Category Archives: School shootings

Violence on Campus: Prediction, Prevention and Response

Hat tip to Crime and Consequences for alerting us to an upcoming conference at Columbia Law School:

…a one day conference on Violence on Campus: Prediction, Prevention and Response to be held on Friday, April 4, 2008 at the Law School. The conference, which will feature academic experts from law and the social sciences, policy makers and practitioners, is intended to bring together professionals and academics to share knowledge and information, and to stimulate research and innovative policy development in this area. We expect that attendees will include university attorneys and administrators; counseling center directors and staff; off-campus clinicians who work with students; academics in mental health, law, and policy; students; and the media.

The programme includes:

  • Understanding Violence in Colleges and Universities – William Modzeleski, Associate Assistant Deputy Secretary, Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, Washington, D.C.
  • Prediction of Violence – Edward Mulvey, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
  • Turning Violence Inward — Understanding and Preventing Campus Suicide – Morton M. Silverman, M.D., Senior Medical Consultant, The Jed Foundation (New York) Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, University of Chicago.
  • Media Coverage of Campus Violence – Nicholas Lemann, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism and Henry R. Luce Professor of Journalism, Columbia University.
  • Panel: Translating Theories Into Practice – Karen Bower, J.D., Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, Washington D.C., Richard Eichler, Ph.D., Director of Psychological Counseling Services, Columbia University and Nancy Tribbensee, J.D., Ph.D., General Counsel for the Arizona University System

Docuticker round-up

ex libris gul law reports collectionLatest criminal justice-related reports from Docuticker

Public School Practices for Violence Prevention and Reduction: 2003–04 (National Center for Education Statistics): “This Issue Brief (1) examines principals’ reports of the prevalence of formal practices in public schools designed to prevent or reduce school violence and (2) describes the distribution of these practices by selected school characteristics.”

When Men Murder Women: An Analysis of 2005 Homicide Data (Violence Policy Center): “This annual report details national and state-by-state information on female homicides involving one female murder victim and one male offender.”

No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the United States (Human Rights Watch): “the first comprehensive study of US sex offender policies, their public safety impact, and the effect they have on former offenders and their families.”

Exploring the Drugs-Crime Connection within the Electronic Dance Music and Hip-Hop Nightclub Scenes (Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware / National Institute of Justice): “This report explores how the cultural ethos, behavioral norms, activities, and individual and group identities (subcultural phenomena), inherent to the electronic dance music … and the hip hop/rap nightclub scenes … impact the relationship between alcohol, drugs, and crime, with additional attention to victimization.”

Building an Offender Reentry Program: A Guide for Law Enforcement (International Association of Chiefs of Police): “In an effort to determine the state of law enforcement’s participation in offender reentry initiatives, the International Association of Chiefs of Police partnered with OJP’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to comprehensively examine law enforcement’s role in offender reentry initiatives.”

Suicide Trends Among Youths and Young Adults Aged 10–24 Years — United States, 1990–2004 (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC): “The report is an analysis of annual data from the CDC?s National Vital Statistics System”

Law Enforcement for Lawabiders (Police Foundation): “Why do people comply with the law? Professor Tracey Meares of Yale University explores the power of private social control in controlling and reducing crime.”

Violent Deaths and the National Violent Death Reporting System (CDC): “The National Violent Death Reporting System collects data on violent deaths from a variety of sources. Together, these sources offer a more comprehensive picture of the circumstances surrounding a homicide or suicide.”

Upward trend in racist crimes in at least 8 EU countries (European Parliament): “The report analyses discrimination in employment, housing and education across the 27 Member States.”

Minding Moral Responsibility (Engage, via SSRN): “… one of the most enduring areas of controversy in our criminal law involves questions about mitigation and the insanity defense.”

Fatal fires: fire-associated homicide in Australia, 1990-2005 (Australian Institute of Criminology)

2007 Annual Report on Organized crime in Canada (Criminal Intelligence Service Canada)

The British Gambling Prevalence Survey 2007 (Gambling Commission UK)

Photo credit: ex_libris_gul, Creative Commons License

Quick links


Quick links from around the web and blogosphere:

Reports from a review of the Virginia Tech massacre have been published (download via Docuticker) prompting much commentary, including this detailed post over at World of Psychology, where John Grohol discusses the report (pdf) detailing mass murderer Seung Hui Cho’s mental health history.

Providentia draws our attention to a study presented at the recent APA convention which “indicated that sexual assault on women with physical disabilities tended to be more coercive and more physically severe than assaults on women with other types of problems”.

GNIF Brain Blogger discusses research on the implications of war on mental health:

A recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released articles dedicated to the study of conflict, human rights, and international mental health consequences. Some of the most striking papers dealt specifically with the psychological effects of war as well as the implications exposure to violent war crimes have on efforts towards peace building.

Via Karin Franklin, link to a detailed discussion of the efficacy of sex offender treatment over at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Over at The Situationist Blog, consideration of several forensically-relevant issues over the last few weeks, including ongoing discussion of Philip Zimbardo’s latest book The Lucifer Effect here and here, and in a post in which Zimbardo replies to his critics in person. Other recent posts include a commentary on judicial independence and a spotlight on research on race and the death penalty.

Peter Tillers draws our attention to a new paper up at SSRN on The Theater of the Courtroom.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 30 is up at Abyss2Hope.

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

Quick links from around the web


Some snippets from around the web that caught my eye this month:

Providentia’s Dr Romeo Vitelli (14 June) highlights a new article in the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine on Dating Violence, Sexual Assault Linked to Suicide Attempts in Teenagers.

Also recommended, Dr Vitelli’s post on the Tarasoff Decision, the ruling that when a client tells their therapist something that indicates that an identifiable individual may be at serious risk of harm from that client, the therapist has a duty to warn such a potential victims (see also this site).

Renowned eyewitness expert Professor Gary Wells provides some advice for law enforcement about best practice in line-ups (Nieman Watchdog, via CrimProfBlog, 13 June)

Mistaken eyewitness identification is the most common cause of the conviction of innocent people. Since 1992, there have been 200 definitive exonerations of people whose convictions were overturned using forensic DNA testing, and mistaken eyewitness testimony was involved in 154 of those cases. Scientists who study psychology have examined the mistaken identification problem and made recommendations regarding critical safeguards when conducting police lineups that can help prevent these mistakes.

Mind Hacks (23 June) links to an interesting article in Reason Magazine on neuroscience, mental health expert witnesses and insanity pleas:

By testifying in trials as expert witnesses, mental health professionals help us reclassify complicated moral and legal questions as seemingly clear-cut scientific matters. An endless stream of news stories about the latest advances in brain scans and the chemical conquest of personality enhances the experts’ credibility and feeds into a belief that we have come to a sophisticated understanding of the intersection between mind, brain, and behavior. […However,] despite all those popular accounts of high-tech tools for understanding the mind, the real role of psychiatry in the courts is far from objective and unimpeachable.

Carnival Against Sexual Violence 25 is up at Abyss2Hope (15 June).

Violence costs the US $7 billion each year, according to a study from Phaedra Corso, associate professor of health policy at the University of Georgia College of Public Health, and colleagues (University of Georgia Press release, 5 June):

The researchers found that most of the costs of violence stem from males and young adults. Sixty-eight percent of the costs from assaults and 63 percent of the costs from self-inflicted injuries were in males aged 15 to 44… “The most burdensome category is among young males who are victims of assaults with firearms,” Corso said. “So if you want to prevent those costs from occurring, you need to focus on prevention in that particular population.”

The Situationist Blog (7 June) featured a story about a nine-year-old professional video gamer known as Lil’ Poison:

Lil’ Poison is the world’s youngest known professional videogame player. He has earned thousands of dollars in tournaments across the globe, playing and excelling at games like the violent first-person shooter Halo 2. His success has drawn him much attention, as he has appeared on 60 Minutes, hired a publicist, and, in recent months, been the subject of a filmmaker’s documentary–all of which can be read about on his official website. Lambert’s story [in the New York Times] reflects on the possible pressures Lil’ Poison faces and examines the role of his father’s enthusiasm.

Also on the Situationist (21 June), some comments on deindividuation and the perpetrator of April’s Virginia Tech massacre:

In today’s Washington Post, Sari Horwtiz has a fascinating piece on Seung Hui Cho […] According to investigators, Cho, among other things, radically changed his identity in the days and weeks leading up to the shooting. […] His identity modifications included:

  • When Cho was ready for his shooting spree, he wrote “I am Ax Ishmael,” an identity thought to be based on the biblical figure Ishmael, who lived as an outcast.
  • Taking pictures of himself in poses associated with other persons, including those where he mimics the appearance of Jesus Christ on the cross and where he depicts himself as a soldier.
  • Eliminating any traces of his identity as Seung Hui Cho from his computer, such as by deleting his Hotmail account and removing his hard drive.
  • Methodically obtained weapons and clothing, such as the cargo pants he wore during the rampage, to become a “soldier.”

Photo credit: bigeoino, Creative Commons License

Articles of forensic interest in June’s Monitor

jun07thumbThis month’s APA Monitor on Psychology magazine (Vol 38, No. 6, June 2007) includes several stories of interest in a forensic context.

The cover story is a triple-bill of short articles on psychology in the courtroom:

    • Order in the court: The best way to educate juries on the pitfalls of eyewitness evidence? Teach judges, say psychologists.
    • To ask or not to ask: The practice of allowing juror questions gains momentum.
    • The problem with DNA: Forensic evidence increasingly includes genetic fingerprinting, but researchers worry that juries put too much stock in the results.

Also in this issue, an articles on:

All this and reminiscence by rats

Mass murder: What causes it? Can it be stopped?

Via Docuticker, a readable and thought-provoking piece on mass murder from the American Sociological Association:

We asked several experts to discuss various forms of mass murder, their causes, and possible means of prevention. The panelists were Katherine S. Newman, coauthor of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings; Michael Mann, author of The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing; Randall Collins, author of the forthcoming study, Violence: A Micro- Sociological Theory of Antagonistic Confrontations; and James Ron, author of Frontiers and Ghettos: State Violence in Serbia and Israel and coauthor of “what shapes the west’s human rights focus?”

Download the article (PDF) here.

An inside look at the minds of assassins

assassinI’ve not linked to or posted about the vast numbers of psychologists commenting on last week’s tragic Virginia Tech shootings. If you are that interested, you’ll have found it all for yourself, and even if you aren’t, it’s been hard to miss. (Speaking personally, I find it somewhat distasteful that so many psychologists are prepared to accept invitations from the media to speculate on Cho Seung-Hui’s mental state, despite some of them being (to my mind) rather poorly qualified to do so. I don’t see much point in giving them even more publicity.)

Here’s an example of psychologists who have actually carried out relevant empirical work, featured on CBS News’ most recent edition of 60 Minutes. The programme promised “an inside look at the mind of an assassin” (22 Apr), and featured the work of former US Secret Service psychologists Brian Vossekuil, Robert Fein and others:

In 1999, Vossekuil and […] Fein were the primary authors of a groundbreaking Secret Service study of stalkers and assassins. They called it the “Exceptional Case Study.” They analyzed 83 attacks, and interviewed gunmen including Arthur Bremmer, who gunned down presidential candidate George Wallace, and Mark Chapman, who murdered John Lennon.

“What was it that struck you about these 83 cases you researched in the exceptional case study?” Pelley asks Dr. Fein.

“There was no, ‘quote’ profile of an assassin or a near assassin. People came from a range of backgrounds. Some had criminal records, most did not, some had histories of violence, most did not,” Fein explains.

“The behavior in the acts generally included, things like communication to others, planning, target selection,” Vossekuil explains. “These were not impulsive, out of the blue, attacks. They were part of a process,” Fein says.

“And we found, as Robert just said, acts that were in engaged in that was identifiable, understandable and consistent with someone on might be on a pathway toward mounting an attack,” Vossekuil adds.

[…] It was after Columbine in 1999 that the Secret Service thought what it knew about assassins might apply to school shootings. […] In 2000, Fein, Vossekuil and psychologist Marisa Reddy went back to the prisons and mental hospitals, this time to interview kids who attacked their schools.

Full article here, video extracts here and here.


See also:

Photo credit: bcostin (assassin bug), Creative Commons License

The deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history

Terrible, terrible events at Virginia Tech. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this awful incident.

Already psychologists are appearing in the media trying to make sense of why someone would do such a thing. Previous PCN posts on research on school shootings are here, and some links to a few resources for any of you interested in exploring the psychology of school shootings further can be found in this post from October 2006.

The previous post on video games and violence was written and scheduled for publication before these horrific events, though there are already people out there – notably Jack Thompson, mentioned at the end of the previous post – claiming a causal link between video game playing and school shootings.  Such lurid speculation seems to me to be both premature and insensitive.

Psychology of school shootings

I’ve noticed quite a few visitors here searching for information on school shootings, in the wake of the dreadful events in Pennsylvania this week. There are so many psychologists offering their opinions on the shootings (some rather better qualified than others I might add) that I’m not even going to try to summarise the recent coverage. (Search Google News with “Amish + Psychologist” if you want to see them yourself.) Instead, I’ll flag up a few resources for any of you interested in exploring the psychology of school shootings further.

Behavioural analysts and psychologists in the FBI and US Secret Service have put a lot of effort into understanding and preventing school shootings. The Secret Service Safe School Initiative page contains links to pdfs of their various studies and recommendations, based on research completed in 2002.

In 2002, the U.S. Secret Service completed the Safe School Initiative, a study of school shootings and other school-based attacks that was conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education. The study examined school shootings in the United States as far back as 1974, through the end of the school year in 2000, analyzing a total of 37 incidents involving 41 student attackers. The study involved extensive review of police records, school records, court documents, and other source materials, and included interviews with 10 school shooters. The focus of the study was on developing information about the school shooters’s pre-attack behaviors and communications. The goal was to identify information about a school shooting that may be identifiable or noticeable before the shooting occurs, to help inform efforts to prevent school-based attacks.

On 6 Oct, the FBI posted an interview with one of their behavioural analysts, Supervisory Special Agent Mary Ellen O’Toole. Here are her three tips:

First, be vigilant, especially now, when the events are still generating headlines, says O’Toole […]. “We do believe a copycat effect takes place after these events.” There can be plenty of signs. Most school shootings are not spur-of-the moment events, she says. […] “People who act out violently don’t wake up one morning and snap. There are clues,” O’Toole says.

Second, take all threats seriously, especially those leveled by teens, and have a strategy in place to deal with them. […] Unfortunately, there is no single profile for a potential mass killer, young or old. […]

Third, please know that no matter how watchful we may be, some tragedies may simply not be preventable. […] “But remember,” she says, “despite the images splashed across televisions, the web, and newspapers, these attacks are relatively rare.”

The page links to a substantial FBI report written by O’Toole on school shootings, entitled The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective (pdf file).

Some other scholarly references:

Other links:

News round-up, 26 August

A few items that caught my eye in the last week:

KIDNAPPING: BBC News (25 August) asks: What do psychologists make of the extraordinary case of Natascha Kampusch, abducted at 10, deprived of her childhood, and now back in the real world after eight years?

[…] “Her life has been suspended, and it will take a lot to reconnect,” says Dr Anuradha Sayal-Bennett. “She’s obviously a very brave young woman, very resourceful, to have managed to escape.”

FEAR OF CRIME: A recent study from the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that the 2002 DC Sniper spree led to PTSD symptoms among residents , reports Medical News Today (26 Aug).

[…] The Washington, D.C.-area study, like others before it, documents individual responses to shared traumatic events, pinpoints what proportion of the community is affected and helps us better understand who is at risk for debilitating outcomes such as posttraumatic stress disorder, said psychiatrist and lead study author Jeffrey Schulden. The study also gives mental health professionals clues for helping the community recover after a terror-causing ordeal.

The study appears in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine .

SCHOOL VIOLENCE: Also in Medical News Today (26 Aug), a Cochrane systematic review on concludes that school violence prevention programmes improve the behaviour of at-risk students .

[…] According to the authors, the most effective programs are those that help students learn key social skills such as listening, thinking about the feelings of others, working cooperatively and being assertive in constructive ways.

POLICING: ‘Suicide-by-cop’ can take toll on officers reports the Star-Press (Indiana) on 23 Aug:

“A lot of officers will react more strongly to suicide-by-cop than a regular shooting,” according to Laurence Miller, a Florida-based clinical and forensic psychologist. “They feel manipulated into shooting the suspect. Not only have you taken a life, but you’ve been baited into doing so.”