When I wrote about the Marysville School Shooting two weeks ago, I discovered this list on school shootings on Wikipedia and it fascinated me endlessly. I wasn’t sure why until I started doing research because I wanted to write more about this topic. It’s fascinating to see that while almost all of those incidents are reported in the news, it often isn’t more than the initial “someone has been shooting at a school” report, but rarely any follow-ups. So it’s very hard to learn what was behind those shootings, to read about motives or reactions. I guess that’s not surprising for our media that it is only interested in the shock value of such news and doesn't dare to dig deeper. Still, there are some follow-up articles and as I realized I might get obsessed with this topic because I endlessly wanted to look up everything, I decided to turn this into a series, focus on a couple of incidents and come back to that long, long list again (and again).
On October 15, 2013 a 16-year-old teenager shot himself in the courtyard during lunch. He had posted a warning about his suicide on Facebook a couple of hours earlier. That kid (who was a young father already), shortly before he kills himself, writes how sorry he is for causing pain to anyone and that he wants to be an angel. I will ask this question again and again, but consider how terrible you must feel at 16 to do this. The report goes on about what he wrote and how sad everyone is, very emotional, but the only question that is asked here, is how he got the gun. I mean, this is probably the easiest question to answer. But we call it “tragic” and “sad”, without asking “Why?”
In Augusta, Georgia, there were shootings two days in a row at a college in May of 2014. No one was killed, but that is a lot of shooting for two days at one school. The NY Times report mentions the college is “historically black” in the second paragraph. As an explanation? A student is quoted, “You hear about stuff like that happening at other schools.” That’s what you always hear, but you never hear, “I was expecting this to happen here, too” because we don’t want to think that or want to see people who have the potential for doing this, because ignorance is bliss, so let’s just hope it doesn’t happen. Until it happens. Another quote, uttered a million times since 9/11, “It was like a movie.” Again, because in real life, we don’t want to expect it. There is not even speculation about motives here, just shocked reactions.
On October 21, 2013, a 12-year-old boy took a gun to school and killed himself and a teacher, wounding two other students. Seven months later an article says that “authorities aren’t sure they fully understand what motivated” him. He was bullied, he played violent video games (as the article and investigation says, though I find that very problematic, especially mentioning Assassin’s Creed, which couldn’t be further from this boy’s reality) and something in his past. He wrote notes to explain his motivations, which mention the bullying and stress in school a lot, but also something else that was traumatizing. "And now I'm just a monster. If you hate me and my family doesn't love me it's okay. I know that I'm just an idiot. But I love you and I wish the past would be good and better someday." Again, this is what we learn in our society, we are flawed, we are idiots, we are monsters, we would like to be better but don’t think that’s possible. Imagine what a 12-year-old must have seen and gone through to feel this way, after just 12 years of growing up in this culture.
An article on a shooting at Pacific University in Seattle, a “deeply religious Christian campus”, where one student died, is mostly concerned with the fact that the students there find hope in their religion and show no ill feeling towards the shooter. They feel sorry for him and that is unusual, but again, no one is asking why.
Finally, a 17-year-old student killed a girl and then himself in Colorado and an article on CNN tries to answer the “Why?”-question. The conclusion is that he was a good and likeable student, who “acted ‘weird’ at times.” What is “weird”, you ask? Well, he liked debates and was able to win them, but he also liked to talk about communism. If you read the article, it becomes clear that his ideas about communism are the only weird thing anyone thought about him. Sure, he also wasn’t good at fitting in, but no one is calling that weird. Again, no one is asking why, but instead the article uses those few bits of (sometimes contradicting) information to give a portrayal that is supposed to make us think that the shooter seemed nice, but was, well, weird. So, you know, that explains it, communism and all.
I find it disturbing how we both rarely wonder about the reasons of these incidents, how we accept easy answers and how we never say “If so many young people decide to go on a violent rampage in school, why do we just ask what’s wrong with them and not what’s wrong with school or with our culture?” I will continue to look at this question in future installments because I'm not interested in easy answers.
"Easy does it, easy does it
They got something to say no to"
Gorillaz – Kids with Guns (2005)