://www.jweekly.com/article/full/10724/dylan-klebold-led-life-of-religious-contradictions/
Maag C (2007) Short but troubled life ended in shooting and suicide. New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/12/us/12cleveland.html?_r=0
McCarthy T (2001) Warning. Andy Williams here. Unhappy kid. Tired of being picked. Time Magazine. Retrieved from https://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,102077-1,00.html
McLaughlin E, Park M (2018) Social media paints picture of racist ‘professional school shooter’. CNN.com. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/14/us/nikolas-cruz-florida-shooting-suspect/index.html
McMahon P (2018) Nikolas Cruz: ‘We had this monster living under our rook and we didn’t know. Sun Sentinal. Retrieved from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/parkland/florida-school-shooting/fl-school-shooting-family-helped-nikolas-cruz-20180217-story.html
Romano V, 45 A.D.3d 910 (N.Y. App. Div. 2007). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/People_v_Romano_2007%20.pdf
Nolan v. Lane (1995) Mem. In Supp. of Def’s Mot. Foe Emergency Temporary Custody, Nolan v. Lane, No. 95PN357 (Ohio Ct. Com. Pl. Nov. 7, 1995). Retrieved from https://sc.hoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Nolan_v_Lane_1995.pdf
North Carolina v. Castillo, Defendant-Appellant’s Br., 713 S.E.2d 190 (N.C. Ct. App. Sep. 19, 2010) (No. COA10–814). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Castillo%20Court%20Case.
Office of the Child Advocate (2014) “Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.” State of Connecticut.
Oregon v. Kinkel, 56 P.3d 463 (Or. Ct. App. 2002) Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Kinkel%20Court%20of%20Appeals.pdf
Orvalle D, Blaskey S, Nehamas N (2018) Shooter could have faced charges before massacre—had cops done their job, experts say. Miami Herald. Retrieved from https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/broward/article201887629.html
Patrick WB (n.d.) An incident of school violence in East Greenbush, New York. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/romano_incident.pdf
PBS (n.d.) Chronology: Kip Kinkel’s life and the events leading up to the horror of May 20–21, 1998. PBS Frontline, WGBH Educational Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/kinkel/kip/cron.html
People v. Romano (2007) See New York v. Romano
Pugh D (2016) I hate Mondays: the true story of school shooter Brenda Spencer. Location n.a.: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Rave J (2005) Teen suicide series, part: family still struggling to understand teenager’s rampage in Minnesota. Missoulian. Retrieved from http://missoulian.com/jodirave/article_cad5494b-ffaf-55e4-b62b-388e05f40b90.html
Roth A (2001) School shooter used antidepressants: psychiatrist says pills Hoffman took are safe. Union-Tribune Publishing Company. Retrieved from https://legacy.sandiegouniontribune.com/news/metro/granitehills/20010419-9999_7m19hoffman.html
San Diego Police Museum (n.d.) [Page about Brenda Spencer]. Retrieved from http://www.sdpolicemuseum.com/Brenda-Spencer.html
Sullivan K, Schmidt S, Fahrenthold D (2018). What happened in the 82 minutes between Nikolas Cruz’s arrival and arrest during Florida shooting. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-82-minutes-florida-shooting-20180215-story.html
Sullivan K, Wan W, Tate J (2018) Fla. shooting suspect had a history of explosive anger, depression, killing animals. Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/fla-shooting-suspect-had-a-history-of-explosive-anger-depression-killing-animals/2018/02/15/06f05710-1291-11e8-9570-29c9830535e5_story.html?utm_term=.617037fe6d31
Tizon A (1997) Scarred by killings, Moses Lake asks, “What has this town become?”. Seattle, WA: Seattle Times Company. Retrieved from https://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19970223&slug=2525360
Turner K (2007) Who was Asa Coon? Cleveland.com. Retrieved from https://blog.cleveland.com/metro/2007/10/who_was_asa_coon.html
Washington v. Loukaitis, 97 Wash. App. 1090 (Wash. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 1999) Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Loukaitis%20court%20document.pdf
Weise J (n.d.) Jeffrey Weise online (scans). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Jeffrey%20Weise%20Online.pdf.
Woodham L (1995–1997) Luke Woodham’s writings. Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Luke%20Woodham%20Writings.pdf
Woodham v. Mississippi, 800 So. 2d 1148 (Miss. 2001). Retrieved from https://schoolshooters.info/sites/default/files/Woodham%20court.pdf
An early, helpful review of this manuscript was done by Dr. Harvey Payne.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Appendix. Case Histories
Appendix. Case Histories
The proceeding pages from Faria (2018, Sect. 3) contain the brief case histories of nineteen of the twenty individuals that committed school shootings at primary or secondary schools and constitute the major sample for this study. The 20th subject, Dimitri Pagourtzis, has references and some discussion in the article. References mentioned in this appendix are listed at the end unless already listed in the article reference section.
Alvaro Castillo; age at incident: 18; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Latino
Alvaro Castillo was born in San Francisco, CA, on November 6, 1987, to Rafael and Victoria Castillo. His father was from El Salvador, his mother was from Spain, and he had two younger sisters. The family eventually lived in Hillsborough, NC, and attended a local Catholic church (North Carolina v. Castillo 2010).
Castillo’s family members reportedly suffered from various mental health issues. His mother became depressed and had panic attacks, one of his sisters was diagnosed with autism, and the other with bulimia. Severe mental illness, including schizophrenia and depression, was reported in Castillo’s mother’s family, affecting eight of her nine siblings (Langman 2015c). There is no information on the psychiatric history of Castillo’s father; however, Rafael Castillo was described as controlling with rigid and unconventional beliefs. Castillo witnessed his father physically abusing his mother, and he threatened to kill his wife if she left him (Langman 2015c). Castillo’s father also subjected him to unconventional belief systems as a child through acts such as bathing him in cold water, with the belief that it was healing (Karas 2009).
One notable event which Castillo later reported in his writings was when he was eight years old and became “disgusted” when a friend showed him pornography (Langman 2015c). When he was fifteen, Castillo described feeling sexually aroused while babysitting a toddler. This caused Castillo to feel “overwhelming guilt” and he began “self-flagellation with a stick, prayer, rigid eating, and exercise to cope” (Langman 2015c). This sexual shame appeared to follow Castillo into his later teen years. Castillo wrote in his journal that he was having sexual fantasies (Castillo 2006) and commented, “All I see is temptation and sin” (North Carolina v. Castillo 2010).
Castillo was obsessed with rampage shootings, especially Eric Harris and the Columbine shooting. He was also very depressed and decided to kill himself on April 20, 2006, the 7th anniversary of the Columbine shooting. His father intervened, however, and Castillo spent a week in a psychiatric hospital followed by months of therapy (Karas 2009). During that hospital stay, Castillo was diagnosed with depressive disorder; however, his initial diagnosis included a psychotic disorder (North Carolina v. Castillo 2010).
On August 30, 2006, Castillo shot his father 7 times and wrote in his journal that he had killed his father (Castillo 2006). He then drove to Orange High School in Hillsborough, NC, from which he had graduated the year before. Castillo threw smoke bombs and then began shooting at the school. Two students were injured before Castillo was overcome by authorities (Karas 2009). He had brought multiple rounds of ammunition, was dressed like the columbine shooters, and had intended to kill more people and then commit suicide (Castillo 2006).
Castillo’s psychotic tendencies lead Langman (2015c) to categorize him as a psychotic shooter. He suffered from delusions, including the belief that God saved him from suicide so that he could commit a mass shooting in order to save people from sin in the world. Castillo wrote, “I must save some children from sin! This massacre will be different from Columbine and Red Lake. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wanted revenge. Jeff Weise wanted power. I want redemption and sacrifice. I will sacrifice some students and then kill myself” (North Carolina v. Castillo 2010). He also wrote about auditory hallucinations in which an evil twin brother spoke in his ear telling him to do bad things. He was paranoid about cameras in air vents and hidden microphones. When he was arrested after the shooting, Castillo was taken to a psychiatric hospital and was found to be psychotic. He was then evaluated by a couple of psychiatrists who agreed on a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, which combines elements of psychosis with mood disturbances (North Carolina v. Castillo 2010).
Asa Coon; age at incident: 14; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Asa Coon was born to Lori Looney and Thomas Coon. He had a twin sister and two older brothers. His father lived in a different state and was not involved with the family. Coon’s family was investigated by the Department of Child and Family Services on at least two occasions. When Coon was 4 years old, there was a court case against his mother for neglect. Then, when Coon was about 7 years old, the family was investigated again due to scratches on Coon’s forehead and burns on his arms. Coon often came to school looking unkempt. His hair was often messy, his face dirty, and he wore ragged clothes (Langman 2016c). In addition, Coon’s neighborhood was known for drug trafficking and gang activity (Turner 2007).
Coon was described as bright and was reportedly good at chess (Langman 2015c). He was also good at fixing and building things. Physically, Coon was described as “chubby.” He painted his nails black and wore a dog collar and trench coat (Turner 2007). Coon’s manner was often withdrawn; however, he could also be loud and argumentative, cursed at teachers (CBS News, 2007), was often described as angry, and had a violent temper. Coon stated that he did not believe in God and worshiped Marilyn Manson (Turner 2007).
Coon’s older brother, Stephen, had a significant criminal history including burglary, assault, sale of counterfeit drugs, possession of weapons, and domestic violence. Both of Coon’s older brothers were known to threaten neighbors and be involved in domestic violence incidents. In addition to the violence and chaos at home, Coon was also harassed at school and in his neighborhood. Because of aggression towards his mother, Coon was charged with domestic violence when he was 12 years old. Due to his increasingly troubled and aggressive behavior, he was eventually placed out of the home. While at a shelter placement, Coon attempted suicide and was moved to a psychiatric hospital (Langman 2016c). Coon was prescribed medication to treat depression and anxiety; however, he often refused to take it (Maag 2007).
Coon attended SuccessTech Academy in Cleveland, OH. On Monday, October 8, 2007, Coon’s brother, Stephen, was arrested for armed robbery. The same day, Coon was suspended from school after a fistfight. Just 2 days later, on October 10, 2007, Coon brought a couple of guns and knives to school and shot and wounded 2 students and 2 teachers before committing suicide. Coon was 14 years old (Langman 2016c).
According to Langman, Coon was a traumatized shooter due to his significant history of neglect, violence and chaos in the home, absent father, and his brother’s history of illegal firearm use (Langman 2016c).
Nikolas Cruz; age at incident: 19; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Nikolas Cruz was born on September 24, 1998, in Margate, FL. He was adopted at age 2 along with his 2-month-old half-brother by Roger and Lynda Cruz who were an older couple (Lynda Cruz was 51). When Cruz was 7 years old, his adoptive father died of a heart attack. Cruz grew up in an affluent neighborhood, and all reports indicate that Lynda Cruz was a devoted mother, but was overwhelmed by being a single parent and also may have dismissed some of Cruz’s concerning behavior (Sullivan et al. 2018).
As early as fourth grade, Cruz was observed treating animals with cruelty and violence. He tried to injure squirrels and chickens with his pellet gun, kill rabbits in their holes, and get his dogs to attack the neighbor’s pigs (Sullivan et al. 2018). In middle school, Cruz was often disciplined for disruptive behavior, insulting teachers and staff, using profanity, at least one fight, and truancy (Lam 2018). Neighbors recalled that people were afraid of Cruz, that he would throw rocks at their cars, steal their mail, and vandalize property. Some neighbors also reported that damaged furniture was often on the curb of the Cruz house to be thrown away (Sullivan et al. 2018). Cruz attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, participated in their Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, and was interested in joining the military (McLaughlin and Park 2018). However, he was known to sell knives out of his lunch box, he posted violent images on social media (Sullivan et al. 2018), and commented on YouTube that he was “going to be a professional school shooter” (McLaughlin and Park 2018). After a breakup with a girlfriend, Cruz threatened to kill her friends and her new boyfriend (Ovalle et al. 2018). In 2016 and 2017, Cruz was suspended from his high school at least twice for getting into a fight and assaulting someone (Lam 2018). Eventually, Cruz was expelled (Sullivan et al. 2018).
A Florida Department of Children and Families report noted that Cruz suffered from autism, ADHD, and depression. At least for a short period of time, Cruz was attending counseling and was prescribed medication for ADHD (Florida Department of Children and Families 2016). In September of 2016, the Florida Department of Children and Families conducted an in-home investigation after Cruz was found cutting his arms on Snapchat and stating that he wanted to go buy a gun. Cruz’s mother told the investigator that Cruz’s behavior was triggered by a recent breakup with a girlfriend. In another incident, Cruz’s mother made him wash off a Nazi symbol from his backpack (Florida Department of Children and Families 2016).
On November 1, 2017, Cruz’s adoptive mother died of pneumonia. Cruz briefly stayed with a family friend and then the parents of someone that Cruz went to high school with. According to that couple, Cruz was very respectful, cooperative, and compliant with their household rules. They noticed that he was very depressed about his mother’s death, and he also did not seem to know how to do things such as laundry or use a microwave (McMahon 2018).
Then, on February 14, 2018, Cruz took an Uber ride to Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and shot and killed 17 and wounded 14 students and teachers before dropping his weapons and blending in with the students leaving the building. Cruz was later arrested walking into a neighborhood after getting a drink at a Subway inside a Walmart and then sitting at a McDonalds (Sullivan et al. 2018).
According to Langman’s (2014a, b) typology, it appears that Cruz would be classified as a psychopathic shooter. While this incident is very recent and there will likely be more information available about Cruz as time passes, there is already a wealth of information indicating that Cruz had psychopathic tendencies including his cruelty towards animals starting in elementary school, his history of acting out in his neighborhood and at school, his violence in high school, his disrespect of authority, his apparent ability to mask his anger and violence while living with the family that took him in, and his calm demeanor following the attack.
Drew Golden; age at incident: 11; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Andrew “Drew” Golden was born on May 25, 1986, to Jaqueline and Dennis Golden in Jonesboro, AR. His mother had two older children from a previous marriage (Langman 2015c). Both of his parents worked as postmasters and were known as hardworking (Fox et al. 2003). Because his parents worked long hours, Golden was often home alone and his parents would call to check in on him (Fox et al. 2003). As the youngest and only child of his parents, Golden was observed by others as often over-indulged and under-disciplined by family members (Langman 2015c). Guns were significant in his life as his parents were leaders of a pistol club, and his grandfather was a game warden and hunter. Golden was given his first gun as a toddler and had become an experienced marksman by the time he was in middle school. In school, he often wrote about or drew guns for class assignments. His grandfather reported that although Golden wanted to play sports, such as basketball and football, he was physically not equipped for them, but that he was very good at shooting (Langman 2015c).
Golden attended Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, AR, and played the trumpet in the band (Fox et al. 2003). His teachers and classmates often described him as a troublemaker and bully to other kids; however, his parents often came to his defense and did not share the concern. Golden was reported to be good at impression management and was well-behaved around his parents. However, neighbors and peers described Golden as aggressive, threatening, and belligerent (Langman 2015c). He threatened to shoot other kids with his bb gun and wore a knife strapped to his leg (Fox et al. 2003). Several parents, including Golden’s relatives, would not allow their children to play with him (Langman 2015c). He was also known to be cruel to cats and would shoot them with his bb gun (Fox et al. 2003) killing and torturing them (Langman 2016g). Earlier in the school year, before the attack, Golden reportedly stood up on a table in the cafeteria and yelled, “You are all going to die” (Langman 2015c).
Golden was only 11 years old when, on March 24, 1998, he carried out a rampage attack on his middle school with accomplice Mitchell Johnson. Golden and Johnson gathered weapons and supplies in a van, drove it to a hill near the school, and shot at students and teachers from the hill. Golden killed 3 and injured an additional 7, including students and teachers. A police officer reportedly heard Golden say that his motivation for the shooting was that he was angry at a teacher; however, Golden targeted teachers and students at random (Langman 2016g). Following the attack, Golden and Johnson attempted to escape and hide-out in the van but were apprehended by police shortly after (Langman 2015c). Langman characterized Golden as a psychopathic shooter due to his history of significant cruelty towards animals and peers combined with his skills at impression management, poor anger control, and lack of remorse and accepting responsibility for his actions (Langman 2016g).
Eric Harris; age at incident: 18; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Eric Harris was born on April 9, 1981, in Wichita, KS, to Katherine Anne Poole and Wayne Harris. Harris also had an older brother named Kevin. Due to Wayne Harris’ job as a US Air Force Pilot, the family often lived on military bases and moved frequently. These moves brought the family to Beavercreek, OH; Oscada, MI; Plattsburgh, NY; and then, in 1993, to Littleton, CO. Harris wrote a couple of school assignments about memories of playing with his childhood friends and his dislike for moving away from them so often (Harris 1997). As a child, Harris played sports and participated in Boy Scouts. Harris’ father often coached his teams and was a scout leader. Harris’ parents were respected in the community and involved in their sons’ school and other activities.
Born with pectus excavatum (sunken chest), Harris had a surgery when he was thirteen to have a bar inserted in his chest. One friend noted that Harris was teased when he removed his shirt; however, Harris never directly mentions the problem in his writings except for referring to himself as “the scrawny white kid” (Fast 2008).
By the time Harris was in high school, he was no longer involved in sports and other activities and preferred to spend most of his time on computer gaming. He was known to frequently play Doom II, a shooting game, and posted on the game’s discussion boards (Fast 2008). Harris worked at Blackjack Pizza where his accomplice, Dylan Klebold, also worked. Together, Harris and Klebold were troublemakers. They experimented with fire and explosives in the alley at work, shot bb guns at kids in the neighborhood, and conducted “rebel missions” in which they would play pranks on people they did not like and then get drunk afterward (Fast 2008). In addition, Harris had been prescribed two different kinds of antidepressant medication and was described by others as quiet and withdrawn (Langman 2016f).
Harris attended Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, where, on April 20, 1999, nearing the end of his senior year, he carried out a long-planned rampage attack with his friend Dylan Klebold. As a result of the attack, 12 students and 1 teacher were killed and 23 were injured. Harris was deemed responsible for 8 of the fatalities and 13 injuries. Harris and Klebold had planned to kill more people and had planted a couple of bombs in the school that never detonated. Harris also shot at the police. At the end of the attack, both Harris and Klebold died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Langman classified Harris as a psychopathic shooter due to his criminal records and behavior before and during the attack, and his website and journal writings (Langman 2015c). Harris vandalized former friends and peers’ houses and was arrested for theft. He wrote in gruesome detail about fantasies of raping and torturing people, his desire to be god-like, and his hate for cops, morality, and laws. Harris described his philosophy of instinct and natural selection in which inferior people would be killed. He expressed interest in Adolf Hitler, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Thomas Hobbes, and, although he never directly mentions Charles Manson, his ideology was often very similar to Manson (Langman 2016d). According to Langman (2015c), Harris is the only secondary school shooter of the psychopathic typology to justify mass violence with an ideology.
Jason Hoffman; age at incident: 18; sex: male: race/ethnicity: Caucasian, Latino
Jason Hoffman was born on March 10, 1983, to Ralph Hoffman and Denise Marquez. He had two siblings. Hoffman’s parents were never married, and his mother left his father after his father allegedly “threw him across the room” when he was 3 months old (Langman 2016h). There were also reports of his father urinating on 7-year-old Hoffman and tossing his 1-year-old brother in a pool to see how long it would take him to float (Langman 2016h). His father, however, denied these allegations and noted that Hoffman was difficult to handle and would often throw tantrums (Roth 2001). Additional reports indicate parental violence, alcoholism, and substance abuse (Langman 2016h). Other than this, not much is known about Hoffman’s early development and family life.
Hoffman attended Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, CA. At the time of the shooting, he was 6′1″ and weighed 210 lbs (Fox 2001). Hoffman was described by others as angry, physically intimidating, and isolated, and reportedly suffered from depression. He had one friend that moved away, however, he usually kept to himself. Hoffman was also known to have a temper and was arrested in 10th grade for hitting another student with a racquet during an argument. Hoffman did not perform well in school. At one point, he was in special education classes. He had to repeat his senior year and took classes at a community college where he also performed poorly. In addition, Hoffman lost his job at McDonalds because he failed to learn how to use the cash register. Earlier in the year, some classmates recalled Hoffman becoming angry during class and referring to Columbine (Fox 2001). Hoffman found out that he was rejected by the Navy the day before the school shooting (Langman 2015c).
On March 22, 2001, Hoffman entered his high school and shot and injured 1 teacher and three students. He intended to kill the dean of the school because he blamed him for his rejection from the Navy. Although he said that he hoped to commit suicide by being shot by police, Hoffman was taken into custody (Langman 2015c). In October 2001, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his prison cell (Chacon 2001). Langman categorized Hoffman as a traumatized shooter due to the indications of abuse, domestic violence, and alcoholism and substance abuse, as well as the lack of indications that Hoffman had any psychopathic or psychotic traits (Langman 2016h).
Eric Houston; age at incident: 20; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Eric Houston was born on June 8, 1971, in Santa Barbara, CA, to Bud and Edith Houston. He grew up in Olivehurst, CA, with his mother, an older sister, Susan, and a half-brother, Ron Caddell. Ron, his mother’s son from a previous marriage, was 13 years older than him (California v. Houston 2008). Houston’s parents separated and his father left the family when Houston was 2 years old (Fast 2008). Following the separation, Houston’s family frequently moved around California (Langman 2016h).
Houston’s family history was beset by trauma. His mother had been physically abused by family members, his maternal aunt was molested by her father, his maternal uncle killed three people in a fight, and his maternal grandmother committed suicide. Not much is known about the paternal side of the family except that Houston’s father was an alcoholic, was known to be violent, and left the family when Houston was very young (Langman 2016h; California v. Houston 2008). Houston experienced significant trauma early in life. As an infant, he suffered from encephalitis, meningitis, and pneumonia. Also at a very early age, Houston was physically abused, and witnessed violence between his parents, his father’s alcoholism, and his mother’s severe depression (Langman 2016h).
Possibly due to the illnesses and abuse, Houston suffered during his early years. He was developmentally delayed and began attending special education classes in elementary school. His academic difficulties followed him through high school. During his senior year, Houston’s history teacher, Robert Brens, offered to give him a passing grade if he would perform sexual favors for him. This happened on two or three occasions and Brens still gave Houston a failing grade which kept him from graduating high school (Langman 2016h). Because Houston did not have a high school diploma, he was unable to find a job or join the military. Following the molestation and unemployment problems, Houston became increasingly depressed, spent most of his time locked in his room, and withdrew from family (Langman 2016h).
Since the time he was about 12 years old, Houston had developed a strong interest in weapons, the military, and SWAT teams (Langman 2016h). As a teenager, he spent much of his time in his bedroom cleaning his guns, watching violent movies, and reading military magazines (Fast, 2008). Houston had one good friend, David Rewerts, with whom he had a sexual encounter. He also had a girlfriend briefly in high school; however, he attempted suicide after she broke up with him (Langman 2016h).
Houston went to Lindhurst High School in Olivehurst, CA. On May 1, 1992, Houston entered the high school with at least two guns, shot and killed 1 teacher and 3 students, wounded 10 others, and held about 80 students hostage before surrendering several hours later. Houston was 20 years old at the time. According to Houston, Robert Brens, the teacher that was killed, allegedly molested Houston and failed Houston in his class (Langman 2016h). Houston expressed that his intention for the attack was to get the attention of the media and tell his story so that other students would not be molested and treated the way he was. However, writings found in Houston’s bedroom expressed hatred toward humanity and a desire to kill. In addition to depression, court appointed evaluators had different opinions on diagnosis, including schizophreniform disorder, posttraumatic stress, developmental disorder, personality disorders, and sexual identity disorder (California v. Houston 2008).
Langman classified Houston as a traumatized shooter due to multiple possible traumas that Houston reportedly experienced as a child and teenager. These traumas include life-threatening illness as a child, physical abuse as a child, the separation of his parents, and sexual abuse as a teenager. In addition, Houston suffered significant disappointments including failure to graduate from high school, and unemployment (Langman 2016h).
Mitchell Johnson; age at incident: 13; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Mitchell Johnson was born on August 11, 1984, to Gretchen and Scott Johnson in Grand Meadow, MN. Scott Johnson was Gretchen’s second husband. He had a volatile temper which terrified Mitchell to the point of feeling physically ill. Johnson reported that his father physically and verbally abused him. After 11 years of marriage, Johnson’s parents divorced (Langman 2015c) and Johnson moved with his mother and younger brother to Kentucky. Johnson’s mother then remarried a former inmate, Terry Woodard, from the prison where she worked as a correction officer. Terry Woodard had been convicted on drugs and weapons violations. The family moved to Woodard’s hometown of Jonesboro, AR. Gretchen Johnson and Terry Woodard had a daughter, Johnson’s half-sister (Fox et al. 2003).
Because of Johnson’s mother and step-father’s busy work schedules, Johnson and his brother often went to their grandmother’s house. It was in their grandmother’s neighborhood that the boys were violently sexually assaulted by an older boy. Johnson reported that the abuse continued from age 8 to 12, and the boy threatened to kill his grandmother if he told anyone (Langman 2015c). Johnson himself was then caught molesting a 2-year-old girl while changing her diaper. In addition, shortly before the attack, he spent hundreds of dollars on his father’s credit card to call telephone sex lines (Langman 2016g).
Johnson attended Central Baptist Church in Jonesboro and participated in the church youth group. He was also reportedly involved in the school choir and played sports including football, basketball, and baseball (Fox et al. 2003). However, his behavior appeared to deteriorate. At school, Johnson was frequently suspended for behavior problems, often fueled by his temper. These incidents were significantly increasing the year leading up to the attack. In one incident, he punched a thermostat with his fist, breaking the glass (Langman 2015c). Johnson wrote in a diary that he liked to shoot squirrels and pretend they were the teachers that suspended him. There were reports that he was cutting his arms (Koon 2008) and was disqualified from participating on the baseball team because he had carved his initials on his shoulder (Fox et al. 2003). He also liked to brag about smoking marijuana and being involved with a gang, which is unlikely (Koon, 2008). Johnson was described by some as a bully and very sensitive to teasing (Fox et al. 2003). One teacher reported that Johnson would often listen to music and sing lyrics at school about “coming to school and killing all the kids” (Fox et al. 2003).
Johnson was 13 years old when, on March 24, 1998, he carried out a rampage attack on his middle school with 11-year-old accomplice Drew Golden. Johnson and Golden gathered weapons including 10 guns, various knives (Koon 2008), and other supplies in a van. They drove the van to a hill near the school where Johnson entered the school and pulled the fire alarm before rejoining Golden. The boys then shot at students and teachers as they exited the building. Johnson killed 2 and injured an additional 3 including students and teachers (Langman 2016g). Johnson targeted Candace Porter, a girl that had recently broken up with him. He had talked about killing other girls that had rejected him; however, he also shot students at random. Following the attack, Johnson and Golden attempted to escape and hide-out in the van, but were soon apprehended by police (Langman, 2015c).
Langman characterized Johnson as a traumatized shooter due to his significant trauma history and his behavior before and during the attack. Johnson experienced physical and verbal abuse from his father and violent and ongoing sexual abuse and threats by an older neighborhood boy. In addition, Johnson went through many transitions including his parents’ divorce and his mother’s remarriage and moving to different states. Johnson may have experienced neglect and other traumas. For example, he and his brother were stranded at a bus station on their way home from Minnesota for two days before anyone noticed. Johnson had increasing behavior problems at school leading up to the attacks. During his trial, he referenced his trauma experiences as significantly contributing to his anger. According to Johnson, however, the attack was Golden’s idea (Langman 2016g).
Kip Kinkel; age at incident: 15; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Kipland “Kip” Kinkel was born on August 30, 1982, to William and Faith Kinkel in Springfield, OR. He had a sister who was 6 years older named Kristin. Both of Kinkel’s parents were high school and community college Spanish teachers and were well respected in their community (Bernstein and Filips 1998).
In 1986, Kinkel’s first year of school, the Kinkel family spent a year in Spain. Kinkel’s teacher did not speak English which made Kinkel’s first year of school difficult. Kinkel then repeated first grade. He struggled with reading and was diagnosed with a learning disability; however, he was also placed in a gifted and talented program for his performance in math and science. Kinkel was reportedly well-behaved in elementary school; however, in middle school, he was caught shoplifting with friends, throwing rocks at cars on an overpass, and ordering books on how to make bombs. Following these incidents, Kinkel’s parents brought him to a psychologist who diagnosed him with major depression. In his therapy notes, Dr. Jeffery Hicks noted that Kinkel’s mother was concerned about his fascination with explosives, guns, and knives. She was also concerned about Kinkel’s temper leading him to kick holes in the wall at home. In addition, there were a couple of violent incidents with peers (Oregon v. Kinkel 2002). Kinkel’s parents were so concerned about violent behavior that they would no longer leave Kinkel home alone. Kinkel told the psychologist that he dealt with his anger by detonating explosives that he made with gasoline and other household items (Hicks 1997). Kinkel began taking Prozac in June 1997, but stopped taking the medication 3 months later. By the end of July, therapy was discontinued due to an agreement between Kinkel, his parents, and the psychologist that he had made sufficient improvement. Also, in the summer of 1997, Kinkel bought a pistol from a friend and did not tell his parents (PBS, n.d.)
On May 20, 1998, Kinkel was arrested at Thurston High School for possession of a gun in his locker and was released into his father’s custody. That same day around 3:30 PM, Kinkel shot and killed his father in their home. Then, around 6:30 PM, he killed his mother as she arrived home from work. The following morning, Kinkel walked into the Thurston High School cafeteria with three semiautomatic guns and killed 2 students and injured 25 before he was tackled by students and taken into custody. Later, at the police station, Kinkel tried to attack a detective with a knife he had concealed (Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon 2002). Kinkel later explained that he wanted the detective to shoot him because he wanted to die (Kinkel and Warthen 1998).
When asked by the detective why he shot his parents, Kinkel explained that he loved his parents and he did not want to kill them. However, he noted that he “had to” do it to save his parents from pain and embarrassment. Regarding the shooting at school, Kinkel was unable to give a coherent explanation. He continually repeated that he wanted to die and that he “had no other choice.” Kinkel expressed significant distress that he was “fucked up in the head” and referenced “voices inside [his] head” (Kinkel and Warthen 1998). In a psychological assessment, Kinkel said that the voices were telling him to shoot his parents and students and telling him that he “had no choice” (Oregon v. Kinkel 2002). In his journal, Kinkel had written about being “consumed with hate,” being extremely depressed, being desperate for help, and being “so close to killing people” (Kinkel, n.d.). He described the world and himself as evil and spoke of love and God as being unreal because “he wouldn’t let me feel the way I do” (Kinkel, n.d.).
Kinkel was determined a psychotic shooter by Langman due to his paranoid symptoms, delusions, and auditory hallucinations. Kinkel reported that a voice in his head told him to kill his parents and students at school. His auditory hallucinations began as early as 6th grade, and by the time, he was in high school, he started buying guns to defend himself against the Chinese government and/or Disney taking over the world (Langman 2016g). After the attack, mental health professionals described Kinkel as psychotic; however, they were unable to determine his exact diagnosis during their assessments (Oregon v. Kinkel 2002).
Dylan Klebold; age at incident: 17; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Dylan Klebold was born on September 11, 1981, in Lakewood, CO, to Thomas and Susan Klebold. Klebold had an older brother named Byron. Klebold’s mother came from a Jewish family and Klebold’s family observed Jewish holidays. The Klebolds also attended and were involved in a Lutheran church (Leppek 1999). Thomas and Susan Klebold were known among friends and acquaintances as a loving and stable couple. They were respected in their community (Langman 2009) and known to be successful in their hobbies and work endeavors (Fast 2008). As a young child, Klebold participated in Scouts and Little League (Langman 2009) and his parents were observed as being very involved in both of their sons’ activities and games (Fast 2008). In addition, Klebold’s parents were against weapons and did not allow their sons to play with toy guns as young children. Klebold’s journal writings reflect some resentment towards his brother who was described as popular and athletic (Langman 2015c). Klebold also wrote that he was picked on or mistreated by his brother and other relatives (this did not include his parents) (Langman 2015c).
As a child, Klebold was described as shy and insecure. He tended to follow his peers instead of initiating games or interactions (Langman 2015c). By adolescence, Klebold’s journal writings reflect significant social anxiety. He often felt lonely or alienated and had many social insecurities (Langman 2015c). After reviewing his writings and reports of people who knew him, Langman (2015) concluded that Klebold had symptoms consistent with avoidant personality disorder that deteriorated into schizotypal personality disorder over time. Schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by odd, eccentric, and sometimes delusional thinking, identity confusion, and difficulty with social interactions and relationships. According to Langman (2015), the outside world was too confusing and painful so Klebold constructed and lived in his own internal world where he was a superior being and looked down on humanity. Klebold also exhibited significant dependence. This was evidenced by his desperation and anger when his close friend began spending more time with a girlfriend (Langman 2009). His dependence and need to be accepted by someone were especially evident in his relationship with Eric Harris, whom he met working at a pizza parlor. Peers reported that Klebold acted differently around Harris and seemed to be willing to do anything for his approval. For example, despite his Jewish ties, Klebold began joining Harris in his neo-Nazi interests (Langman, 2009).
Klebold reportedly drank and smoked marijuana frequently (Langman 2015c). He wrote about struggling with guilt surrounding sexual issues including pornography, masturbation, a foot fetish, and interest in sexual bondage (Langman 2009). During the last 2 years, before the attack, Klebold exhibited increased anger and acting out behavior such as vandalizing homes and other property with Harris (Langman 2015c). Klebold was different around his parents, however, and appeared normal. He had been accepted to his college of choice and seemed excited to visit his future dorm with his parents (Langman 2009).
Klebold attended Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, where, on April 20, 1999, nearing the end of his senior year, he carried out a long-planned rampage attack with his friend Eric Harris. As a result of the attack, 12 students and 1 teacher were killed and 23 were injured. Klebold was deemed responsible for 5 of the fatalities and 10 injuries. Harris and Klebold had planned to kill more people and had planted a couple of bombs in the school that never detonated. At the end of the attack, both Harris and Klebold died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds (Fast 2008).
Langman classified Klebold as a psychotic shooter. Klebold’s writings reveal that he had significant confusions regarding his identity and even humanity. He appeared to believe that he was not human and often referred to himself as a god. He filled his feelings of emptiness and lack of identity with his own reality which included grandiosity, following along with Harris’ violent ideologies, as well as admiration for the ideology of Charles Manson. Klebold was known to be shy and had a dependent personality. He was desperate for friendship and appeared to be willing to do anything to win Harris’ approval. He was also markedly depressed and focused on his own suffering in his writings (Langman 2015c).
T.J. Lane; age at incident: 17; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
T.J. Lane was born on September 19, 1994, in Ohio to Sara Nolan and Thomas Lane. His parents were never married and had a reported history of substance abuse (Langman 2016i). Court documents refer to a history of domestic violence between the two (Nolan v. Lane 1995). In addition to domestic violence against Sara Nolan, Thomas Lane was accused of violent episodes against one or more other women, and physical aggression towards a police officer while resisting arrest for domestic violence (Geauga County Sheriff’s Office, 1997/2002). One of these incidents involved holding the woman’s head under running water and bashing it into a wall, leaving a dent in the wall. During another incident, Thomas Lane tried to suffocate a woman. It is unclear how much his son, T.J. Lane, witnessed or experienced, and it is also unknown how much contact T.J. had with his father. As a child, Lane frequently moved between living with his mother, father, and grandmother, often due to a parent’s incarceration.
It is not clear how much or little involvement Lane had with friends, socially, and in extracurricular activities. He was reported to have attended a church youth group several years before the shooting with a girl he was dating. Also, several years back, he was reported to have played basketball after school with friends (Dissell 2012). Students described Lane as quiet and some noted that he was sweet while others remembered him having a “simmering temper” (Dissell 2012). On his Facebook page, he listed his interests as anime (Japanese animation) and primitive hunting (Dissell 2012). Two years before the shooting, Lane was arrested for assaulting his uncle including throwing punches and putting him in a choke hold (Geauga County Sheriff’s Office 2009). Lane attended Lake Academy, an alternative school, for unknown reasons. He was required to change buses at Chardon high school in order to get to Lake Academy.
Lane was 17 years old, when, on the 27th of February, 2012, he walked into the Chardon High School cafeteria in Chardon, OH, and began shooting students. The incident resulted in 3 fatalities and 3 additional injured students. Following the shooting, Lane ran from the building and was later apprehended by police. It is unknown exactly why Lane chose Chardon High School and that particular group of students. He originally claimed that he did not know his victims and shot at students randomly (Langman 2016i). However, a couple of the victim’s parents reported that Lane had known their sons and at least one of them had been friends with Lane (Langman 2016i). In addition, some students reported that one of the students that Lane shot had dated a former girlfriend of Lane after she broke up with him (Dissell 2012). Lane’s Facebook post about 2 months prior to the shooting may also provide some insight regarding his sentiments and motives on that day. In a long post filled with anger and depressing sentiment, Lane wrote: “…In a quaint lonely town, sits a man with a frown. No job. No family. No crown. His luck had run out. Lost and alone…”. He then goes on to say, “He longed for only one thing, the world to bow at his feet. They too should feel his secret fear. The dismal drear… He was better than the rest, all those ones he detests, within their castles, so vain. Selfish and conceited. They couldn’t care less about the peasents (sic) they mistreated. They were in their own world, it was a joyous one too.” He concludes the post with a storming of the “castle” and wrote, “Now! Feel death not just mocking you. Not just stalking you but inside of you. Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might. Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you” (Lane 2011).
Lane was originally classified by Langman as a traumatized shooter due to his trauma history including violence and caregiver changes. However, after reviewing documentation of Lane’s post-attack behavior, Langman added the classification of psychopathic in addition to traumatized (Langman 2016i). This is a unique situation because, while Langman has credited traits of other typologies to shooters in a particular typology (e.g., a psychotic shooter with psychopathic traits), Lane is the only shooter that Langman has concluded fits into two typologies (Langman 2016i).
Adam Lanza; age at incident: 20; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Adam Lanza was born on April 22, 1992, in Kingston, NH, to Peter and Nancy Lanza. Lanza was the 2nd of two children and had an older brother. In 1998, the Lanza family moved to Newtown, CT. In 2002, Lanza’s parents separated and his father moved out of the home (Coleman 2015).
Lanza suffered from significant speech and language delays, and was first evaluated for special-needs services when he was 2 years old. He received special-needs services, including an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), throughout his school years and was eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder. All reports indicate that Lanza had at least average intelligence and was able to engage with grade-level school work. However, Lanza increasingly struggled with his school settings and developed significant anxiety, especially concerning school and other public places (Coleman 2015). He had a marked sensitivity to lights, sounds, or any changes and excitement. At the same time, it was noted that normally painful stimuli did not seem to bother him (Office of the Child Advocate, 2014 as cited in Langman 2016b). By the time he was 10 or 11, Lanza had developed obsessive–compulsive tendencies, including excessive handwashing, and was having panic attacks at school. Because of this anxiety, Lanza was briefly moved to a different school and then homeschooled for a short period during middle school before returning to the public-school system for high school (Coleman 2015). Lanza was very depressed, had suicidal thoughts, was extremely thin, and referred to himself as a “loser” (Langman 2016b). During middle school and high school, Lanza was seen and assessed by a few different mental health providers; however, all were short-lived and he reportedly did not find them helpful (Coleman 2015).
Lanza demonstrated an interest in violence, including mass shootings, and often connected children with violence and death. Lanza edited Wikipedia pages, commented on YouTube, and wrote his own blog posts on these and similar topics. He mostly kept this interest to himself, and his Internet presence was anonymous and not discovered until years later. Lanza was also confused about his sexuality and wrote a long document in support of pedophilia, participated in online discussions on homosexual activities, was concerned that he might be asexual at one time, expressed adverse opinions about women and sexuality, and appeared to connect sexual frustration with mass murder. Lanza also showed an interest in the military and would dress in camouflage military clothes for target shooting with a pellet gun in his basement (Langman 2016b). Lanza attended college at Connecticut State University but dropped out after a short period of attendance. At this time, Lanza became very socially isolated, stayed at home, refused contact with his father and brother, and would only communicate with his mother (who lived in the same house) through email (Coleman 2015).
On December 14, 2012, when Lanza was 20 years old, he shot and killed his mother at home and then walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, which he had previously attended, and began shooting students and teachers. Lanza killed 27 students and teachers and left 2 wounded before shooting himself. Lanza did not leave behind any writings or clear indications about the motive for his attack, or his reason for choosing an elementary school rather than the middle school, high school, or colleges that he attended. However, he frequently wrote about his disapproval of society and the education system, did extensive research on previous school shootings, and wrote a long document in defense of pedophilia. In addition, Lanza may have been experiencing some symptoms of psychosis. His writings describe in detail an episode of hallucinations, he was increasingly socially isolated and fearful, and some figures in his life have wondered whether his symptoms of Aspergers were actually the development of a disorder such as schizophrenia. For these reasons, Langman categorized Lanza as a psychotic shooter (Langman 2016b).
Barry Loukaitis; age at incident: 14; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Barry Loukaitis was born on February 26, 1981, to Terry and JoAnn Loukaitis. In the late 1980s, Loukaitis moved with his family to Moses Lake, WA, where his parents opened a coffee shop (Tizon 1997). Loukaitis had a difficult family life. His mother suffered from depression, and his parents were often in conflict escalating to loud arguments and physical violence. Shortly before the shooting, Loukaitis’ parents were in the process of divorce (Langman 2015c). Only a few weeks before the attack, Loukaitis’ mother confided in him her plan to tie up his father and his father’s girlfriend on Valentine’s day, threaten them with a gun, and then kill herself in front of them (Anderson 1997).
Through elementary school, Loukaitis was reportedly outgoing, had many friends, and was involved in the student council. By middle school, Loukaitis had become more withdrawn, angry, and arrogant (Langman 2015c). Loukaitis’ mother reported that she noticed her son withdrawing and becoming depressed as the conflict escalated between his parents. Loukaitis showed an increasing interest in death, often writing about it for class assignments or talking about it with friends. He would often ask peers at school whether they deserved to live. He would often quote the movie Natural Born Killers and noted that, “It would be cool to kill people” (Langman 2015c). After his mother told him her suicide plan, Loukaitis retreated to his room, stopped eating as much, and would sleep most of the day.
On February 2, 1996, when Loukaitis was 14 years old, he entered his 8th grade algebra class at Frontier Junior High School in Moses Lake, WA, and shot and killed 2 students and a teacher and injured another student. He held his class hostage until another teacher apprehended him by pinning him against the wall with his gun (Washington v. Loukaitis, 1999). Prior to the shooting, Loukaitis told his friends that he hated a married couple that worked at the school: Mr. Caires, the vice-principal who put him in detention, and Mrs. Caires, his algebra teacher whom he shot. The first student that was killed was reportedly the boyfriend of a girl that Loukaitis liked. No noteworthy connection was established between the two other classmates shot by Loukaitis (Langman 2015c). During the shooting and hostage situation, Loukaitis reportedly appeared calm. He read the class role, began organizing students, and commented, “This beats the hell out of algebra, doesn’t it?” He was annoyed by the police attempts to talk to him through the door or on the phone and said he would start killing more people if they kept trying to talk to him. Loukaitis did, however, allow an injured teacher and student with blood sugar problems to leave the room (Washington v. Loukaitis 1999).
Once in prison after the shooting, Loukaitis was prescribed lithium, a mood stabilizer that is commonly used in the treatment of bipolar disorder. Loukaitis’ parents reported that he had improved significantly after 2 months on the lithium and was no longer depressed (Tizon 1997).
Although his depression and his mother’s suicidality may have been the stressor that triggered the attack, Loukaitis had been planning and talking about killing for a long time. Langman characterized Loukaitis as a psychopathic shooter due to his apparent dislike for authority figures, his long-expressed interest in going on a killing spree, and his lack of emotion or remorse during and following the attack (Langman 2015c).
Jon Romano; age at incident: 16; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Jon Romano was born on October 30, 1987. Romano lived in East Greenbush, NY, and had three half siblings, Jay, Matt, and Rachel. His parents eventually divorced and he lived with his mother, Lorraine Barde. In a letter before the attack, Romano accused his father of beating him and his brother Matt and treating his family very poorly. According to Romano, his father’s behavior had improved by the time he was in high school, but the past abuse had a lasting impact on the relationship between father and son (Patrick, n.d.).
Once in high school, Romano began struggling with his schoolwork. He especially had difficulty with math and biology and his teachers were concerned that he may have a learning disability and/or depression. Romano was eventually diagnosed with major depression and began taking Celexa. He was also reportedly on medication for insomnia. In December of 2003, Romano became suicidal and was hospitalized for a week after a reported overdose of sleeping pills. The rest of that year, Romano was tutored from home and then began school the next year with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that lightened his workload. However, Romano demonstrated poor behavior, missed classes, and began having panic attacks at school. In addition, Romano’s friend, Chris, was killed in a car accident after being hit by a drunk driver. The date of this incident is unknown; however, it was very difficult for Romano (Patrick, n.d.).
Romano reportedly had a group of friends as well as a couple of girlfriends. He spent time with friends and talked to them via instant messenger. However, some students reported being scared by his behavior. One female student reported an incident during class in which Romano took her in a choke hold, which bruised her neck, to demonstrate what he did to another student while drunk. She reported that she feared Romano (Patrick, n.d.).
Prior to the attack, Romano had been in contact via email with his older half-brother, Matt, who was stationed in Iraq with the military. Matt said he would take Romano hunting when he returned home. Excited about this, Romano’s mother bought him a gun which Romano’s friends reported that he bragged about and talked about excessively (Patrick, n.d.).
On February 9, 2004, Romano wrote a letter to his family, friends, and the school, watched “Bowling for Columbine,” and drove to Columbia High School with his new shotgun. Romano texted his friends to warn them that he was at school with a gun. He shot at students and teachers, injuring one student and one teacher. He was finally wrestled down by the assistant principal and agreed to give up his gun (Patrick, n.d.). Romano was observed laughing at the news story of the shooting on TV from his jail cell that night (People v. Romano 2007). Romano’s letter indicated that he had planned to commit suicide. His letter explained that the school was to blame for the shooting because they were responsible for his weeklong stay at the psychiatric hospital. He wrote that he was not what the media says a school shooter should be, but that “society” was also to blame (Patrick, n.d.). After evaluation of Romano, a psychologist concluded that his mental illness was “poorly and effectively untreated” during the months leading up to the shooting (People v. Romano 2007).
Langman has not yet published a typology for Romano. He exhibited features of both the psychopathic and traumatized typologies, but it is unclear which one best describes Romano. There is no documentation of symptoms of psychosis, so he does not appear to fit the psychotic typology. While Romano claimed to have been physically abused by his father, his trauma does not seem to be the driving factor behind his attack. Some psychopathic traits Romano demonstrated included some violence and disregard for the feelings of other students and his behavior after the shooting when he laughed at the news story. Overall, there is not enough information currently to assign a typology.
Brenda Spencer; age at incident: 16; sex: female; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Brenda Spencer was born in San Diego, CA, on April 3, 1962, to Wallace and Dot Spencer. She was the youngest of three children, with an older brother and sister. When Spencer was 9 years old, her parents divorced, and Spencer and her siblings lived with their father. A few years later, both older siblings moved out of the house, leaving Spencer and her father as the sole inhabitants. Spencer’s father was a navy veteran. He taught his daughter how to shoot and bought her a semi-automatic rifle for Christmas 1978 (Langman 2015c).
Spencer was small in stature at 5 feet 1 inch tall and 80 lbs. Neighbors reported that Spencer had a history of petty theft, drug abuse, and truancy (San Diego Police Museum, no date). Before the attack, Spencer vandalized and burglarized the school with her friend Brent Flemming. Flemming reported that Spencer would often talk about guns, killing police officers, and wanting to be a sniper. Spencer did not perform well at school. She was described as quiet, was often seen by herself, and one classmate noted that most of the kids at school did not like her. Spencer, however, was good at photography and had won an award for some of her photos (Pugh 2016). According to family members, her parent’s divorce had a significant effect on Spencer. She was no longer involved in sports and other activities, became increasingly negative about the world, and would spend a lot of time at home by herself (Hart 2012). Spencer had a reputation of lying about things that she did to make herself sound tough. For example, she reportedly enjoyed keeping pets but told a peer that she set a cat’s tail on fire. She also liked to make threats about what she would do to people but never carried them out.
Spencer lived across the street from Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, CA. On January 29, 1979, Spencer began firing her semi-automatic rifle at the school from a window in her home. The principal and custodian were killed while trying to bring students to safety. Spencer also injured 8 children and a police officer. She then barricaded herself inside the house for about 7 h before surrendering to police. During that time, she briefly spoke to a reporter that called her house. When asked why she did it, Spencer told the reporter: “I just did it for the fun of it. I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day. I have to go now. I shot a pig (policeman) I think and I want to shoot more. I’m having too much fun (to surrender)” (San Diego Police Museum, n.d.). Prior to the attack, Spencer had talked about hating police officers and bragged about her desire to kill them. She also told a friend that she was going to do something big that would get her on the news. Throughout the attack and afterward, Spencer’s attitude was incredibly nonchalant. Spencer’s home was found strewn with empty beer and whiskey bottles; however, she did not appear to be intoxicated at the time (Langman 2015c).
After the attack, Spencer made many conflicting claims that make the details of her life difficult to piece together. During parole hearings, Spencer accused both of her parents of neglect and her father of physical and sexual abuse. She claimed that she reported the abuse, and it was investigated after she was arrested, but there is no record of an investigation. She also said that she was intoxicated at the time of the attack, but drug screens were negative for any substances (Langman, 2016a).
Spencer was classified as a psychopathic shooter by Langman due to her nonchalant attitude surrounding the attack, her history of behavior problems and lying, her obsession with killing police officers, her problem with authority figures, and her thrill-seeking behavior (Langman 2015c).
Jeffrey Weise; age at incident: 16; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Native American
Jeffrey Weise was born on August 8, 1988, to Daryl Lussier, Jr. and Joanne Weise in Minneapolis, MN. Weise’s parents were never married and separated before he was born. When Weise was 3 months old, his mother sent him to live with his father. He lived with his father and his father’s parents on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Red Lake, MN, until he was 3 years old. At that time, he went back to live with his mother in Twin Cities, MN. Between 1996 and 1997, Joanne Weise had two children with her boyfriend, Timothy Desjarlait, whom she later married. Also, in 1997, Weise’s father committed suicide by shooting himself after a standoff with reservation police. In 1999, Weise’s mother was in a car accident which resulted in severe brain injury and placement in an assisted living home. Weise went to live with his grandmother, Shelda Lussier, on the Red Lake Indian Reservation. He spent time with his grandfather, Daryl Lussier, Sr., who lived with his younger girlfriend, Michelle Sigana, and their son. Weise was also in foster care during different periods of his life (Langman 2016g).
As a teenager, Weise attempted suicide by cutting his wrists (Langman 2016g). He wrote fiction and journal entries online. On his online profile pages, he wrote that he likes zombie and horror movies, writing horror stories, reading about history and Nazi Germany, drawing, spending time with friends, and playing guitar. His listed his favorite music as Marilyn Manson, made references to being a “stoner” and “getting high,” referred to himself as an “emotionally disturbed person,” and noted that he admired Hitler. On one Web site, his favorite quote was from Adolf Hitler: “the law of existence requires uninterrupted killing, so that the better may live.” He was also very active on a Nationalist forum and his username was “NativeNazi” (Weise, n.d.). By 16 years old, Weise was 6 ft 3 in. and almost 300 lbs (Rave 2005). He dressed in all black clothing, often wore combat boots and a trench coat, and spiked his hair into devil horns. Weise wrote that people at school thought he looked like a school shooter and that he “fit the stereotype” (Weise, n.d.). Describing himself on one of his online profiles, Weise wrote, “16 years of accumulated rage suppressed by nothing more than brief glimpses of hope, which have all but faded to black. I can feel the urges within slipping through the cracks” (Weise, n.d.).
On March 21, 2005, Weise shot and killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend and proceeded to take his grandfather’s guns and car to his high school. Weise entered Red Lake High School and killed 9 students and teachers and wounded 7 before committing suicide. At the time of the shooting, Weise was not currently attending school and may have been homeschooled; however, the exact reasons for this are not clear.
Weise was classified as a traumatized shooter due to his extensive trauma history. In addition to the losses he experienced and changing caregivers, Weise’s mother was reportedly an alcoholic and was physically and emotionally abusive towards Weise. In addition, Weise was physically abused by his mother’s boyfriends (Langman 2016g).
Andy Williams; age at incident: 15; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Andy Williams was born Charles Andrew Williams on February 8, 1986, in Maryland. His parents divorced when he was 4 years old. At the time of the divorce, Williams went to live with his father, and his older brother, Michael, went to live with their mother. Sometime after the divorce, Williams’ mother moved to South Carolina. In 1999, when Williams was 13, he moved with his father from Maryland to Twentynine Palms, CA. A few months later, they moved to Santee, CA (Langman 2015a).
However, since that time, the amount of contradictory information on Williams made the details of his life, personality, and motivation for the shooting inconclusive enough that Langman avoided writing about him until only recently (Langman 2015a). This contradictory information includes statements that Williams has made that contradict statements of his peers and other people involved in his life. In addition, he often contradicted himself and even described himself as an “awesome liar” (Langman 2015a).
Langman’s (2015a) analysis of Williams indicates that his conduct problems began long before moving to Santee. Williams himself reported substance abuse beginning at age 12. Before Santee, Williams was known by peers and members of the community as a prankster, and engaged in some serious behaviors such as fire-setting, theft, and truancy. After the shooting, Williams made claims that he had been severely bullied daily at school (Langman 2015a). Most media reports immediately following the shooting characterize Williams as a well-adjusted teenager until he moved to Santee, where he was the subject of severe bullying at his high school (e.g., McCarthy 2001). However, a district attorney was unable to find any evidence of this after interviewing hundreds of peers. Most peers and school personnel characterized Williams as fairly popular, social, and well-liked (Langman 2015a).
Williams was 15 years old on March 5, 2001, when he opened fire at Santana High School in Santee, CA, killing two and injuring 13 others. According to his peers, Williams had been talking about bringing a gun to school and “pulling a Columbine” for weeks, possibly months, before the attack. When his friends asked if he was serious, Williams always replied that he was joking. Most of his peers believed that he was joking, but some friends were concerned enough to pat him down when he arrived at school the day of the shooting. They did not check his backpack, however, which is where he was carrying the gun. Williams stated that his peers encouraged him to do the shooting. On a couple of occasions, Williams even stated that it was another friend or adult’s idea, and that he was merely following, or had been coerced into, the act (Langman 2015a).
Immediately before, during, and after the attack, Williams’ affect was described as calm and carefree. Some students remember Williams smiling during the attack. Williams ultimately surrendered to police. Law enforcement personnel recalled Williams as having a calm demeanor and a cold or callous smirk on his face. The attack was random, and he did not appear to have any specific targets. When asked about the fact that he shot some of his friends, he noted that it was too late by the time he recognized them. The combination of his conduct problems, the calculated nature of the attack, his joking and calm demeanor surrounding the attack, and lack of remorse are factors that led to Langman’s (2015a) characterization of Williams as a psychopathic shooter.
Luke Woodham; age at incident: 16; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Luke Woodham was born on February 5, 1981. He was the second son of John and Mary Ann Woodham, who separated when Woodham was 7 years old (Criminal Justice, n.d.). Woodham had a brother that was about 7 years older than him (Fast 2008). According to Fast (2008), Woodham’s older brother was jealous of him and was often physically aggressive towards him when no one was watching. The brothers were also often observed as aggressive with each other when they did not get what they wanted, and other children and parents avoided them for this reason. Before his parents separated, Woodham’s father lost his job and became depressed. Then, in 1987, John Woodham left his family and further contact was rare. Years later, after the shooting, Woodham referred to his father leaving as having a significant impact on his life. His brother began spending less time at home, leaving Woodham to care for his mother, do the chores, and be his mother’s confidant (Fast 2008).
Woodham’s relationship with his mother was a difficult one, especially following his parents’ separation. Mary Ann Woodham was reportedly abusive and neglectful, at times, towards Woodham. Fast (2008) described an incident in which she made Woodham smoke two packs of cigarettes, causing him to vomit, as punishment for catching him smoking. She would also leave Woodham home overnight on his own while she went on dates, leaving him to eat chips and cookies for dinner (Fast 2008).
Woodham was slightly overweight and was often ridiculed. However, a classmate of Woodham’s noted that other kids were bullied more harshly than Woodham. His older brother, whom his mother often compared him to, was reportedly popular at school and successful (Fast 2008).
Woodham reportedly suffered from depression from an early age. When Woodham was in the 9th grade, he wrote a couple of assignments describing himself going on a violent rampage, torturing others, and killing himself. In April 1997, a personal journal entry documents his “first kill” in which he and an “accomplice” tortured and killed his dog (Woodham 1995–1997). Woodham attended Pearl High School in Pearl, MS, where he briefly dated Christina Menefee and was upset when she broke up with him. He began spending time with a group of teenagers that formed a cult-like group called “The Kroth,” led by Grant Boyette. According to Woodham, Boyette preached about Satanism and told Woodham that he should kill his mother and ex-girlfriend (Woodham v. Mississippi 2001).
On October 1, 1997, the 1-year anniversary of his breakup with Menefee (Langman 2014a), Woodham woke up early and stabbed, beat, and suffocated his mother before going to school. Once at school, Woodham shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her friend and then began randomly shooting other students, wounding an additional seven. After another student attempted to tackle him, Woodham ran to the parking lot and was confronted and held by the assistant principal who had retrieved his gun from his car (Criminal Justice, n.d.).
Woodham later reported that he saw demons and heard Boyette’s voice telling him to kill his mother. However, he also confessed that he had to kill his mother in order to get the gun and car necessary to carry out the school shooting (Woodham v. Mississippi 2001). Categorizing Woodham into one of the three typologies is difficult due to ambiguous information. However, Langman concluded that Woodham best fits the psychotic shooter typology due to his reported hallucinations and delusions regarding demons, as well as other bizarre behavior reported by peers (Langman 2014a).
Andrew Wurst; age at incident: 14; sex: male; race/ethnicity: Caucasian
Andrew Wurst was born on February 3, 1984, to Jerome and Cathy Wurst. Wurst had two older brothers, and his father owned a landscaping company. Although his parents did not divorce until a couple years after his attack, there had been significant marital conflict, including physical altercations, in front of the kids (Langman 2009). The conflict had been so significant that, in the 3 years prior to the shooting, Wurst’s parents had been keeping separate bedrooms. Other than observing domestic violence between their parents, there was no evidence of child abuse in the home. Mr. Wurst expected his sons to work hard and was known as a “strict disciplinarian” (DeJong et al. 2003). Unlike his elder brothers, Wurst had trouble helping his father with his landscaping business because he lacked the strength to complete some common tasks. His mother was known to be very understanding of him and they reportedly had a close relationship (DeJong et al. 2003)
Wurst attended Parker Middle School in Edinboro, PA, where he had a group of friends. Wurst enjoyed reading Stephen King and listened to heavy metal music. His favorite bands included Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails. Although he did not like the nickname, one of his friends called him “Satan” because of his love for Marilyn Manson’s dark music. Wurst’s family was Catholic but Wurst did not go to church and said that he did not believe in God because of all the suffering in the world. Wurst’s functioning and behavior appeared to deteriorate when he was in middle school. His academic performance was increasingly poor and by the 8th grade he was making Ds and Fs. He reportedly drank alcohol to get a “buzz” (DeJong et al. 2003) and smoked marijuana. In his last semester of 8th grade, Wurst began hanging out with a different group of friends that appeared to have a significantly negative influence on him. One of these friends pretended that he had a bomb during a school fire drill and had discussed with Wurst about how he could kill his mother. During this time, Wurst began bullying other kids and acting out, and his mood became more negative and defiant. He had no record of disciplinary action at school, however, so his teachers were not concerned. Wurst dated a girl from his school for a short period of time until she broke up with him over a phone call about 3 months before the attack (DeJong et al. 2003).
Wurst was known for saying strange things, so when he told his peers that he wanted to go on a rampage, they did not think he was serious. He told a friend that he wanted to shoot his parents and that he wanted to shoot nine people and himself at a school dance because he hated his life. The friend thought Wurst was just trying to sound tough. On April 24, 1998, Wurst shot and killed a teacher and wounded another teacher and two students at a school-sponsored dinner dance, which was hosted at a venue called Nick’s Place. The owner of Nick’s Place then pointed a gun at Wurst who surrendered before he was able to shoot anyone else (DeJong et al. 2003).
Wurst was categorized as a psychotic shooter by Langman. Wurst believed he was the only real person and everyone else was unreal. His justification for shooting the teacher was that the teacher was “already dead or unreal” (Langman, 2016g). Wurst believed that his parents were not his real parents and that he began living with them when he was 4 years old. In addition to other delusional beliefs, Wurst reportedly heard voices. Wurst was also very fearful and, even as a teenager, required his mother to check under his bed at night for monsters (Langman, 2016g). In an interview after the shooting, Wurst revealed that he had been having suicidal ideation since he was 10 years old and on one occasion put a plastic bag over his head to see what it would feel like. Wurst noted that he was planning to shoot himself on the night of the attack because he was feeling hopeless about “everything” including “nuclear wars, viruses, murders, robberies, school” (DeJong et al. 2003). Wurst had left a suicide note in his bedroom; however, his family was unaware until after the shooting of his suicidality and depression (DeJong et al. 2003).
About this article
Cite this article
Vitz, P.C., Faria, A.A. The Absence of Positive Psychosocial Characteristics in the Lives of Mass School Shooters. J Police Crim Psych 37, 17–37 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11896-020-09413-y