A model for differentiating school shooters characteristics

Published date03 August 2015
Date03 August 2015
AuthorMaria Ioannou,Laura Hammond,Olivia Simpson
Subject MatterHealth & social care,Criminology & forensic psychology,Criminal psychology
A model for differentiating school shooters
Maria Ioannou, Laura Hammond and Olivia Simpson
Dr Maria Ioannou and
Dr Laura Hammond are Senior
Lecturers, both at the
International Research Centre
for Investigative Psychology
(IRCIP), University of
Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK.
Olivia Simpson is based at the
International Research Centre
for Investigative Psychology
(IRCIP), University of
Huddersfield, Huddersfield, UK.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore the potential for developing a model for differentiating
school shooters based on their characteristics (or risk factors) before the attack took place.
Design/methodology/approach Data on 40 school shootings was compiled from the National School
Safety Centers Report on School Associated Violent Deaths and media accounts. Content analysis of the
cases produced a set of 18 variables relating to offenderscharacteristics (or risk factors). Data were
subjected to Smallest Space Analysis (SSA), a non-metric multidimensional scaling procedure.
Findings Results revealed three distinct themes: Disturbed School Shooter, Rejected School Shooter and
Criminal School Shooter. Further analysis identified links between these themes with the family background of
the offender.
Research limitations/implications These findings have both significant theoretical implications in the
understanding of school shooters and the crime in general. They offer potential for practical applications in
terms of prevention and intervention strategies. A key limitation relates to the quality of data.
Originality/value This is the first study to develop a model for differentiating school shooter characteristics.
Keywords Aggression, Multidimensional scaling, Offender characteristics, School shooter,
School shootings, School violence
Paper type Research paper
Although rare, the aftermath of a school shooting is devastating and raises many questions and
efforts to understand this phenomenon, its causes, perpetrators and motivations. The media
extravaganza that stems from these attacks has led to widespread myths about schools, pupils
and the attackers themselves. Muschert (2007) suggested that media myths give rise to the
juvenile super-predator. The media hurry to supply accounts of the incidents has led to many
faulty assumptions and stereotypes of the perpetrators. Meanwhile, a number of researchers
have attempted to produce an offender profile of a student capable of these acts, something that
the FBI have cautioned against, as warning signs could be irrelevant and lead to unfairly labelling
a student who may not pose any danger (OToole, 2000).
A number of studies have focused on factors relating to family environment, behavioural aspects
of a perpetrator causing them to act out in such a destructive manner (Fritzon and Brun, 2005;
Pittaro, 2007) and descriptions of the school environment that may have caused the perpetrator
to act as they did. The Federal Bureau of Investigation Law Enforcement Bulletin (2011) provide a
list of warning signs to look for, and researchers have pointed out a number of different risk
factors (Meadows, 2007). Others have looked closely into cases studies (Leary et al., 2003),
focused on understanding the motivations of the offenders (Fritzon and Brun, 2005) or offence
characteristics (Gerard et al., 2015). Fritzon and Brun (2005), attempting to understand the
perpetrators motives and extreme acts of school-associated violence, developed a model of
school-associated violent deaths applying action systems theory to the phenomenon of school
violence while Gerard et al. (2015) investigated 28 cases of school shooting incidents and
Received 22 June 2015
Revised 29 June 2015
Accepted 3 July 2015
VOL. 5 NO. 3 2015, pp. 188-200, © Emerald Group Publishing Limited, ISSN 2009-3829 DOI 10.1108/JCP-06-2015-0018

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