Tag Archives: Columbine

Shaping and Showcasing Killer Identities: The Example of the Jokela School Shooting

In the blog post published on the 22nd of June 2014, I outlined the ways in which promotion of an identity constructed before a school shooting is a ‘performance’ intended for a particular audience. This post will follow up on this, by looking at the specific example of the Jokela High School incident on the 7th of November 2007. In this case, the eighteen year old perpetrator, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, put together a manifesto package explaining his motives. Prior to this, he engaged in online discussions about school shooters and gave some indication that he would perpetrate his own attack.

 

Eight were killed in the attack perpetrated by Auvinen in an attack on the upper (secondary) school within the Jokela School Centre. Similar to other school shootings, this incident had been planned well in advance. Preparations for Jokela were thought to have started in March 2007 based on Auvinen’s diary entry at that time, which stated intent to carry out an ‘operation against humanity.’ Also included in that diary entry was a desire for this ‘operation’ to be infamous with a lasting impact on society and to inspire others to carry out similar acts.

 

These sentiments were echoed in online debates Auvinen engaged in, taking place in internet communities dedicated to discussing the Columbine school shooting. Auvinen’s interest in this particular attack was explicated in him making a video about the incident: for instance, he put together a montage from the surveillance camera footage of the Columbine attack. Researchers found that the ties to these online groups magnified Auvinen’s desires and went some way to encouraging him to follow through with these in a proper attack. (1) Corresponding with others interested in school shooters has been a feature of other school shootings: for instance, the perpetrator of the Sandy Hook attack compiled a spreadsheet about school shooters and discussed them in detail with others online. (2) In the case of the Jokela school shooter, a clear intention to carry out a school shooting was expressed; although this lacked concrete details such as a date and location.

 

With him having a potential audience within the online community he was part of, Auvinen then uploaded materials to the internet: one of these was a manifesto entitled ‘Natural Selector’s Manifesto.’ (3) Throughout internet discussions, Auvinen had been prone to paraphrasing the quotations of Columbine attacker, Eric Harris about natural selection and being ‘God-like.’ Similar to Harris, in this manifesto, he made scathing comments about certain types of social groups and decried the human race in general. In addition to this document, the final media package constructed the night before his attack included a more detailed manifesto comparing his actions to ‘political violence’ to promote an ideology, videos featuring various mass murderers and a goodbye note for his family. With his fascination with radical ideology and terrorism, Auvinen had originally expressed a desire to target the Parliament in Finland; however, he felt that an attack in a school would create more ‘publicity.’ (4)

 

Considering all of this, it is clear that the online discussions helped both to cultivate an audience for Auvinen and provide him with further details about school shooters. It was clear he admired the Columbine school shooter, Eric Harris, and this was echoed in his manifesto comments about ‘natural selection’ and humanity. This was exemplified further in Auvinen preparing a detailed final manifesto to portray himself and his beliefs in a certain way before carrying out the attack and sending this to the media with the belief that this would bring maximum publicity.

 

[This blog post looked at a specific school shooting incident in Finland. Continuing the international theme, the next post will compare and contrast European school shootings with those occurring in the United States.]

 

  1. Oksanen A., Nurmi J., Vuori M., Räsänen P. (2013) ‘Jokela: The Social Roots of a School Shooting Tragedy in Finland.’ In School Shootings, edited by Böckler N., Seeger T., Sitzer P., Heitmeyer W. New York, NY: Springer, 189-215.
  2. The dangers of ‘school shooter admirers’ was discussed in my blog post published on the 29th of June 2014.
  3. Accordingly, he picked the user name ‘NaturalSelector89’ for his user account on YouTube.
  4. See page 208 of Oksanen A., Nurmi J., Vuori M., Räsänen P. (2013) ‘Jokela: The Social Roots of a School Shooting Tragedy in Finland.’ In School Shootings, edited by Böckler N., Seeger T., Sitzer P., Heitmeyer W. New York, NY: Springer, 189-215.

 

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Narcissism: A Threat Assessment Perspective

One of the Columbine shooters claimed: ‘I feel more confident, stronger, and more God-like’ when using guns; whilst the Virginia Tech perpetrator compared himself to biblical figures and spoke of his attack inspiring a revolution. Describing oneself as a God and feeling far superior to others: these are common motivation factors for school shooters, linking to the personality condition ‘narcissism.’

The term originated from the Greek legend of Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection, but this condition is so much more than just vanity. The criteria outlined on the ‘Narcissism Personality Inventory,’ a forced choice questionnaire consisting of forty items designed to clinically measure the condition, are: low self-esteem, dominance, egocentricity, a grandiose sense of self-importance or superiority, fantasies of success and power, sensitivity to criticism, feeling indifferent towards others; exploiting interpersonal relationships and expecting favours without reciprocating, a lack of empathy, and alternating between over-idealising and devaluating other people. The combination of these factors seems rather paradoxical: How can one have a grandiose sense of self-importance and low self-esteem? Why alternate between idealising other people and being apathetic towards them?

The key factor here is fragile nature of identity. Identities are constantly being developed throughout the course of one’s life. Even during this process, it is not enough to simply assert an identity; it has to be approved or disproved through the feedback of others. For the narcissist, the grandiose sense of self-importance they hold relies on the validation of others: an ‘admiring audience’ is their equivalent of Narcissus’s pool of water showing his reflection. This means the high self-esteem and superiority they hold are ‘fragile’ in nature and masking a real sense of worthlessness and shame. Important to note here is these characteristics apply to ‘overt narcissism,’ rather than the other ‘covert form’ where those who suffer from it suffer from a feeling of hopelessness and despair.

A sense of injustice at the world and blaming everyone but themselves for their problems, coupled with some form of mental illness, means school shooters believe the attack they perpetrate will make a ‘statement’ to society and gain them some recognition. The school[1] itself becomes the target for internal attackers like the shooters at Red Lake High School and Virginia Tech University, who felt persecuted by specific persons, groups or just in general and blame the school for all their problems: challenging their ideological views about Neo-Nazi ‘racial purity’ in the case of the Red Lake perpetrator; not adjusting to university life and a lack or romantic success — which led to the stalking and harassing of female students — for the Virginia Tech shooter.

In that case warning signs could be indicative of a potential need for threat assessment: over-reaction (commonly aggressive or passive-aggressive) to the slightest criticism, high self-esteem that needs constant validation; the desire to be infamous and extreme fantasies of success and power; delusions of grandeur; a feeling of superiority combined with a sense of worthlessness; and a sense of isolation from others in a particular environment and/or society in general. Clearly, what is important here is the amount of traits (individual, personality ones and environmental and life factors) present: aggregating these over a certain period of time should be indicative of someone’s susceptibility to enacting a school shooting. If there was only evidence of one or two, for example, feeling isolated from school as a result of bullying and over-reacting to slight criticism, this could be attributable to other factors, such as feeling pressure from schoolwork. It is when these are combined with more disconcerting aspects, like fantasizing about having power over others and then intensive shooting practice, that red flags should be raised.

[Narcissism literature and discourse analyses of shooters’ writings were used to produce this post. A longer version of this model will appear in the book volume Gun Violence in American Society, a chapter I co-wrote with colleague, Dr. O’Grady. This model will be further developed in blog posts in the near future]

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[1] School here refers to a broad, all-encompassing term of education institutions, including elementary, middle and high schools, as well as colleges and universities.