Ohio shooter: It could have been anyone’s child

As of Tuesday afternoon, three of the five students shot in the Ohio school had died. The 17-year-old accused of the shooting had appeared in court and his photo was all over Yahoo news wearing a flak jacket.

I am so sad for all the families who have lost children, but feel particular pain and sympathy for the alleged shooter and his family.

Why sympathy for the alleged shooter? Because it could be anyone’s child sitting there having made this terrible mistake.

A 2002 study by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education points out there is no profile for school shooters. It’s not always the Goth kid or always the lonely kid or always the bullied kid. It could be anyone.

The Secret Service studied case files and other primary sources for 37 attacks by current or former students, and also interviewed 10 of the perpetrators.

From MSNBC, which pulled 10 school shooting myths from the report:

“The demographic, personality, school history, and social characteristics of the attackers varied substantially,” the report said. Attackers were of all races and family situations, with academic achievement ranging from failing to excellent.

“Most, but not all, have been male, though that fact alone doesn’t help an adult rule in or out someone as dangerous.”

The article went on to say that is wasn’t the “crazy” kids, loners or kids in fringe groups:

“Only one-third of the attackers had ever been seen by a mental health professional, and only one-fifth had been diagnosed with a mental disorder. Substance abuse problems were also not prevalent. ‘However, most attackers showed some history of suicidal attempts or thoughts, or a history of feeling extreme depression or desperation.’ Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures.”

“In many cases, students were considered in the mainstream of the student population and were active in sports, school clubs or other activities.”

“Only one-quarter of the students hung out with a group of students considered to be part of a ‘fringe group.’ ”

One thing the school attackers in the study did have in common though was access to weapons:

“Most attackers had access to weapons, and had used them prior to the attack. Most of the attackers acquired their guns from home.”

So what is the take-home lesson from this? What will the discussion be at your house? Will it be about guns in your home or guns in friends’ homes? Will it be about how your teen is feeling – are they happy and hopeful or sad and depressed? How can parents use this tragedy to help prevent other attacks?

33 comments Add your comment

fcm on cell

February 28th, 2012
7:12 pm

I remember at Combine markers were placed for the shooters. The nation was aghast. Did their moms miss them less because they were the cause? I get why you feel for the boy & his family.

I continue to pray that those who are in pained seek help and not turn to violent acts. I pray for peace for all those affected.


February 28th, 2012
7:33 pm

Theresa, I don’t agree with your premise that it could be ANYONE’S child sitting there. I hope you don’t believe that the world is full of kids waiting to crack. There are many angry, sad, neglected, and abused kids out there, that is for sure, but I don’t think most are incipient mass killers.

I DO think parents ought to be much more aware of depression and other problems in their kids, and be prepared to get help for them. THAT is where we fall down. Many folks cannot afford counseling for their kids, or even an evaluation. There is a GREAT DEAL of parental denial, also. I met with just such a parent today.

I also hope you are not raising your kids to see all the dangers you seem to see. While some caution is certainly warranted, it seems like you are unusually fearful for the safety of your kids. I am just thinking back over the topics of many of the blogs you have written. Perhaps examining these fears with a counselor would help?


February 28th, 2012
8:23 pm

(Unless you have been getting threats, of course. I would surely take that seriously.)


February 28th, 2012
11:55 pm

I agree that I feel for the shooter and his family. Obviously, there is something going on in his life in order to cause him to react this way and somehow no one in his life saw it and stopped it in time. That is a terrible load to carry.

As parents, I think we don’t always realize the impact we have on our children and their ability to handle the stress in daily life. Being able to strike the right balance between having rules and allowing room to grow can be a difficult thing. What we, as adults, might perceive as giving in to our kids because we love them can be perceived by them as not caring enough to say no. Or, if we are too rigid and never give any leeway we can set up a scenario where they feel they can’t ever win.

This weekend Josh McDowell was speaking at our church and he mentioned a study that said the level closeness kids felt with their parents was linked to many things later in life. Lack of closeness was a leading indicator (not the only indicator, but a leading one) for things like heart disease, suicide attempts, and mental illness. The researchers said this was link was due to the fact that the kids growing up without a close relationship didn’t have the same ability to handle stress as those who had a close parental bond to turn to when things were stressful. Perfect parents weren’t necessary, just involved and caring ones who let their kids know they were there for them.


February 29th, 2012
7:17 am

For those that think this is something that is somehow new to society and that “access to weapons” that Theresa so shrilly writes is the common theme:

November 2, 1853 Louisville, Kentucky A student, Matthew Ward, bought a self-cocking pistol in the morning, went to school and killed Schoolmaster Mr. Butler for excessively punishing his brother the day before. Even though he shot the Schoolmaster point blank in front of his classmates, he was acquitted.

It is nothing new, (i have highlighted just one 19th century example…there are many more, in more countries than just the US.) just better communications and a media that knows that when this stuff does happen, it is a great time to increase circulation, ratings, etc…
Calm down…it is still as rare as it always has been.


February 29th, 2012
7:21 am

Theresa, your filter got my post, like a dingo is going to eat your baby. I refuse to rewrite. Retrieve if you want.


February 29th, 2012
8:21 am

I don’t think it could have been any child. While I get that it is not always the “emo or goth kid”, I just don’t think that the elements are present in any given child.

I feel bad for the parents of the shooter. I hope to God that I can read, understand, and/or help my child well enough for this to never, EVER, become even close to a possibility.


February 29th, 2012
8:42 am

Why sympathy for the alleged shooter? Because it could be anyone’s child sitting there having made this terrible mistake.

I do have sympathy for the shooter (more so for his family) but I do not consider this “a terrible mistake”. A terrible mistake is the kid who is driving down the road and makes an error that causes a fatal accident. This kid consciously chose to take a gun on to another school’s campus and shoot people. That’s not a mistake; it murder. Period.


February 29th, 2012
8:42 am

I agree with other posters, it wouldn’t be just any child. It certainly wouldn’t be my child. But there are so many parents out there who don’t take the time to listen to their kids or try to understand what is going on in their child’s life. Those are the kids more at risk. It’s so sad any way you look at this. I feel for this child’s family most, because they have to live in this town and people will judge them because of what happened, whether or not it was in their control to prevent it. I haven’t seen anything reported on this, but where did the boy get the gun from? Was it in his parents home, anyone know? I’m just curious how teens get their hands on stuff like that.


February 29th, 2012
8:46 am

Also, he fired 10 shots according to stories, but he killed 3 people. I don’t think I could shoot that well. I wonder if he’d ever fired a weapon before. Or maybe he was just so close to his victims that he was able to hit them in vital places.


February 29th, 2012
8:59 am

I’ll cut TWG a little slack on the “anyone” phrase as I think she was just using that word because of the FBI information. No, I don’t think it could be ANYONE’S child, but I get what she’s saying.

When you are in tune with your child (different than hovering), you notice when things change. Heck, same goes for your SO. Being able to talk, give space without being out of touch, you can manage life’s curve balls. No, it’s not always easy and fun, but it is what life gives all of us at some point.


February 29th, 2012
9:14 am

Here we are again calling a premeditated act a ‘mistake.’ It was not a mistake. He clearly thought about it for some time. He even posted some *ahem* ‘poetic’ rant on Facebook in December. His parents and friends don’t read his Facebook page? The post would be enough for some serious sit-down time here. If he was blatantly posting what he was thinking on Facebook, there must have been other warning signs as well.

I’d like to think I’ll be more in tune as DD gets older. As Jeff said, it won’t be easy and I’m sure there will be a lot of not fun moments, but that’s what being a parent is all aobut.

All that being said, I do feel badly for the family, but not so bad as for the victims.


February 29th, 2012
9:34 am

Family is so important. I cannot stress that enough. Parents, don’t abandon your kids. They need YOU more than you know. Even when they become sullen teenagers, FAMILY is even more important. A strong sense of family and love. Knowing that they are loved and that someone cares about them is SO important as they grow. Just becuase they turn 13, turn into someone you don’t recognize, you need to still be there for them. They just think they don’t need you anymore, but if you are simply THERE, that is of comfort.

That’s why it is so important to put down the video games, the cells phones, and be a family. We sit at the dining room table every single night as a family. We do things as a family. We support each other, build each other up. It’s all about priorities, and my kids and family are Number 1. And we make each one of our children know they are loved, and cared for, and that they can come to us and talk about ANYTHING. We have open communication in our home…..Nothing is taboo to discuss.


February 29th, 2012
10:25 am

Of all the school shooters, I’ve seen very few who have not had some sort of family problems. Either their parents are violent and have had previous arrests (as I heard was true in this case). Or the parents are distant and disinterested (as in the Columbine case). I can agree that these shooters can come from all walks of life but disagree that there is no connection. Show me a school shooter who has had very involved parents. The kind who volunteer at the school and have nightly dinner conversations. I say score one for the helicopter parents. They might screw up their own kids but at least no other kids are going to get killed in the process.

Warrior Woman

February 29th, 2012
10:40 am

Your statement that “it could be anyone’s child sitting there having made this terrible mistake” is patently absurd. First, deliberately shooting someone is not a mistake. As JOD noted, this was premeditated. Premeditated acts are not mistakes, although they clearly may be bad choices.

Second, the very report you’re basing this on discusses the high incidence of prior suicide attempts, depression, and difficulty coping with loss or personal failures. Those problems are not everyone’s.

And no, there won’t be a discussion about guns in the home at my house. Guns are not the problem. Children that are unloved and unsupervised are the problem. The discussion with my teens will be about disaffected classmates showing signs of depression, anger, or coping problems.

Soccer Milf

February 29th, 2012
10:41 am

It would not have been my kids. they have taken 10 years of karate and know how to handle guns.


February 29th, 2012
10:53 am

How dare you call what this kid did a “mistake”. A mistake is leaving milk out the fridge, not killing students. I swear your blogs are getting so awful, and your logic is so skewed. I only read these blogs to see how others respond.

Georgia Girl

February 29th, 2012
11:05 am

Wow. A “mistake”? No. That is not the right word for this kid’s actions. Whatever his reasons were, whatever demons he was struggling with, whatever his home life was like…it’s certainly a shame that no one caught on in time to prevent this, but it was not a “mistake.” And to say that the shooter and his family deserve more sympathy than the victims’…!!! The shooter is still alive. Granted, his quality of life will (and should) most likely be miserable, and what a terrible thing for his family to have to live with as well, but at least their son is still alive. Geez, Theresa…can you really not put yourself in the victims’ family’s shoes for one minute and think about how their worlds have been permanently turned upside down?

And to say that this could have been “anyone”…no, it could not. There ARE common factors between these student shooters and there are common factors between students who don’t do these things.

This little bit of writing infuriates me, honestly. If you want to crank out a quick blog about crafts to do with the kids over winter break, fine…my standards will be different there. But for this topic, you need to put a lot more thought into what you are saying. And for God’s sake, be respectful of the parents who lost their CHILDREN to this “mistake.”


February 29th, 2012
11:08 am

This is something interesting that I received in a newsletter this morning. It is about the media’s role in school shootings. It is not saying that the students who do the shootings are not at fault. It is saying that by giving so many details, the media is giving other kids a blueprint to follow to become copycats. I wonder if this kid was motivated by some other kid to commit this crime. Again, that does not negate his responsibility. It is sad what he did…for himself, for his family, and definitely for the children who he killed and their families. I am definitely sad for everyone involved.

Here is the article:

The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position of VitalSmarts.
Monday I watched in horror with most of America as the story of the Chardon High School shooting unfolded. But my horror was twofold. The first misery came as I heard the names and numbers of victims and thought about the pain they and their families will endure for the rest of their lives. The second dose came as I held my breath—hoping and praying the media wouldn’t amplify the violence.
But they did.
They did exactly what they needed to do to influence the next perpetrator to lock and load.
1. They named the shooter.
2. They described his characteristics.
3. They detailed the crime.
4. They numbered the victims.
5. They ranked him against other “successful” attackers.
School shootings are a contagion. And the media are consistent accomplices in most every one of them.
There’s really no useful debate on the point. The consensus of social scientists since David Phillips’ groundbreaking work in 1974 is that highly publicized stories of deviant and dangerous behavior influence copycat incidents. Phillips’ and scores of subsequent studies showed, for example, that suicide rates spike in the week after an inappropriately publicized celebrity suicide. Contrast this trend with no increase in suicides in the week following a media strike that unintentionally suppresses such coverage.
The same is true of school massacres. On Groundhog Day, February 2, 1996 a 14-year-old boy walked into his Moses Lake, Washington, Junior High School algebra class and started shooting. He killed his teacher, two classmates, and severely wounded another student. The media obsessed over the color of his clothes, his insidious planning, and the inventory of his arsenal. In addition, they practically offered a how-to guide for concealing and deploying weapons in a coat. But what got the most attention was the fact that after shooting his teacher, he delivered a line from the Stephen King novel Rage with charismatic panache. Suddenly, the invisible adolescent was a cultural icon. Within a week, another shooting occurred that clearly echoed that of February 2. Then another on February 19. Another on March 11. And yet another on March 13. More than one of the apparent copycats also cited King’s novel as a creative resource in their crimes.
Of course, when the Rage pattern became clear, the media scurried to get King’s reaction. King could have defended his right to free speech and used the “guns don’t kill, people do” argument—claiming the problem was the perpetrators’ mental health not his book.
But he didn’t. He apologized for writing the book. In an interview he said, “I took a look at Rage and said to myself, if this book is acting as any sort of accelerant, if it’s having any effect on any of these kids at all, I don’t want anything to do with it.” Then he insightfully added, “Even talking about it makes me nervous.” King understands that attention is influence. He asked his publishers to pull Rage from publication and let it fall out of print shortly thereafter.
The challenge our society faces is balancing the need to not cause additional mayhem through known influence methods with the right of free speech. As is the case with all complicated issues, there a multiple values to consider here.
It’s time to ask if we should find a way to stifle such reports, limit the anguish, and disallow one form of speech, for the greater good.
One thing is for certain—those who write about, talk about, televise, and otherwise report on school shootings need to take their lead from Mr. King by examining their own motives and methods—given that when news outlets include certain details of a crime in their reports that act as a virtual workshop for would-be acolytes, they are likely to incite similar actions.
Surely, media specialists feel the tension between their own values and staying in business. And yet, they must realize that their goals to get more air time, sell more ad space, and earn more attention don’t justify the potential to create new pain and sorrow.
The obvious first step is to talk openly about all sides of the issue—including the latest research. Media outlets need to examine their own tactics, impact, and motives. It would be wonderful if the entire industry started regulating certain aspects of what is reported. This could only be accomplished through collaboration between competitive entities and so far, we haven’t seen any progress in this direction.
Perhaps it’s time for legislators to start their own dialogue. Perhaps we now have enough scientific evidence to suggest that it’s time to take action before more lives are lost. It’s time we matched responsibility with influence.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

February 29th, 2012
11:41 am

Shaggy — the Secret Service analysis pointed out the access to weapons as a common theme in the attackers. The article also agrees with you the shootings are rare.


February 29th, 2012
11:57 am

It couldn’t have been my kid. He’s sane.


February 29th, 2012
12:06 pm

I have to agree 100000% with Georgia Girl’s ENTIRE post!!!!


February 29th, 2012
12:06 pm

P.S. A mistake is your kid putting 87 octane in your car when it’s supposed to have 93. Shooting 5 people is not on the same level.


February 29th, 2012
12:07 pm

What’s interesting here is how rankled commenters here are by the use of “anyone’s child.” To say that it couldn’t be anyone’s child is a bit naive, I think. Are there kids that are more or less at risk of producing this kind of violence or more or less capable of this violence? Of course. But I’m sure that before the shooting if you had told the shooters parents that “anyone’s child” would have shot up a school, they’d never have believed it would be their child either. Being a parent can cloud your judgement about your child – you don’t always see what is right in front of you because perhaps the child isn’t screaming for attention and is keeping whatever feelings need to be addressed to his/herself. That is exactly what happened in Columbine – those boys had their parents almost completely fooled, but their personal writings that their parents weren’t privy to exposed two boys in deep pain. As a parent I know we like to think we know our children’s every move and thought, but they surprise us every single day, doing things (both good & bad) that we never expected. With my kids for example – I am fairly confident that when they reached this age they wouldn’t do anything like this, but I can’t know that for sure. I can’t know what’s going through their minds 24/7, as much as I would like to. It really could be anyone’s child.

Regardless, I feel for all the families involved in this case, both victim and shooter. Just because this child killed 3 people (hurt another 2), that doesn’t make his parent’s pain any less. They’ve essentially lost their son now as well. I feel like school shootings really are one of the most senseless crimes. They always seem to come out of nowhere and out of motives that are so entangled that the public will never truly know why the shooter chose to act. My heart goes out to all of them.

Soccer Milf

February 29th, 2012
12:22 pm

My Dylan and Carter would never hurt someone. They are perfect angels sent to this planet as a gift from God.


February 29th, 2012
12:56 pm

No one would have thought that guy would have shot that Giffords lady or that attack in Sweden or wherever, or even the “spa” shooting. When it happens at a school, it gets more attention, but it certainly is not a singular event.

I agree that the more-involved parents probably have less to worry about as far as their kids doing the shooting; but, they may have more to worry about as far as being victims in one way or another.


February 29th, 2012
1:20 pm

I ALWAYS knew this to be true. Now, I have science backing me up.


Theresa: It is also that access to weapons that has kept this country free for well over 200 years, with a side benefit of what kind of stupid country would try to invade the US, where the armed forces AND the citizen population is armed?
The USSR knew that to be true and didn’t even have a plan to invade the US, only to nuke us into oblivion. That invasion of the US, only happened in Hollywood fantasy…Red Dawn.


February 29th, 2012
4:09 pm

This was not just “anyone’s child”. He was the child of this man. Yeah…wonder why he was screwed up.

From a police report…
“In 2002, Lane’s father Thomas M. Lane pleaded guilty to a charge of felonious assault for pushing his ex-wife’s head into a wall and strangling her until she lost consciousness for several seconds, according to court documents.

“[Thomas M. Lane] held victim’s head over washing machine and poured cold water from a utility hose over her nose and mouth preventing free breathing,” Deputy Charlene Sulak wrote in a complaint.”


February 29th, 2012
4:39 pm

Yes….thank you homeschooler.
Let’s all feel sorry for the killer’s father.


February 29th, 2012
4:53 pm

Probably didn’t MEAN to pour water over her nose and mouth. I’m sure that was just a “mistake”


March 1st, 2012
12:14 am

Ironically, I just finished reading the book “We Need To Talk About Kevin”, a fictional story about a woman whose son committed a similar crime. (They just made a movie about it, staring Tilda Swinson.) What I found interesting was that throughout the entire book, the mother felt that there was something “off” about her child, but the father was in denial the entire time and made her feel inadequate for suspecting that her child was anything other than a child “going through a phase.”

The study says that only 1/3 of the kids had been seen by mental health professionals, but that doesn’t mean that the others shouldn’t have been seen at some point. Not every parent is wise all the time, and most parents have blind spots when it comes to their own child.

I grieve for the victims families — you send your child to school that morning, you don’t expect that you are saying goodbye forever. And I grieve for the shooter’s families, who are having to deal with not only the grief of a child whose life is changed forever, but are dealing with the horror of wondering what they could have done differently to prevent this tragedy and the public recriminations from Monday morning quarterbacks who are sure THEY would have been able to prevent this tragedy. Last week, they were saying THEIR child was “normal”, too.

No one’s life will ever be the same.


March 1st, 2012
6:07 am

The first thing I did (after I knew my relative was safe) was:

to search for news of the shooter’s family life:

His father was a serial abuser. His father was a stalker. His father abused women and children and served NO time.
Then his father assaulted a police officer, was charged, prosecuted, convicted and served time.

Assault women and children and not much happens.
Too bad he didn’t assault that cop sooner – might have saved the world some grief.

This student had many of the signs:
Violent home life
Unstable home life (last residence living with his grandmother with other relatives. Wonder how many changes of home he has had.)
Lack of an adult who can provide the support a troubled child needs.

Now, shootings are VERY rare. More common is acting out in other violent ways (fights), self damage ranging from eating disorders to cutting to drug abuse, to suicide. Suicide claims far, far more lives than mass shootings ever do.

In fact, the other results are so common that it takes a shooting to get our attention.


March 1st, 2012
6:21 am

Whoa. Wait. Thomas Lane Jr. tried to water board his wife?

Again. Effing up women and children didn’t get him time because…..why?