School Was Just the Setting for Suicidal Outlash

Article excerpt

Byline: Peter Gutierrez

Dr. Peter Gutierrez is an assistant psychology professor at Northern Illinois University.

The media unfortunately and almost universally have characterized the shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Conyers, Ga., as instances of school violence. Indeed, these were sensational and horrific acts of violence that occurred in schools, but that generic portrayal misses the point.

The shooters were isolated, alienated youth with pent-up rage and an arsenal of available firearms - surely, a recipe for violent action. What has not been stated, and this is the significant point of entry if we have any hope to prevent further bloodshed, is that the acts of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High and of Thomas Solomon at Heritage High were primarily suicidal in intent.

The red flags signaling their suicidal tendencies were observable to others. Had others noticed the warning signs, appreciated their meanings and intervened, deaths and injuries might have been prevented. Recognizing and seizing this opportunity to teach the public of these facts is the responsibility of the media.

It is premature to write a definitive psychological autopsy on Harris and Klebold; more about them will unfold in coming weeks. More also will be learned about Solomon, who survived and is available for further evaluation.

Of the Littleton perpetrators, we can surmise that Harris was the dominant character. Socially alienated from more popular school cultures, Harris and Klebold banded together (and with others in the Trenchcoat Mafia), achieving a measure of power in their retributive fantasies and shared differences.

Harris had a diagnosed mental disorder (depression) for which he was being treated with an antidepressant. He had recently been arrested for breaking and entering. He displayed violent fantasies in school writings and in a video produced for a school project, displayed an obsessive fascination with violent video games, worshipped Adolph Hitler and readily obtained firearms. …