School shootings had become more familiar in the US, but the name Columbine would be a name that would never be forgotten. “In a matter of minutes, two youths shot and killed 12 fellow students and a teacher, and wounded 20 others, before turning their guns on themselves” (Historic US Events, 2012). School is meant to be an institute for educating children. It is a place where kids can develop and learn life skills so they can succeed in life. It is not meant to be a place that is feared or deemed unsafe. In 2019, there were approximately 435 mass shootings, and around 45 of them were school-related. The survivors of shootings are often left feeling guilty, anxious, and paranoid. An article from Pacific Standard states that “school shootings don't just kill and maim: They traumatize and terrorize, and the wounds they leave cast long scars across American civil society” (Keller, 2019). Not only are the survivors affected, but our society as a whole has to adapt and change in order to help prevent future incidents. The mental health of children is deeply affected by mass shootings. These kids are left with life long scars and inescapable trauma.
Now, the main question you may find yourself asking is why? What goes on in these sick and twisted people’s minds that makes them want to commit this act of terrorism? While it is hard to pinpoint the main cause of this, there are some common things that we can use to help us understand. For example, these people are psychotic. Many of the shooters were abused as children. Childhood trauma takes a huge toll on adult life because it often leaves behind mental health issues. We also tend to see signs of neglect and loneliness. They feel like no one cares about them, and they just want attention. “Such nobody’s who feel put down and pushed away react directly from their mammalian, emotional and reptilian brains by getting in and getting even” (Goulston, 2015). Early signs of psychosis include withdrawing from friends or family, sudden lack of interest and motivation, and changes in personality. It is almost impossible to empathize with a shooter, but they truly are messed up and are doing what they believe is right. For instance, if a child (who is already mentally unstable) is bullied in school, they are more likely to act out in an aggressive way. This event can often be seen as the stressor or what caused the shooter to commit this heinous crime. It is their way of establishing power and revenge.
Dylan Klebold was a very intelligent child. He almost never got in trouble and would be described as sweet and kind. He started to get sneaky around middle school, but he was always quiet so no one thought much of it. In his early life, we see that he was a well-rounded kid that came from a good family, and he excelled in school and in extracurriculars. So what went wrong? It started in High School when he became very close friends with Eric Harris. “Over time, Klebold’s behavior began to change. He became depressed, paranoid, and sad. He shunned many of his former friends for Harris” (Gale in Context Online Collection, 2017). That’s when it got dark. He began acting out and writing about violence and death. No one suspected either Harris or Klebold to commit this heinous act. Klebold showed all the telltale signs of psychosis, but they were overlooked and not seen as a threat.
Now, we are going to shift our focus towards the mental health of children who have survived mass shootings. PTSD is one of the most common mental disorders after trauma. It is triggered by terrifying and traumatic events. PTSD includes anxiety attacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about the event. In a recent article from Pacific Standard, we are told that even “a decade after Columbine, survivors told ABC News that they remained haunted by flashbacks, anxiety, and survivor's guilt” (Keller, 2019). Statistics also show that around 28 percent of people who experience a mass shooting develop PTSD, and around a third develop ASD. After the Parkland shooting, parents reported that their children were afraid to go to school. It is scientifically proven that children and teens leave mass shootings with long-lasting mental health issues.Jerad Keller explains that “a 2016 study of post-shooting student performance published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis found that school massacres dramatically decreased not just math and English scores on standardized tests, but overall enrollment in high school broadly” (Keller, 2019). This can seriously derail someone’s life by preventing them from getting a high paying job in the future.
What is really scary to think about is that enough shootings have happened to where there is a need for lockdown drills. Kids go to school and they have fire drills, severe weather drills, and now lockdown drills. This is normal for them. They are told to get down and hide under their desks and be completely silent until the coast is clear. Some schools even have active shooter drills where they hire actors to show the kids what a real shooting would feel like.
This is not something we should have to be teaching our children. Our kids should be able to feel safe anywhere, but especially in a building that is designed to further their education. Take the Columbine shooting on April 20, 1999, for example. These kids were just a little less than three weeks away from summer, and they went to school just like every other day. Little did they know what tragic event was about to occur. “The horror began at 11:15 a.m., as Klebold and Harris opened fire in the parking lot. Sophomore Denny Rowe later described the scene for reporters: 'These guys opened fire on everything that looked human” (Historic US Events, 2012). While the Columbine shooting was not the worst America had seen, it definitely left students and parents crippled with anxiety and fear. All we want to do is protect our children and prevent events such as these from happening again. It is sad that our future generations will see these precautions as normal and simply something that they are used to.
Mass shootings have a very negative effect on society as a whole, but it tends to be worse in children. Kids are left in a very bad mental state, which can have long-lasting effects. PTSD and anxiety are two of the most common mental disorders seen in survivors of mass shootings. All we want is for these shootings to stop. Thousands of innocent people are killed each year, and thousands are left mentally and physically injured. Thankfully we have learned to take precautions, and we have taught children what to do in the worst-case scenario. As sad as it is, they are prepared and ready to face the reality of the world.
- Keller, J. (2019). The long-term mental health impacts of school shootings. Pacific Standard. Retrieved from https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-long-term-mental-health-impacts-of-school-shootings
- Goulston, M. (2015). What goes on in the mind of a school shooter? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/just-listen/201502/what-goes-in-the-mind-school-shooter
- Gale in Context Online Collection. (2017). Columbine High School Massacre. Retrieved from https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/PC3010999208/GIC?u=anon~b736c974&sid=GIC&xid=47f1acfe
- Historic US Events. (2012). Columbine High School massacre. Salem Press Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://eds-a-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.snhu.edu/eds/detail/detail?vid=1&sid=372f0bb1-8c2f-437a-9c3d-19c8e40ec505%40sdc-v-sessmgr02&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWRzLWxpdmUmc2NvcGU9c2l0ZQ%3d%3d#AN=79144535&db=ers
- Terrazas, A. (2020). Mass shootings in America. ProQuest Central. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/2350599328/fulltextPDF/DC6E50D3C86542B7PQ/1?accountid=3783
- National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/index.shtml
- Glaser, G. (2019). Why the Parkland shooting survivor is convinced that America's gun laws will change. Time. Retrieved from https://time.com/5520491/parkland-shooting-david-hogg-gun-reform/
- Davis, E. (2021). From Columbine to Parkland: A history of school shootings. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/school-shootings-us-history-trnd/index.html
- American Psychological Association. (2021). Mental health effects of gun violence. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/pi/prevent-violence/resources/gun-violence
- National Center for PTSD. (2018). Mass Violence, Trauma, and Resilience: A Brief Guide for Parents and Educators. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_children_parents.asp#1