The Psychology of a School Shooting: TJ Lane in Chardon, Ohio
Although rare, school shootings like the one in Chardon, Ohio capture the horror imagination of every parent and teenager. And many people’s immediate reaction is, “Why would someone do that?”
The alleged shooter, TJ Lane, will now be psychoanalyzed from afar in the media, with various experts throwing in their two cents about his motivations and explaining his actions. Paula Mooney has provided initial fodder, by giving us TJ Lane’s Facebook page. “Experts” will try and piece together a portrait of TJ Lane with these kinds of bits and pieces of random, self-selected personal information.
I’ll try and refrain from any psychological analysis of TJ Lane, since as a professional, I’ve never met him or interviewed him. But I do want to discuss the school shooting in a broader context of whether there are any lessons here we can learn.
Here’s what CBS News is reporting about what happened:
Authorities say TJ Lane walked into the [Chardon] high school cafeteria early Monday and targeted a group of students sitting at one of the tables. Three of the students were killed, and two more were injured. […]
TJ Lane attended Lake Academy, an alternative school in Willoughby for students in Lake and Geauga counties. His peers said the 17-year-old shooting suspect was quiet. Some said he was sweet, while others said he had a simmering temper.
TJ Lane apparently later told police that he didn’t know the victims and chose them randomly. “Suspect TJ Lane, 17, admitted firing 10 shots with a .22-caliber pistol Monday morning at Chardon High School, Geauga County prosecutor David Joyce said at a juvenile court hearing.” He apparently used an illegal firearm obtained from his uncle, even though there were many legal guns in the household.
“He chose his victims at random. This is not about bullying. This is not about drugs,” [Prosecutor David Joyce] said.
“This is someone who’s not well, and I’m sure in our court case we’ll prove that to all of your desires and we’ll make sure justice is done here in this county.”
School violence — just like regular violence — is often random and without a clear, logical rationale. Violence doesn’t have to make sense, yet we want it to. We want to connect the dots from A to B to C, “This guy is mugging me, because he needs the money so he can buy more drugs to fuel his drug habit.”
But life is rarely so straight-forward.
I think Psych Central blogger Erika Krull’s take on this search for explanations into TJ Lane’s behavior hits the nail on the head:
Even if TJ gave a complete rationalization, would it really explain anything? Would it really satisfy anyone, including himself? And would it explain the other school shootings in any reliable way? Maybe, but maybe not.
Each school shooting — like any act of violence — is unique. TJ Lane’s explanation is not really going to help us understand much of anything (except, maybe, TJ Lane).
What might help is understanding some of the warning signs a school shooting might be brewing, and encourage teens and children to report threatening texts or other messages they may be aware of. (In Lane’s case, it’s alleged that he texted some friends about his intentions.)
Sadly, as with most acts of senseless violence, whatever explanations offered will be unsatisfactory and not really explain much of anything. Bullying? Most bullies don’t go on a shooting rampage. Disenfranchised? Many teenagers experience similar feelings without killing others. Has emotional or behavioral problems? Again, most teens with such problems aren’t violent, much less murderous.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of Chardon, Ohio.
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Grohol, J. (2012). The Psychology of a School Shooting: TJ Lane in Chardon, Ohio. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 10, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/02/29/the-psychology-of-a-school-shooting-tj-lane-in-chardon-ohio/