This article presents factors that appear to contribute to school shootings across the three domains of biological, psychological, and social influences. The article first appeared in The Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, 2017, Vol. 5, pp. 27-34. It is used here with permission.
This article is by Dr. Brian Van Brunt and was originially published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, (2013), 111–151. It is reprinted with permission of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA). The article compares three potential perpetrators of violence across four assessment tools: the Workplace Assessment of Violence Risk (WAVR-21), the Structured Interview of Violence Risk Assessment (SIVRA-35), the NaBITA Threat Assessment Tool, and History, Clinical, Risk (HCR-20) version 3.
This article examines five school shooters and five perpetrators of other types of mass violence. The five school shooters are Eric Houston, Eric Harris, Seung Hui Cho, Adam Lanza, and Elliot Rodger. The other perpetrators are Timothy McVeigh, Clay Shrout, Anders Breivik, James Holmes, and Dylann Roof. The article was originally published in Criminology and Public Policy and is posted here with permission.
This article presents evidence of influence from one perpetrator to another. It also highlights the desire for fame as a motivation for some shooters. The article first appeared in American Behavioral Scientist and is used here with permission. For more information on the issue of influence among school shooters, see the document “Role Models, Contagions, and Copycats: An Exploration of the Influence of Prior Killers on Subsequent Attacks.”
This is an article by Adam Lankford and Eric Madfis containing recommendations for media coverage of mass shootings. The article first appeared in American Behavioral Scientist. It is posted here with the authors’ permission.
This article explores the motivations of ideological killers by investigating their justifications for violence. These justifications are divided into three categories: those that are grounded in actual social/political realities that are present in the lives of the perpetrators; those that utilize geographically and/or temporally distant vicarious victimizations; and those that are fictional, i.e., they have no basis in reality. These concepts are illustrated through discussions of a range of perpetrators of ideological violence. The implications of vicarious and fictional motivations are discussed in terms of our understanding of the psychology of perpetrators, the process of radicalization, and counterterrorism efforts.
This study examined 64 school shooters who committed multi-victim attacks in the United States during the years 1966 through 2015. Results include demographic analysis of age, venues of attack, racial/ethnic identity, magnitude of attacks, and frequency of perpetrator suicide. Data is provided for the sample as a whole, as well as for different time periods to highlight trends over time. Notable results include numerous changes in post-Columbine attacks, including greater age range of perpetrators, more perpetrators who are not white males, increased fatalities, and increased suicide rates. The article was published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention (J-BIT) 4 (2016) 5–17, and was awarded the Innovation in Research and Publication Award from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association. It is reprinted here with permission of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA).
This document presents data on how 48 school shootings ended, whether with police intervention, civilian intervention, or perpetrator suicide. It also looks at other aspects of school shootings that can inform first responders on what they might encounter when they arrive at the scene.
This article first examines Osama bin Laden in the context of Islam, al-Qaeda, and other extremist ideologies. The analysis critiques his use of collective guilt to justify killing innocent people and his misuse of Islam as a rationale for terrorism, highlighting the extent of his bigotry and paranoia. Next, the theme of humiliation is discussed at both the cultural and the personal level. It is hypothesized that bin Laden utilized violence to overcome his humiliation and damaged masculinity. Finally, his ideology, terrorist acts, and behavior within his family are discussed in the context of Theodore Millon’s work on personality disorders, noting avoidant, compulsive, masochistic, sadistic, paranoid, antisocial, and narcissistic traits. The article was published in Aggression and Violent Behavior.
This article explores the idea that prescription drugs, in particular antidepressants (SSRIs, such as Prozac) and stimulants (such as Ritalin), cause school shootings. See also the companion document “Tally of Shooters’ Use of Psychiatric Medications and Substance Abuse.”
This article explores domestic jihadists in light of the psychological typology I developed through research on school shooters. The jihadists discussed include Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Carlos Bledsoe (who changed his name to Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad), Omar Mateen, Ayanle Hassan Ali, Nidal Hasan, Colleen LaRose (also known as “Jihad Jane”), and Syed Rizwan Farook. The article was originally published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention and is posted here with permission.
This article appeared in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior (published by Elsevier) and is reprinted with their permission. The article provides a brief overview of the scholarly literature on school shooters, followed by a presentation of my typology.
School shooters sometimes quote previous shooters in their online posts and homework assignments. This article, originally published in Campus Safety magazine, presents examples of such insider references, which may point to the intention to commit a shooting. For a glossary of insider references, see the companion document “A Guide to Insider References Used by School Shooters and Other Attackers.”
This article was originally published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, 1 (2013), 6-39. It is reprinted here with permission of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA).
This article categorizes nine perpetrators of rampage attacks as psychopathic, psychotic, or traumatized school shooters. The shooters are Eric Houston, Gary Scott Pennington, Jamie Rouse, Jason Hoffman, Robert Steinhäuser, Alvaro Castillo, Eric Hainstock, Tim Kretschmer, and Wellington de Oliveira.
This article was published in the winter–spring 2012 edition of Forensic Digest, and is reprinted with permission.
This article originally appeared in the Journal of Health Service Psychology, 2017 (spring), vol. 43, pp. 32–40. It is posted here with permission.
This article examines how frequently school shooters were bullied, as well as how frequently they bullied others. It presents data on how often shooters targeted bullies compared to targeting rivals, family members, girls/women, and school personnel. It also examines bullying across the three psychological types of perpetrators and the three populations of shooters.
This is an excerpt from Chapter 8, “What Can Be Done to Prevent School Shootings,” in Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.
The VRAW2 is a newly created instrument by Brian Van Brunt, Ed.D., used to assess e-mails, letters, or creative writing that contain direct threats or violent themes of concern. The article reviews the five factors and corresponding sub-factors used to assess the potential for threat. Scoring considerations and case examples are provided to illustrate how to score each of the sub-factors informing the overall factors. The VRAW2 is then discussed in context of the NaBITA Threat Assessment Tool and the Structured Interview for Violence Risk Assessment (SIVRA-35). This article originally appeared in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, 3 (2015), 12-25. It is reprinted with permission from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA).
This article presents details about Brazill’s dysfunctional family (alcoholism, domestic violence, and child abuse), and the events leading up to his attack.
Butler’s school shooting did not receive the amount of media coverage that larger scale attacks have, but sufficient information was available to shed some light on his personality dynamics.
This article documents Eric Harris’s self-contradictions and vacillating attribution of responsibility for the attack, demonstrating that his justifications cannot be taken at face value.
Eric Harris left records documenting his admiration for Hitler, Hobbes, and Nietzsche. He also may have admired Charles Manson. This article explores parallels between the ideas of these men and those of Harris in an attempt to trace possible influences on his thinking.
This article first demonstrates multiple types of problematic reporting, showing that many statements made about Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold cannot be taken at face value. The article then seeks to present a more accurate picture of Harris and Klebold based primarily on the thousands of pages of Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office (JCSO) documents.
This is a brief summary of the Bath massacre as the first terrorist attack using a car bomb. It was published by the National Counterterrorism Center.
This article discusses Lane’s post-attack behavior as evidence suggesting psychopathic personality traits.
This article draws on new material made available in 2014 and 2015, including both official reports and Lanza’s online presence that has been discovered and documented by Reed Coleman. The article was originally published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention (J-BIT) 3 (2015), 1–11. It is reprinted with permission of the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA).
This article discusses May’s psychotic symptoms, school shooting, and the lack of a coherent rationale for his attack.
This school shooting has received little attention since it occurred, and information about Mitchell is scarce. This article pieces together the little that is known about the perpetrator.
This article pulls together the little available information on Morrison and explores his psychological dynamics.
This article discusses Pierson’s longstanding anger problems, as well as his arrogance, inability to accept responsibility for the consequences of his own behavior, academic failures, and the dissolving of his dream to serve in the military. It also addresses Pierson’s interest in Eric Harris and ways in which he echoed and perhaps imitated Harris.
The school shooting by Reyes has not received much attention, but it has particular interest because of his extreme youth. He committed his attack at age 12, making him the second youngest rampage attacker I am aware of, after Drew Golden, who was 11. Note: since the attack by Reyes, another 12-year-old, Mason Campbell, committed a school shooting. Of these young shooters, only Reyes died by suicide.
This article examines Rodger’s psychological dynamics, drawing on insights gained through an analysis of his autobiographical document. This is a revised version of the original article posted here. This version was published in the Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention, (J-BIT) 2 (2014) 5–19. It is reprinted with permission from the National Behavioral Intervention Team Association (NaBITA).
This article by guest author Ryan Smith examines the 2018 Kerch Polytechnic College shooter.
This article provides details on Shrout’s life and attack and categorizes him as a psychopathic shooter.
Apart from Charles Whitman, the rampage by Slobodian in 1975 appears to have been the first large-scale school shooting in the USA or Canada. Despite this, his attack is often overlooked, perhaps because of the difficulty in tracking down information. This article provides a brief summary of his life, personality, and attack.
This article reviews what is known about Robert Smith and his attack, and compares him to several other psychopathic shooters.
In the thirty years since her attack, Brenda Spencer has had five parole board hearings in which she made many claims to either avoid responsibility for her crimes or to paint herself as a victim. This article reviews the many contradictions in her claims.
In the years since his school shooting, Williams has made numerous statements that were either contradicted by other people or contradicted by statements he made at other times. This article seeks to make sense of the conflicting testimonies and presents a tentative conceptualization of Williams and his rampage attack.
This article discusses Woodham’s discrepant and contradictory statements about why he committed murder, including bullying, peer pressure, mental illness, and rejection by his girlfriend, highlighting the problems in taking explanations by school shooters at face value.