In 1998 I was a 19-year-old undergraduate Business Administration major. I really didn't care what I did when I was out of college, I just wanted to make sure I was employed, and a Business Administration degree sounded like just the ticket.
Then, things changed.
March 24, 1998, Jonesboro, Ark.
Four students and one teacher killed, ten others wounded outside as Westside Middle School emptied during a false fire alarm. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, shot at their classmates and teachers from the woods. They had a van full of weapons and ammunition they had stolen from relatives. Because they were minors, under Arkansas law they could only be held until they were 21 years old. Johnson was released 8/11/05, and has already been arrested once since then, on weapons and drug charges. Golden is to be released 5/25/07. Their light sentence caused an outrage in the town, as the community felt they should be locked up forever (at the ages of 11 and 13).
April 24, 1998, Edinboro, Pa.
One teacher, John Gillette, killed, two students wounded at a dance at James W. Parker Middle School. Andrew Wurst, 14, was charged.
May 19, 1998, Fayetteville, Tenn.
One student killed in the parking lot at Lincoln County High School three days before he was to graduate. The victim was dating the ex-girlfriend of his killer, 18-year-old honor student Jacob Davis. He was sentenced to life in prison.
May 21, 1998, Springfield, Ore.
Two students killed, 22 others wounded in the cafeteria at Thurston High School by 15-year-old Kip Kinkel. Kinkel had been arrested and released a day earlier for bringing a gun to school. His parents were later found dead at home. He could not face the death penalty because he was a minor at the time he committed the offense. He was instead sentenced to 111 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
There had been a handful in 1997 as well. Most of them seemed to have similar themes- a social outcast, tired of being teased, strikes back. The town springs to support of the victims, and demand that the book be thrown at the perpetrator(s).
The Springfield, Oregon tragedy is the one that really got my attention, though. This kid was bullied relentlessly, and his parents were of little help. He showed all sorts of warning signs. He was taking anger management classes and was prescribed Prozac. In fact, he was expelled from school the day before for bringing a gun to school. Brain scans later on revealed that he had "holes" in his frontal lobe, areas in which his brain was not functioning at all.
What got my attention was the names people called this kid after he did what he did. They called him an evil, disgusting, vile monster; a low-life, inhuman, so forth and so on, similar to the adjectives recently describing the young man at Virginia Tech. Except this kid was 15.
I was probably the only one who considered the perpetrators in all of these crimes to be victims as well. I can’t imagine how horrible someone’s life has to be in order to throw the rest of it away and take out as many other lives as possible in the process. I can’t imagine how it must feel to be 18 or 19 and know that I will never step foot outside a prison for as long as I live. Yes, I know, this fate is pleasant compared to the death that these boys caused, but I hoped that there could be a way to find these kids before they literally or figuratively end their lives.
It really has nothing to do with guns or gun control. Being around guns doesn't make you kill people, just like listening to Marilyn Manson or Korn doesn't make you kill people, just like playing violent video games doesn't make you kill people. Suffering from anger, depression, hopelessness, and anhedonia (when nothing is fun anymore) are all much stronger predictors of these incidents. So, I thought, somebody needed to get to these kids and teach them ways of handling their emotions, of getting through what they are going through, before they resort to violence.
So that became my mission; I chose to accept it.
Infiltrate public schools. Find kids who think school sucks, life sucks, people suck, I'm really angry...and convince them to NOT kill a bunch of people...not just for the sake of the victims, but for the sake of the kids who have given up on their own lives as well.
I am a school psychologist.
Wish me luck.