Question: Are there any signs to look for if a student is going to kill someone or act out in violence?
Answer: Yes, indeed, there are. Though no pre-incident indicator on its own is persuasive, if a student displays many of the indicators below, it is call for concern. At a minimum, the student may need some intervention that will be helpful to him, as well as to the safety of others.
- Alcohol and drug use;
- Addiction to media products;
- Fascination with weapons and violence;
- Experience with guns;
- Access to guns;
- Sullen, Angry, Depressed (SAD);
- Seeking status and worth through violence;
- Threats (of violence or suicide);
- Chronic anger;
- Media provocation.
A couple of brief elaborations: Note that alcohol and drug abuse are at the top of the list. One recent study shows that an astonishing 75 percent of homicides by young people occur when they are high or drunk. Next, the term SAD is used by my firm’s behavioral scientists for easy identification of Sullenness, Anger, and Depression, which include changes in weight, irritability, suicidal references, hopelessness, and loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities.
The PIN called Media Provocation evolved because widely publicized major acts of violence often stimulate people who identify with the perpetrators and the attention they received. Because these cases tend to cluster, violence is more likely during the period following a widely reported incident. (Two weeks after a boy named Michael Carneal shot classmates at his school, another named Joseph ‘‘Colt’’ Todd did the same thing at his. Four weeks after Drew Golden and Mitch Johnson shot students at their school, a boy named Andrew Wurst did so at his, and four weeks later, Kip Kinkel did so at his.) Proximity to major acts of violence understandably increases media coverage (i.e., the incidents become local news stories as well as national). It is remarkable that seven of twelve cases in one study occurred within a 350-mile radius of each other.
Daniel Goleman’s book ‘‘Emotional Intelligence’’ adds further insight. He describes seven key abilities human beings need to effectively manage life: the ability to motivate ourselves, to persist against frustration, to delay gratification, to regulate moods, to hope, to empathize, and to control impulse. Many of those who commit extreme acts of violence never learned these skills, and if you know a young person who lacks them all, it’s an important pre-incident indicator, and he needs help.