Monday, October 20, 2008

Education Week Examines the CEREMONIAL VIOLENCE of School Rampage Shootings

Education Week, has posted a rcview of Ceremonial Violence, Jonathan Fast's study of school rampage shootings in their current issue: " Is there such a thing as a "typical" teenage school shooter? After six years of researching such students and their crimes, Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University in New York City, offers a qualified yes. He examines "school rampage" killings—attacks that occur on school grounds, are perpetrated by an adolescent, and have at least two victims apart from the attacker—and finds 13 cases from 1974 to 1999, which he profiles, six of them in great detail. (Similar instances falling outside the author's framework, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting committed by a 23-year-old, are also discussed, but with less depth.) Fast compares the shooters in these rampages and discovers several common qualities: The student (nearly always male) had an unhappy childhood, usually was bullied, and often feels like a misfit in his family and/or community; he has a best friend who encourages the violent behavior, sometimes coaching him; he seeks attention, choosing to turn a suicide into a public event; and, once he has made his plans, he "announces" them, such as by telling others or recording them in a journal. The staging ofthe crimes is what make them "ceremonial"—one perpetrator Fast describes even played background music on a portable tape recorder during his assault. Among those profiled extensively are Eric Harris and Dylan Heboid, the students responsible for the Columbine High School shootings, as well as Brenda Spencer, a 16-year-old girl at the time of her crime. Fast concludes with recommendations for preventing such attacks and dealing with the aftermath, but the book focuses primarily on understanding the psychology of teenage shooters."

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