school shooting

School Shooting: Reading the Signs of a Student Killer

school shootingI am sure you’ve heard the news about the school shooting from yesterday. A young student at Chardon High School in Ohio, Thomas “T. J.” Lane, took a gun out and began shooting on fellow students. One was killed, and four others were injured, before a teacher ran the killer out of the building where he helped police apprehend T. J.

Obviously, this is yet another tragic school shooting reminiscent of Columbine High School and others over the last fifteen years. I’m sure there’s no guarantee a school can provide parents that they’ll predict and prevent every school shooting. I do, however, want to discuss what kinds of signals kids send adults—that we need to be looking for, in order to try to avoid another school shooting. This is what we must specialize in: interpreting student climate and culture. Kids today don’t need adults for information. (They can get that on-line, without parents or teachers). What they do need us for is interpretation. Let me share some observations on this tragic school shooting:

1. T. J. Lane was a kid who began withdrawing from others prior to the school shooting.

According to the reports, this kid had a gun and was angry at something, but he had been withdrawing from friends and fellow students long before the school shooting. We should always be on the lookout for “anti-social” behavior. Many said T. J. seemed normal but had a “sad look in his eyes.” I believe humans are wired to be connected; to be social and to live in collaboration with one another. Teens often show dramatic increase in social connectivity. T. J. did not seem close to anyone who could see what was going on inside. When students withdraw, there is almost always a tangible reason. Adults should be on the lookout for students removing themselves from others.

2. T. J. Lane began wearing different clothes, usually all black before the school shooting.

Reports say T. J. began to wear a “different look” before the school shooting. He wrote on his Facebook page: “Feel death. Not just mocking you. Not just stalking you. But inside of you.” This didn’t seem to concern fellow students—they seemed stunned at the killings from yesterday. Faculty and coaches should be looking for these kind of outward changes. While clothing, piercings and tattoos can be innocent, they are always expressions of something going on inside. Caring adults should discover what the messages mean.

3. T. J.’s parents were nowhere to be found immediately following the school shooting.

For some reason (not known at this time), T. J. was not living with his parents. I don’t know where they are. He was living with grandmother. While I’m grateful for extended family—this is another signal. Parents tend to know their children better than anyone else. If they are absent, we have a problem. Grandparents often are not tuned in to “student culture” and how far off course a kid may be.

4. T. J. was silent and shared no apparent motivation for the school shooting.

As I mentioned before, fellow students say they were shocked at this measure T. J. Lane took out of anger. They said he was more and more quiet as time went on, but gave no indication he was “out of control.” My sense is, that while this may just be a stage in the life of an adolescent, we do well to discover what the silence means.

I am not one to find a “demon under every bush.” I do, however, believe that caring adults must be on the lookout for deviant behavior that sends signals that something is wrong and they are disconnected from others. Who knows how this story might have changed had this happened.

What can parents and educators do to prevent another school shooting?

School Shooting: Reading the Signs of a Student Killer