It’s likely a combination of factors that causes a teenager to open fire in a school, including mental illness, seething anger, a violent society, and access to guns, the Minneapolis Star Tribune says. Millions of kids share the same culture and societal influences but don’t do what 15-year-old Jason McLaughlin allegedly did in rural Minnesota this week — bring a gun to school and shoot down his classmates. The few who do share similarities that can be a lethal combination, say experts interviewed by the Star Tribune.
Some kids have been bullied. Often they have depression or some other mental illness, and are immersed in violent video games, movies or other media. Then they get a gun, often from home or a relative. Not much has been disclosed about McLaughlin, who allegedly shot two students, one fatally, at Rocori High School in Cold Spring, Minn. His friends and classmates have said he’d been withdrawn this summer, and there were conflicting reports about whether he’d been teased about acne.
McLaughlin is the son of a sheriff’s deputy and a hunter. His apparent familiarity with guns means “they are lucky they did not lose more kids in Cold Spring,” said Michael Obsatz, a sociology professor at Macalester College in St. Paul who specializes in bullying and school violence. “There is a variety of ways that kids process shame or bullying,” he said. “Some kids get depressed or isolated. But some kids turn that shame into rage, and those are the kids who do violent stuff.”
Teasing is a theme that turns up in other school shootings. Michael Carneal, who in 1997 shot and killed three students and injured five others at a prayer meeting at his high school in West Paducah, Ky., was called a “faggot” by classmates. A study of 37 school shootings from 1974 to 2000 by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education found that more than half the time, revenge was cited as a motive.
Many believe that violent media and video games play a significant role. Research is sparse, but some studies have shown that kids who are exposed to violent images and games get into more fights, and have more arguments with parents and teachers, said David Walsh of the National Institute for Media and the Family in Minneapolis. Underlying the school shootings is an adolescent culture in which violence can be perceived as an acceptable way to solve problems, experts said. Shootings like the one in Cold Spring this week are “like the proverbial canary in the coal mine,” said Walsh. “They are a signal of a bigger problem with our youth culture.”
Investigators have interviewed more than 60 witnesses in the case, said Tim O’Malley, assistant superintendent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, according to the St. Cloud Times.
The Times said that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is leading the investigation because of possible conflicts of interest. The suspect’s father, David McLaughlin, leads the Central Minnesota Drug Task Force and is a Stearns County Sheriff’s deputy.