Byline: Michael Rubinkam Associated Press
OREFIELD, Pa. u Shortly after the massacre at Columbine High School, a question popped into Peter LangmanAEs mind: What would possess a child to pick up a gun, take it to school and mow down his classmates?
His interest wasnAEt merely academic. Langman, a child psychologist, had been asked to evaluate a teenager who posted a hit list on his Web site.
"To be sitting face to face with someone who was thought to be a potential risk for doing something like a Columbine attack was very intense," Langman says now. "A lot was riding on what we did with him. This was a potential mass murderer."
Since there was very little research at the time to guide him, Langman says, he felt an "ethical obligation" to learn all he could about the psychology of school shooters. The result of his decade-long inquiry: a book that plumbs the lives of 10 notorious school shooters u including Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho u to draw conclusions about what set them off.
In "Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters," released just before the 10th anniversary of the slayings in Littleton, Colo., Langman writes that most of the shooters were severely mentally ill, their defective personalities and disordered minds causing existential rage that found its expression in mass murder.
Harris, 18, was a psychopath u rage-filled, egotistical, lacking conscience, writes Langman. Klebold, 17, was psychotic, suffering from paranoia, delusions and disorganized thinking. Together, they fatally shot 12 students and a teacher and wounded 23 before committing suicide at Columbine on April 20, 1999.
To diagnose the conditions of Harris and Klebold, Langman examined 27,000 pages of records from the Jefferson County SheriffAEs Office, including 5,000 pages previously unseen. While others have pointed out that Harris exhibited the classic behaviors of a psychopath, Klebold was more of a mystery. His journal, released publicly in 2006, gave Langman crucial insights into his personality.
"The biggest eye-opener was the extent to which Dylan Klebold really was mentally disturbed. That was not in the literature, not in the media accounts. To realize that, you had to see his journal," says Langman, clinical director of KidsPeace, a 127-year-old Pennsylvania-based charity with treatment centers from Maine to Florida. "His journal is very fascinating, a
very disturbed piece of writing."
Like Klebold, four other psychotic shooters profiled by Langman "were suicidally depressed and full of rage at the inexplicable unfairness of life," writes the 49-year-old psychologist. "In addition, they were not living in reality. They all believed that people or monsters conspired to do them harm. ... They were confused and desperate and lost in the mazes of their minds."
As for the 17-year-old gunman who killed 16 people and himself recently at his former high school in Winnenden, Germany, Langman said it "would not surprise me at all" if he was psychotic, psychopathic or suffered a childhood trauma u but stressed itAEs too early to tell for sure.
At first, LangmanAEs conclusions might sound obvious: These kids would have to be crazy to go to their school and open fire. But the public and the media, especially in the immediate aftermath of a school shooting, have usually focused on other factors: the killersAE fascination with violent movies and video games, their easy access to guns, even the side effects of psychiatric drugs. …