A 15 year old with a history of school violence and school suspensions shot a Wisconsin principal 3 times and fatally wounded him on September 29, 2006. Over 9,000 people have been killed by school shooters. When people ask, “How in the world could this have happened?” I say, “These are youth that could have been saved, if they had been identified and had been given adequate services as early in their lives as possible.
What went wrong? It is my opinion that the abuse and neglect that some school shooters suffered resulted in disrupted attachment patterns (DAP), Developmental Trauma Disorder (Bessel Van Der Kolk) and complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These lead to inappropriate social relatedness. Some portion of those with these disorders who do not receive corrective developmental experiences at an appropriate age are at risk of committing horrible unfathomable crimes and residing in jail cells for the rest of their lives. In Scott’s case it was more difficult for him to be exposed to corrective developmental experiences while homeless. We can stop this cycle for at least some portion of these children such as Scott Dyleski and the 15 year old who killed the Wisconsin principal by seeing the signs of trouble and providing appropriate services. It is clear that suspension did not reduce the Wisconsin student’s violence, in fact, it is likely that it escalated the student’s rage and violence.
Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007. It was clear that he had severe problems long before he reached that point. There are many other examples of school shooters. Some have now been released from jail and continue to have severe behavior problems (such Johnson and Golden, of the 1998 Jonesboro School Shooting) .
What can be done? President Obama talked about service. We can all do something. Prevention is a key element in solving these problems.
1) Solve the problem of homelessness. Children cannot develop appriopriately if they do not have a safe and stable place to live with sufficient heat and food. Volunteer or give money to the local shelter or habitat for humanity. Donate your old clothes to the salvation army or other agency.
2) We can do better at identifying abused and neglected children who need the help of other adults and give them the services they need. If there is a child in your child’s school or church that could use a little TLC, include that child in your next child/family activity.
3) Support appropriate child care for all children of parents who work or are disabled by illness or injury. Encourage legislators to fund universal child care and health care. The healthier children are, the more supported their development can be.
4) We can change our paradigm and realize that these children often need help as young as pre-school.
5) Support your local community watch.
6) Help with positive activites for youth in your neighborhood.
7) Making mental and physicalhealth services available in the schools where children spend most of the day is a way to prevent school violence. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or citizen you can write to those in authority and insist that services be available to students. It requires no new money, only a shift in thinking. It takes putting services in the school where they are accessable to every child or teen instead of in the community, where some do not have access.
8) Parents, teachers, administrators can insist on zero tolerance for bullying policies and introduction of programs like the Olweus Bullying Program and Character Counts in Schools.
There are positive things that can be done to prevent school violence. These are only some suggestions. Schools, communities, youth and family service providers and legislators should join to find solutions.