Premeditated Mass Shootings in Schools: Threat Assessment; in Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Vol. 41, No. 4. (pp. 475-477)
Premeditated mass shootings by students in suburban and rural secondary schools have surprised and even terrified our country. Although school violence overall has decreased measurably since 1993 (U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, 1999), multiple-victim homicides and woundings highlight an emerging problem for schools previously thought to be safe from acts of extreme violence. In the past 5 years, premeditated mass shootings in schools all occurred in rural or suburban communities. The assailant was not the stereotypical angry, poor, minority teen abusing drugs and failing academically. The schools were not overtly violent with gangs in control; Columbine High School prided itself in 82% college placement and 95% daily attendance rates. Psychiatrists are often asked to help after there has been a tragedy, when school shootings create a pressing need for trauma interventions and long-term follow-up. However, child and adolescent psychiatrists can be helpful in preventing such tragedies as well, by dealing realistically with the inexactness of all available techniques for assessing children who threaten homicide in schools, and by careful psychiatric assessment of individual children, family dynamics, the school climate, and factors in the social milieu that have an impact on the child’s development. Part of this work might include helping schools develop school threat assessment procedures and select suitable antiviolence programs (Twemlow et al., 2001).