Events like those that occurred at Columbine High School and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are so frightening because they show how vulnerable students in America can be. The shootings at these schools, two of the bloodiest in twenty-five years, show that schools are no longer the safe havens they once were. There is an epidemic of violence across the country, and it seems almost daily, the news is reporting on yet another school shooting and naming the lives cut down far too early.
While it’s impossible to predict who may be the next school shooter, there are a number of warning signs that could point to a potential future threat. An article from 2018 in Psychology Today, written by George S. Everly, Jr. PhD, outlined seven factors of psychology that could point to a school shooter.
The majority of school shooters are male, and of those, they overwhelmingly either belong to or recently graduated from the upon which the attack was perpetrated.
Dysfunctional Family Situations
One trait shared by most school shooters is that they are the product of a dysfunctional family situation. One or both parents aren’t in the picture, and they may suffer abuse at the hand of the one who remains. They’ll often have little supervision, and rarely do they have an outlet willing to listen to their problems.
Availability of Weapons
Many school shootings, upwards of 68%, are borne from the shooter having easy access to weapons. Combine that with the perpetrators lack of supervision, and stockpiling weapons for a major attack is an easy feat.
The majority of school shootings have identified as an outsider with their peers. They often have few friends and find making connections with others difficult. Because of this, others may see them as strange and ostracize them further.
Seeking Revenge for Bullying
That ostracization may lead to bullying for the perpetrator. Sometimes they feel an undue burden from a teacher or another authority figure in the school. These perceived slights may cause them to later “seek revenge” against those who’ve wronged them.
Expression Through Art
Everly noted that many school shooters have expressed their feelings through art, either writing or drawing. Social media is another way they can proliferate their dark thoughts, which makes warning signs easier to find. However, often they will brush off macabre thinking as “jokes” to hide any true intentions.
The Copycat Effect
The media coverage of school shootings could unintentionally lead to more attacks. Known as the media contagion effect, seeing the coverage that school shooters get after committing an attack could push another potential attacker to seek the same attention through the same methods. A study out of Western New Mexico University backs this factor, stating “we find that a cross-cutting trait among many profiles of mass shooters is desire for fame,” and the easiest way to fame is to mimic the actions of someone who’s attained it.
A student exhibiting any one of these factors by itself would be inconclusive. Even a student demonstrating several of these traits wouldn’t necessarily be a danger. However, if each of these points are checked off, it could be the sign of a potential shooter. But as Dr. Everly cautioned in his piece, these points are not a profile of a killer, but recurring traits that happen to be shared by past shooters.
Being able to spot these factors and act on them could be important to the safety of students. Through the methods of intervention and reaching out to students exhibiting these traits could encourage them to talk about their issues instead of acting on them violently.