Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles taking a non-partisan approach to deconstructing the problem of school shootings, and discussing solutions.
Post Parkland: Are We Missing The Mark?
People love narratives, and why not? They help us cope with a sudden tragedy when the pieces of the puzzle are either missing, hard to comprehend or even when we find it hard to face facts. Here we stand looking down the barrel of days gone by, salt in our still-healing wounds questioning things we could have done, should have done or would have done had we not let narratives get in the way. But in trying to understand school shootings and how to move forward in their wake, are we missing the mark?
What follows will not be popular among Republicans, nor should it be. Likewise, it will not be popular among Democrats, nor should it be. But it needs to be said to serve as a voice of reason in the aftermath of an event that somehow divided us when it should have brought each and every one of us together.
Failures of Epic Proportions
The story begins in February 1996 when Barry Loukaitis, a ninth-grade student who was continuously teased, arrived at Frontier Junior High in Moses Lake, Washington dressed in black and armed with a rifle. By the end of this school rampage, two students and a teacher had lost their lives. As unfavorable and vile as this shooting seemed at the time, it was only the beginning.
Two fatal shootings occurred in 1997. In October, Luke Woodham, then 16, killed his mother, went to his high school in Pearl, Mississippi with a gun, and shot nine students. Two of them died during the rampage. Two months later, during the holiday season, three students were killed and five injured, as a Michael Carneal, fourteen, brought a gun to a West Paducah, Kentucky school and opened fire in the hallway.
In March 1998, the death toll reached five during a shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The shooting occurred when Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, pulled the fire alarm and waited in a nearby woods for the student population to make their way out of the building. Once they had a clear view of the students, they opened fire and claimed the lives of four girls and a teacher.
Three other shootings occurred that year, including one at a Fayetteville, Tennessee high school parking lot on May 19th. Only two days later in Springfield, Oregon, two teenagers were killed and more than 20 injured when Kip Kinkel, then 15, opened fire at his high school. In addition, Kip's parents were found dead at their home.
There aren't always warning signs. Among these school shootings, only three of the killers showed signs of aggression beforehand. Barry Loukaitis, who opened fire at his school in Moses Lake, Washington, wrote poetry about killing with the "ruthlessness of a machine" weeks before the incident. Kip Kinkel, who murdered his parents, then some students at his school in Springfield, Oregon, told a class that he dreamed of becoming a killer. Finally, Mitchell Johnson, the gunman at Jonesboro, became more aggressive in nature after his parents' divorce in 1994.
The public questioned the mental health of the individuals involved, but did nothing. People even accepted the findings as "normal." In fact, Scott Johnson, Mitchell's father, stated, "He started talking back and always pushed the limits. Mitchell saw a therapist on one occasion after the divorce." However, his mother, Gretchen, asserted, "A therapist for what? This is a little boy who played football and basketball and loved school."