Tag Archives: school shooter admirers

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.

 

An exercise in misogyny: The EcolePolytechnique Shooting

Before the attack, the perpetrator, Marc Lepine, wrote a suicide note expressing strong contempt for feminists, stating that “they had always ruined his life.” Within the note, he listed nineteen women in Quebec that he wanted to kill. In particular, his rage appeared to be directed at women in three occupational groups: soldiers, police officers and engineers. Since these have traditionally been defined as ‘masculine’ roles, he perhaps extrapolated from this that females pursuing these jobs were ‘feminists’ trying to transgress gender expectations. Moreover, Lepine also had a personal connection to the military and engineering, both of which had rejected him. These rejections likely contributed to the fragility of his male identity (1).

 

During the attack, he ordered males and females to separate sides of the classroom and thereafter ordered the men to leave. Once alone with the females, he said to them “You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” After he had shot these students, he walked through the building and killed another seven females. In total, he killed fourteen females in the university. Notably, the site of the attack being EcolePolytechnique University and its target of female students were significant, given this institution had turned down his application to an engineering course and instead accepted female students. Following the shooting, a number of surviving students, suffering from the events that they had witnessed, committed suicide with some of them citing the attack as the reason why they were doing so.

 

It could, therefore, be said that this school shooting was an exercise in misogyny intended to make a political statement about the role of women in society, particularly in what were traditionally ‘male roles.’ Despite this, news coverage after the shooting only focused on his mental health problems, portraying him as a ‘madman.’ Moreover, the attention paid to this incident in scholarly literature and the news media has been far less than other incidents. (2) It may be surmised that had the situation been reversed — a female school shooter expressing hatred against men and their role in society — the incident would have received greater coverage and public commentary. That does not mean, however, that the massacre has not had an impact. It could be argued that Lepine has become a ‘hero’ to some. For instance, a threat to execute the ‘deadliest school shooting ever’ was sent to Utah State University in 2014, because it planned to host a talk from a feminist vlogger. Within the threat letter, Marc Lepine was described as “a hero to men everywhere for standing up to the toxic influence of feminism on Western masculinity.” (3) There are also dedication pages to Lepine on the internet, for disenfranchised voices. Considering the fact that this massacre was almost thirty years ago, it gives credence to claims from gender theorists that masculinity is in ‘crisis.’ This would be even more the case in contemporary society with the advent of third wave feminism, focusing on complete equality with men for all women. (4)

 

The commonality throughout all school shootings is the fact that almost all perpetrators are male and the motivations of perpetrators are entrenched within understandings of what it means to be a ‘man.’ To that extent, the EcolePolytechnique University massacre exemplifies the ‘failed man crisis,’ entrenched within the perpetrator’s diminished prospects, a lack of success with females and other personal issues.

 

[This blog post was the beginning of a new theme on school shootings taking place outside the United States. The next post will examine an attack that occurred in Germany in 2002, where the perpetrator targeted staff members at his former school.]

 

References

  1. Larkin, R. W. (2010) “Masculinity, School Shooters and the Control of Violence.” In W. Heitmeyer, H. G. Haupt, S. Malthauner and A. Kirschner (eds.). Control of Violence. New York: Springer: 315-344.
  2. Danner, M. J. E. and D. C. Carmody. (2001) “Missing gender in cases of infamous school violence: investigating research and media explanations.” Justice Quarterly 18(1), 87-114; Tonso, K. L. (2009) “Violent Masculinities as Tropes for School Shooters: The Montreal Massacre, the Columbine Attacks and Rethinking Schools.” American Behavioral Scientist 52(9), 1266-1285.
  3. Ashley Csanady. (2014) ‘The bizarre love for Marc Lepine among men’s rights groups.’ com News, 15 October. Retrieved from: http://o.canada.com/news/the-bizarre-love-for-marc-lepine-among-mens-rights-groups
  4. See, for example, the following sources: Carrigan, T, B. Connell and J. Lee.(1987) “Towards a New Sociology of Masculinity.” In H. Brod (ed.) The Making of Masculinities: The New Men’s Studies. Winchester: Allen and Unwin, 63-100; Jefferson, T. (2002) “Subordinating hegemonic masculinity.” Theoretical Criminology 6(1), 63-88.

Female School Shootings: A New Phenomenon?

The last few blogs have discussing the phenomenon of ‘copycatting’ in relation to school shootings. This post will look at the recent trend of females threatening to become school shooters — something rather unprecedented, considering almost all previous perpetrators have been male. As discussed in the blog posted on the 11th of June 2014, masculinity is one of the socio-cultural factors contributing to school shootings. This blog will explicate the details of female school shooting copycatters and critique whether this could be considered a new and worrying phenomenon.

In November 2014, a 17 year old girl at Radnor High School, Pennsylvania, had expressed a desire in her journal to become the ‘first female school shooter.’ When examining previous incidents, it becomes evident why she would have thought her massacre would be noteworthy. In 1979, a girl, Brenda Spencer, shot children walking to Cleveland Elementary School; there was also Laurie Dann who shot children in Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Illinois. It is questionable, however, whether these qualify as ‘school shootings’: the rationale for Spencer seemed to be the convenience of the victims, given she shot them from her bedroom window across the street; whilst Dann appeared to be attacking the school she believed her former sister-in-law’s children attended. For an event to be defined as a ‘school shooting,’ the attack should be against the institution itself, with victims targeted for their symbolic value. The closest to ‘female school shooters’ could be construed as Latina Williams, who killed two peers at Louisiana Technical College, and Professor Amy Bishop, who carried out an attack at the University of Alabama. Despite this, Professor Bishop targeted her colleagues because she had recently been denied tenure and Latina Williams did not leave any notes or other evidence explaining her motives; this suggests that perhaps they were not aspiring to become ‘school shooters.’

The planned attack at Radnor High School was thankfully thwarted. The girl in question had showed a fascination with the Columbine school shooting, writing to the parents of one of the perpetrators, Dylan Klebold, to describe her ‘emotional connection’ with him. Almost a year after this case, another story emerged about two teenage girls alleged to have planned a shooting at Mountain Vista High School, which is fewer than ten miles away from Columbine High School geographically. One of the girls involved wrote in her journal that she wished she could have participated in the Columbine school shooting and referenced the film Natural Born Killers, cited by the perpetrators of this massacre in their own writings. The fascination with the Columbine shooters has appeared in other school shootings, such as Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook. The appeal of these perpetrators to females, however, is an emerging and worrying trend. Sue Klebold, mother of Dylan, said she has received mail in the past from girls who claim they love him and want to have his baby. Although these fan letters are not really anything new — some women have married death row prisoners in the past — the worry is that females fascinated by the Columbine or other school shooters, then take the next step of trying to ‘become them’ via a similar attack.

The implication of this for assessing threats is that those coming from females should be taken just as seriously as those from boys and men. The planned attack at Mountain Vista High School had involved the drawing up of a map of the school, denoting the locations of law enforcement — this exemplifies the seriousness of that threat. Gender is, therefore, something which must not be overlooked when assessing school shooting threats.

 

[This blog post was put together with research and pre-existing knowledge about actual and planned school shooting incidents. The next post will continue with the copycatting theme, by looking at thwarted attacks.]

Debating School Shootings: What YouTube Reveals

In this post, I want to highlight the usefulness of appropriating the video-sharing/social media website YouTube to study people’s understandings of school shootings. Comments on this website offer a ‘snapshot’ — they are not a comprehensive representation, given their limited space and people’s selectiveness of what they choose to write — into people’s perceptions both at the time of the school shooting incidents and periods afterwards. Notably, YouTube is an auspicious site for debates amongst users, given its relatively simple interface, some degree of anonymity for users and threads of comments. YouTube has already been the subject of analysis in only a handful of school shooting related studies. (1)

What makes YouTube particularly compelling for researchers is that it allows for people’s true feelings about the perpetrators and the shootings to be expressed without any censoring — the only exception to this would be flagging comments as ‘spam, but those can still be read anyway by clicking on the ‘show’ link. This would not be the case with other avenues of public discussion, for example ‘letters to the editor’ sent to news media outlets, as these go through an editorial process like other news content. It also gives an insight into the particular language used to describe school shootings and their perpetrators. The downside to that is that commentators sometimes use ‘colourful’ language, poor grammar and post in a ‘rant’ like format. On some occasions, users may be internet trolls deliberately engaging in debates with shocking or offensive to get a reaction from others.

Bockler and Seeger (2) sought out users expressing admiration for school shooters and thereafter interviewed them to find out why they felt this way. In the blogs posted on the 25th and 29th of June 2014, I discussed the feelings expressed on YouTube about school shooters, with dangerous principles, such as the ‘revenge and bullying theory’ and admiration for school shooters, being advanced by users. Extrapolating from this material, I designed a threat assessment model to be used to analyse material posted online about school shootings — refer back to the post published on the 16th July 2014 for a reminder of this. As documented in the blog posted on the 2 July 2014, the main problem with YouTube, however, is that it is nothing is really known about users except what they post and it is questionable how much of that is actually true. This means that the threat assessment model I proposed would be most effective when it is coupled with offline behaviours and threats, requiring a deeper analysis of users’ lives.

The study by Lindgren (3) examined patterns in school shooting discussions, discovering that monthly comments on videos would increase exponentially following a notable incident (i.e. high media coverage). Accordingly, this was something I noticed in my own research examining comments from June 2012-June 2013: activity peaked after high-profile mass shooting incidents at the Aurora Theatre, Colorado and Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut. The resulting dialogues focused on a myriad of blame factors for these incidents occurring: gun laws, violent entertainment media, bullying, high school culture, the wider culture and the parents of perpetrators. Interestingly, it seemed to be a common acceptance amongst YouTube users that school shooters tend to be male, with some disputing essentialist notions of masculinity like sexual and athletic prowess, and the use of weapons — the blog posted on 11th of June 2014 spoke about the gendered nature of school shootings.

To sum up, future research should aim to utilise this research tool to examine dialogues between users as they unfold. Doing so will help capture the voice of the general public in how they react to school shooters and the way they make sense of incidents — this will then facilitate attempts to reduce the problem, particularly in trying to deter those who express admiration for school shooters.

[This blog was put together by looking at previous research linking YouTube and school shootings and my past blog entries falling under the same purview. The next two blog postings will examine gun legislation suggested as ways to reduce school shootings.]

  • Böckler, N. and T. Seeger (2013) ‘Revolution of the Dispossessed: School Shooters and their Devotees on the Web.’ In Böckler, T. Seeger, P. Sitzer and W. Heitmeyer (eds.) (2013) School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies and Concepts for Prevention. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, 309-339.

Lindgren, S. (2011) ‘YouTube Gunmen? Mapping participatory media discourse on school shooting videos.’ Media, Culture, Society 33, 123-136.

  • Böckler, N. and T. Seeger (2013) ‘Revolution of the Dispossessed: School Shooters and their Devotees on the Web.’ In Böckler, T. Seeger, P. Sitzer and W. Heitmeyer (eds.) (2013) School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies and Concepts for Prevention. New York: Springer Science + Business Media, 309-339.
  • Lindgren, S. (2011) ‘YouTube Gunmen? Mapping participatory media discourse on school shooting videos.’ Media, Culture, Society 33, 123-136.

School Shooter Admirers: Why Intervention is Required

In the last blog, I spoke about those who created a ‘revenge and bullying thesis to justify the actions of school shooters. Analysing such comments certainly suggests that for some users, school shooters have been romanticised as ‘heroes’ for bullied kids who dislike school. In this post, I want to further explore the sentiments expressed on YouTube comments by those expressing some kind of ‘fan admiration’ for the Red Lake and Virginia Tech school shooters.

Throughout the video comments, the terms used to describe the Virginia Tech shooter are ‘God,’ ‘true legend,’ ‘courageous warrior,’ ‘martyr’ and ‘hero’; whilst others said “my respect to him” and “he will be remembered for his bravery.” Some users placed responsibility for Cho’s actions upon his ‘bullies,’ whilst he is exonerated from blame and praised for defending himself. Other subjects’ comments proceed to assign the blame for the creation of school shooters to a variety of sources, such as society, popular people, life, society, bullies, high school environments, school teachers, and school officials. This comment log also addresses [in their words] feelings of being stifled, rejection, isolation, pain, torment, suffering, abuse, neglect, damaged, and being the ‘odd one.’ Other YouTube commentators made the point that they empathise with Cho but that he should not have killed innocent people, just his bullies: this at least shows some awareness of the lack of connection between the perpetrator and those he killed/wounded.

Similarly, a handful of commentators commended the Red Lake perpetrator for being ‘smart’; although the reasons why they think this are not given. A number of other comments were more standard displays of admiration claiming the perpetrator ‘stood up for himself’ and calling him a ‘hero.’ These kinds of comments show that the Red Lake shooter is idolised by disenfranchised kids who feel the same way as him. Users seemed to particularly feel sympathy for this perpetrator because of the tragedy in his life (his father killed himself and his mother was left brain-damaged after a car accident) and felt that he was too a ‘victim’: “he suffered great hardship and depression”; “he was obviously mentally ill and depressed.” Others revealed that they too had felt the same way. It seems the personal tragedies he suffered made users feel his suicidal tendencies were more understandable than other school shooters, especially if they themselves can empathise with him. The use of evaluative adverbs here ‘bullied,’ ‘depressed,’ and ‘suffered’ all convey value judgments) about the Red Lake perpetrator’s life. It seems that if a school shooter is relatable in some way, people are more likely to sympathise with him. This does not always necessarily lead to admiration; however, it shows a move towards a humanised interpretation of the school shooters, differing from traditional understandings of him as an ‘evil figure’ based on a Nietzschian understanding of ‘evil’ being inherent in the actions themselves.

More worryingly, to a handful of users carrying out a school shooting was the more ‘desirable’ option than just committing suicide, as this would not have garnered any attention. Comments claim that the infamy arising from some school shootings was the persuasive element for them: “violence is the way to get world attention”; “we all die but he’s [the school shooter] now a legend.” The sociologist Emile Durkheim (discussed in the blog published on the 8 June 2014) made some very interesting points on imitation and suicide that could be linked to the ‘copycat’ nature of school shootings. Imitation is defined as “the immediate antecedent of an act is the representation of a like act, previously performed by someone else,” which can occur between unconnected individuals. More importantly, “no imitation can exist without a model to imitate” and that is where the ‘cultural script’ of school shootings comes into play, prescribing a course of action which school shooters use to try and solve their problems. Paralleling this is Durkheim’s acknowledgement that pertinent to the act of imitation is seeing the initial act; without this, the act of suicide will be non-existent. In the case of school shootings, these tend to be highly publicised and the ones that are particularly shocking (Sandy Hook, December 2012) or with the highest death count (Virginia Tech, April 2007) are notorious in nature. For school shooters, the prospect of infamy through their act of homicide-suicide — more likely to come from particularly shocking and deadly attacks — is a driving force for them.

[This blog used a critical discourse analysis framework to assess YouTube comments. Future posts will incorporate the blogs published throughout June 2014 to formulate a threat assessment model.]

The ‘Revenge and Bullying’ thesis: YouTube Discussions of School Shooters

The ‘revenge and bullying thesis’ circumscribing bullied boys getting revenge on their tormentors was popular in YouTube debates. This is in spite of the fact that school shooters target innocent people; in some cases, they do not even know their victims (Sandy Hook; Virginia Tech). An effective evaluation of this was an YouTube debater stating “If kids are bulled too much, they now carry out a Harris-and-Klebold [type] revenge.” More worryingly, in YouTube reactions of there was a high proportion of praise and sympathy for the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters, which suggests that the perpetrators — in particular the Columbine ones, since their friends were quoted as saying the shooters had been bullied constantly at the school — are idolised by other bullied kids; this could possibly inspire others with grievances to plan a similar attack.

The idea that the Virginia Tech perpetrator had been racially abused and sought ‘revenge’ against his bullies was a way for disgruntled teenagers to romanticize his actions. A video featuring an interview with his suitemates left some users purporting that they must have bullied him: “These two f**** made fun of him all the time and talked s**** about him”; “It’s obvious that they didn’t treat him like a normal human being.” By contrast, his suitemates made an effort to speak to him and would bring him along to social events, but he would ignore them or engage in strange behaviour like stabbing the carpet at a party they took him to. This left others wondering why the shooter did not target his suitemates in his shooting rampage. At times, users threatening and verbally abusing each other, which is indicative of the nature of online ‘discussions’ — certainly showing that the ‘virtual sphere’ is not always conducive to free and democratic debates — and also shows the strength of people’s feelings on the matter: they feel their point of view is correct.
It certainly seems that because bullying is such a widespread problem, a number of users will have experienced it before and thus empathize with school shooters, with some stating that if they too had been pushed a bit further they may also have taken a similar route. This relates to the theory that school shootings create a ‘cultural script’ of action utilized as a coping strategy for kids feeling depressed and angry, whether due to bullying or personal problems. The correlation between bullying and school shootings became so prevalent for users that they began to ‘normalize’ that a school attack would be the consequence of bullying: “If people didn’t bully and treat others like s*** there wouldn’t be any school shootings”;“If you shove the “weird kid” enough times, he WILL shove back.”

There were counterchallenges in YouTube discussions to the instances of blaming bullying. In the Columbine sample, claims were often made that the perpetrators engaged in bullying themselves and/or were popular in school. The main challenge to the ‘bullying and targeting’ theory prevalent in YouTube discussions is that the Columbine perpetrators killed some people that they did not even know and few of the victims were actually jocks; this, coupled with the fact that the attack was originally intended to be a bombing to blow up the entire school, makes the alternative theory that the shooters were instead targeting the school as an institution a more viable one. Similarly, there was counter-opposition to the idea that the Virginia Tech shooter had been bullied, with people surmising that he was perhaps jealous of everyone else on campus for having an easier time adjusting to university life. The fact the perpetrator went into a number of different classrooms in Norris Hall (the site where the worst of the massacre occurred) showed he was not targeting any particular groups. Moreover, the particularly brutal nature of the attacks — a total of just over a hundred bullets were fired into the thirty-two killed and each of the survivors had been shot at least three times — suggests that the shooter intended to damage the university in general rather than having a vendetta against any specific persons. Accordingly, some users recognised that those killed were not necessarily the ones who bullied the perpetrators: “everyone is a target” and “they kill anyone who gets in their way.” Further exemplifying this were users’ discussions of the Aurora Theatre and Sandy Hook shootings: the completely random nature of these attacks and lack of relationship between the shooters and victims is likely to fuel feelings of fear and the idea that ‘anyone can be a target’ — something which suggests a particular typology of violence.

[The research conducted for this blog were analyses of YouTube comments on videos relating to the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings. Future blogs will build upon this to develop a threat assessment model relating to online activities.]