Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings

By Goetting, Ann | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings


Goetting, Ann, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


Newman, Katherine S., Cybelle Fox, David Harding, Jal Mehta, and Wendy Roth., RAMPAGE: THE SOCIAL ROOTS OF SCHOOL SHOOTINGS. New York: Basic Books, 2004, $27.50 hardcover.

Rampage highlights two low-crime, family-centered U.S. communities that spawned and survived rampage school shootings. The 1997 incident at Heath High School on the outskirts of West Paducah, Kentucky, was perpetrated by a lone fourteen-year-old gunman named Michael Carneal. He killed three classmates and injured five others. The second incident occurred the following year at Westside Middle School near Jonesboro, Arkansas, where Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, killed five and injured another ten unsuspecting victims, including a teacher. This study, conducted by Katherine Newman and four of her Harvard doctoral candidates, commenced as part of the National Academy of Sciences study of lethal school violence mandated by Congress as part of the 1999 Missing, Runway, and Exploited Children's Act. One provision of that Act required that the U.S. Department of Education study rampage shootings in schools. Newman was invited to contribute to a comparative study of six communities around the country that had experienced rampage school shootings; her charge was to analyze Heath and Westside in the context of those bloody massacres.

First the authors detail in case study fashion the two rampage shootings, including accounts of the massacres, biographies of the shooters, and descriptions of the social structures of the schools and the communities. The study data are derived mostly from interviews with 163 people in Heath and Westside along with neighboring communities, including those from families of the victims; students who were in the schools at the time of the shootings as well as current students who were not; teachers; administrators; lawyers; officials of the court; psychologists; newspaper and television reporters; and friends, family members, and fellow congregation members of the shooters. National and local news coverage was also used as a source of information.

Next, Newman and her students conducted an exhaustive review of national and local news coverage of all other rampage school shootings that had occurred over the previous thirty years. With that information they were able to place the Health and Westside cases in comparative context, and they were equipped to test a theoretical model of contributing factors to rampage school shootings.

Chapter 10, "Testing the Theory," emphasizes the importance of sociological as well as psychological factors in explaining the tragedies of rampage school shootings. The Newman study focuses on two organizational structures as major contributors to the shootings: (1) the organizational structure of schools, which leads teachers and administrators to overlook the scattered evidence of the building rage characteristic of those who become shooters, and (2) the organizational structures of small towns, which stifles the flow of information about marginal and troubled youth. …

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