The actions of Santa Monica College library workers recalling a lesson from a recent workshop on how to respond during “active shooter” incidents are credited with saving untold lives June 7 when a heavily armed gunman entered the facility and began shooting. Just one week later, the nation marked the sixth-month anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed of the lives of 20 students and six faculty members.
Only recently have educational institutions had to devise escape plans for “active shooter” incidents. Why are schools so often the target of such horrific violence?
In an analysis of school shootings, the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education report that 95 percent of the attackers were current students. The remaining 5 percent were former students. John Zawahri, the shooter in Santa Monica, had been a student at Santa Monica College. Adam Lanza, who shot up the campus in Newtown, Conn., had himself attended Sandy Hook Elementary.
Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promise Treatment Centers, tells MSN News that school shooters had often been bullied, and that they tend to act out at schools because that’s where most of their lives have unfolded. Lanza was bullied and beaten when he attended Sandy Hook, a relative said. Zawahri’s father beat him routinely, his mother said.
“Many perpetrators felt bullied or wronged by others and, more importantly, didn’t feel heard when they tried to get help,” Dr. Sack told MSN. “Enraged, they returned to the scene of the crime — their schools — and sought their revenge.”
Zawahri forced the woman he carjacked to drive him to Santa Monica College for the assault. He had killed his father and brother earlier that day.
In addition to bullying, Dr. Sack said family problems, frustration with the education system or mental illness, potentially undiagnosed, are often to blame in such tragedies.
“For anyone between 5 and 21 years of age, school is the place where a majority of their young lives unfold,” Dr. Sack said. “In this sense, school is a logical place for issues at home or with teachers or others students to be acted out.”