This morning it was reported that 32 people killed and 21 injured at Blacksburg, Virginia campus of Virginia Tech. This is the the deadliest campus shooting mass murder in United States education history and has now surpassing the horrors of the Columbine High School 8 years ago and the University of Texas 41 years ago.
The shooter apparently started in a dorm at about 7:15 EDT blended back into the student body and then opened fired in an Engineering Department classroom building a couple of hours later. Source Fox News: VIRGINIA TECH SHOOTING: Deadliest Campus Shootings in United States History .
The Columbine High School massacre occurred on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in unincorporated Jefferson County, Colorado, near Denver and Littleton. Two teenage students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, carried out a shooting rampage, killing 12 students and a teacher, as well as wounding 24 others, before committing suicide. Harris and Klebold were mentally deranged students.
Perhaps those of us old enough to remember may recall University of Texas sniper, Charles Joseph Whitman, who ascended the university at Austin's 27-story tower on August 1, 1966, and shot passersbys on the campus below, after having killed his mother and his wife the night before. Whitman killed 15 people and wounded 31 others before he was shot dead by Austin police. A subsequent autopsy of Whitman found that he suffered from a brain tumor affecting the limbic system.
My heart and prayers go out to the parents and victims of this latest senseless tragedy. Details of the April 16 mass shootings at Virginia Tech are slowly emerging. An FBI behavioral analyst last fall offered some insights into these types of events. Source: School Shootings
What You Should Know
FBI behavioral analyst Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O'Toole says that despite media attention, "attacks are relatively rare."
An unrelated series of shootings at schools in recent weeks has people wondering about the safety of their children and how they can help prevent future attacks. We talked with one of our behavioral analysts, Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole, Ph.D., to get some insights.
First, be vigilant, especially now, when the events are still generating headlines, says O’Toole, who works in the Behavior Analysis Unit of our Critical Incident Response Group at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. “We do believe a copycat effect takes place after these events.”
That means more than just being watchful and wary of who’s out of place in a neighborhood or school. It also means paying attention to the behavior of the people around you—especially those you know. “Be aware of people’s moods. Don’t depend just on how they answer the question, ‘How are you doing?’”
There can be plenty of signs. Most school shootings are not spur-of-the moment events, she says. They take planning and coordination. Supplies—and weapons—have to be purchased or collected. Some attackers practice firing their gun or scout locations. They often write suicide notes or other correspondence explaining their last acts.
“People who act out violently don’t wake up one morning and snap. There are clues,” O’Toole says.
Second, take all threats seriously, especially those leveled by teens, and have a strategy in place to deal with them. “Adolescents will sometimes alert you ahead of time that they will commit violence,” O’Toole says. “Don’t dismiss it as idle talk.”
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School killings, most schools in the U.S. have implemented some kind of threat assessment system. Unfortunately, there is no single profile for a potential mass killer, young or old.
“There is no typical school shooter. They don’t fall within a set of traits and characteristics,” she says. “That’s why it is so important for schools to have a fair, rational, and standardized method of evaluating and responding to threats.”
Third, please know that no matter how watchful we may be, some tragedies may simply not be preventable.
“There may not be a single thing that can be done to prevent a mission-oriented person from committing an act of violence,” she says.
“We all want to believe that if we choose just the right community or just the right neighborhood we won’t be a victim of crime,” O’Toole says. “Unfortunately, school shootings can happen anywhere in the country. There is no one location that’s necessarily immune from this kind of violence.”
“But remember,” she says, “despite the images splashed across televisions, the web, and newspapers, these attacks are relatively rare.”
Additional Links of interest:
“The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective” , Synopsis of Crime in Schools and Colleges, HOPE Columbine Memorial Library, Columbine School Memorial at Find A Grave, The Depressive and the Psychopath: The FBI's analysis of the killers' motives, All about the Columbine High School tragedy, Eyewitness accounts of the UT Tower shootings, Charles Whitman: The Texas Tower Sniper, Court TV, Forrest Preece's personal recount of events, Charles Whitman, Handbook of Texas, Coverage of the 30th Anniversary of the UT Tower Sniper Attack, The Daily Texan