Monday, June 25, 2018

Killers in the Classroom: Case Studies of School Rampage Shooters


Rating: 1.5 Stars

The summary given on Goodreads says this book "contains detailed case summaries on some of the high profile shootings that have taken place and examines the shooters in detail." That part might be accurate, but not once are we given so much as a footnote to tell us where the author got any of her information. There is no bibliography, no resources, and much of the information contained could probably be found on most Wikipedia pages for the shooters. The author makes huge leaps of judgment, with zero research to back up anything she is claiming. It is true that the author takes quite a detailed look at each shooter, but once I came upon the section for Columbine and read several incorrect statements, it made me question just how accurate the information was in any of the other sections. Columbine was a big deal for me, as a sophomore in high school at the time, and having to deal with the aftermath and the multiple bomb threats called in through the end of the year. While we're on that subject, I think this is an important distinction to make. Klebold and Harris were not school shooters, they were failed school bombers. It might sound silly in the aftermath, because innocent victims still lost their lives, but so often Columbine has been held up by would-be shooters as the Gold Standard of mass school shootings. Klebold and Harris FAILED in what they attempted to do, which was to detonate bombs in the cafeteria and kill as many people as possible. But, by looking at them as school shooters, they come off looking pretty successful. Let's stop doing that, okay?

I was unfamiliar with most of these shootings, which I suppose is a good thing because the less attention we give to these scumbags, the better. At first I appreciated what seemed like fantastic attention to detail in creating a portrait of the shooters before their "rampages". But as I said, once I got to the Columbine entry, I saw many errors. Still, there are common denominators throughout for most of the young men who carried out these deadly assaults. Many were bullied in one way or another, many had dysfunctional home lives, some were diagnosed with various disorders, some on meds and some not.

The summary of the book also says that "By examining previous shootings, however, it is possible to gain a general idea of actions and behaviors to look for when trying to recognize a potential shooter." This is also extremely important, something I recognize as necessary, being an educator myself. The thing is, the author again cites no research for the conclusions she has come to. There is literally NOTHING at the end of the book, besides the author's acknowledgments, and then an 'About The Author'. We are told here that the author enjoys all aspects of researching and writing...but we see no concrete proof of the research part. I could take this book so much more seriously had the author cited sources and quoted the massive tomes of research available today, based on all these shootings and a myriad of others. The writing itself was not terrible, but there were a few places that could have used a bit more polishing before publication. Sweeping generalizations were an issue, as was repetition from case to case. This came in multiple forms, mainly the woulda/coulda/shoulda that was discussed every time. If this had been reported, or parents had been notified of this, or this, that, or a million other things happened, maybe the shooting could have been prevented. Maybe, maybe not. When we go too far into scenarios like that, it feels to me like we are shifting some of the blame off the shooter and onto others. Ultimately, we are responsible for our own actions. This is obviously different for those with mental illnesses, and I am speaking solely of day-of occurrences. One thing the author does well is point out the dozens and dozens of red flags that were flying high leading up to the shootings. In some cases, friends knew ahead of time that "something" was going to happen. Some knew exactly what was going to happen. In those cases yes, those who knew bear some responsibility for not reporting what they knew. And good Lord, the amount of bullying that was ignored by so many. I was especially appalled by the gym teacher who supposedly joined in teasing one of the students and made him play with the girls during class. One, what a horrible human being. Two, what schools still have gym class divided by gender? The instances I am specifically speaking of were things such as, "If the school had notified the parents that so-and-so wasn't at school that day..." At that point, no, the blame rests solely on the ones who chose to commit murder. Playing that kind of what-if game does no one any good in any of these situations.

Here are a few examples of the issues that stood out most to me. They mainly come from the Columbine section, as that is the one I know the most about.

At 53% the author discusses Klebold being placed in a gifted and talented program. She also mentions a 'close' friend of Dylan's who had "fond memories" of their time in the program. This completely contradicts what Brooks Brown wrote in his own book about Columbine. Brown says the bullying was just as bad in the program, especially from the kids who had bought their way in as opposed to testing into it. The author states that Klebold thrived in the program, but again there is no source to say that this is accurate. Brown paints a much different picture, and it was not nearly as happy.

At 54% the author discusses Klebold and his older brother, saying that they had been close when they were younger, "but they had grown apart as they got older and Byron was an active participant in tormenting Dylan at school." Again...source? I have often wondered this, particularly when I read Klebold's mother's book about Columbine and the aftermath. And of course no mother would throw one son under the bus for another that turned into a killer, but I believe I recall something about them growing apart as they got older. Perhaps Byron did "torment" Dylan at school, but if someone is going to make a claim like that, it needs to be backed up with proof.

At 60% there was an error so glaring, I can not ignore it:

"Brooks Brown was heading outside to have a cigarette when he ran into Eric and Dylan in the parking lot. Irritated that they had cut class and missed a philosophy test, he started giving them a lecture, but was immediately silenced. Eric just looked at him and said, "It doesn't matter anymore. Brooks, I like you now. Get out of here. Go home." Something in his tone made Brooks uneasy, and he lit a cigarette and continued in the opposite direction. Though he was confused by their behavior, he had no idea that it would be the last time he would see Eric and Dylan alive."

Brooks never saw both young men. He only talked briefly to Eric in the parking lot. It is odd to me that the words Harris spoke to Brown are documented correctly, but the rest of the details surrounding those few words is not. Klebold parked in a different area and Brown states very clearly in his own book he only saw Eric when he was going out for a smoke. This seems like an easy thing to get right, so I have not explanation for this. Additionally, there was some repetitiveness here to be found in other sections. There is always some reference to each shooter "leaving home for the last time" or doing this or that for the last time. And this treatment is not only applied to the shooters, but to the victims also. So often said victims at first do not "grasp the gravity of the situation", or some other way of saying the victims don't fully comprehend yet what is happening around them.

I feel if there were to be massive changes to this book, for it to be updated with relevant material regarding sources and documentation, it could be a valuable tool for educators especially. However, in its current state, I can not recommend it at this time.


  1. Sounds a bit disappointing overall. I agree that if you suspect someone is going to do a shooting or something, you bear responsibility in part if you say nothing and people die.

    1. It was. So much potential wasted on what could have been a good book. I was appalled by the situations where friends were even "in on it". There was one boy who, his friends helped get him a gun, one offered to film it so he would be famous even after he was dead, and they made sure all their friends got to the library safely, so they could watch what was happening in the lobby of the school. It is all so sick.

  2. So important in a book of this genre to be able to back up assertions and to get the facts straight. I'm amazed there's no bibliography - surely that's just basic good manners to all the other researchers whose previous work assisted in this tome?

    1. You'd think so, right?? It started out fine, but when the author started making very general statements like, "Kids who are small for their age get bullied"...yeah, that's not always true, and where is your research to back that up? But there was ZILCH. I will have to check if the book was self-published - the author mentioned in her acknowledgements that her mother helped edit her drafts. You'd think even a small publisher would nix a project without any sources cited!