Slaughter-style killings have hit America hard since 1927. In the 1990s, the pace accelerated dramatically. During that decade, law enforcement agencies tried heroically to compile a profile of the typical school shooter. And for a while it looked like violent media, social rejection, poor parenting, and hormones were all part of a significant pattern. But the deeper the evidence pile became, the more unique each killer seemed—and the farther the FBI found itself from being able to create a profile that would help local police and schools. One profile that the FBI released—it told schools to watch for kids who needed discipline and who had feelings of isolation, anger, and rejection—described virtually very teenager at some point in virtually every day.
As Coffey tells the story in MURDERS MOST FOUL, eventually the FBI acknowledged that school murderers come from all sorts of backgrounds, temperaments, and capabilities; they are even of many different ages (youngest 11; oldest 55). Now, with the on-campus body count at around 170, the FBI is suggesting that many or most school murderers "leak" threats before they kill. One seemingly normal high school student, for example, announced, "Monday will be the day of reckoning." A middle school student from a typical, middle-class family jumped up on a cafeteria table and shouted, "You're all going to die!" Even Virginia Tech's Seung-Ho Cho leaked—so much so that he was escorted by campus police to a mental hospital in the days before his rampage.
With its focus on "leakage," the FBI now asks police agencies and educators to take seriously what every student says and does. They also point out that once a threat is identified and assessed, systems must be in place for parents, educators, community agencies, and law enforcement to communicate openly. The importance of that lesson was reinforced in 2007, when the clearly dangerous Virginia Tech killer Cho was assigned by a judge to outpatient mental health care. It was a status that left him largely un-monitored, and allowed him under Virginia law to buy guns.
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