Chapter 3: The Causes: Why Children Kill

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them,

for of such is the kingdom of God” St. Luke 18:16


The 1990’s will be remembered as the Age of Little Murderers.


I recall a stately modern red brick building with the lovely flower embellished cul de sac did not prepare me for the horror of working at Pinefield Psychiatric hospital during 1990-1991. The saga of every civil servant was the same at that time for all New York State employees. It went something like this: There was a job freeze, people had retired or made a lateral job shift, and the leftovers were stuck with the work of two or more personnel. I was the only psychologist in the entire hospital which was newly built in 1985 to treat children between the ages of five and 18.


Originally conceived as four wards, with each ward having its own psychologist, social worker, therapist, it was reduced to just me. The four wards were called, the girls’ ward, the boys’ ward, the locked ward, and the day treatment. They were all my responsibility, with all the children in them. I evaluated every child admitted to that hospital because the state mandated a “full evaluation” given that the child was there for a 10-day evaluation period.


I was the first Ph.D. level child psychologist they ever had since they opened, so the children were assessed and treated by Masters level mental health workers. Although in New York, the designation of “psychologist” was protected for a Ph.D. level professional, the title could also be used for a civil service title. So the children got substandard care, even in its inception.


What was the daily gut wrenching experience for me? Seeing children, all of them beautiful in some way but deeply troubled, being housed in a facility that could not really help them. My fury and disbelief were emotions of every worker at Pinefield saddled with the work of two or more employees. But that intense contact with the most damaged children I have ever seen (next to the children who made it to foster care after Oneida County removed them from their abusing homes), would soon give me insomnia. Believe me, this is one malady I never had in my life. I was haunted by these children’s stories during my sleep, and my brain wanted answers at 3:A.M.


In the meantime, my own son, born with depression and 14 years old, was at the beginning of his 10 year battle with the most insidious mental disorder that today cripples 1 in 4 Americans and naturally since clinical depression is a lifelong struggle, these depressed adults were once depressed children.


Perhaps, as I have often reflected, it was my son’s illness that prompted me to study child development and then to treat hundreds of children with mental disorders. As is often the case, our own tragedy makes us the best reporter of facts, the most zealous worker for the poor and underprivileged, or as in the case of Sara Ann Woods, a murder of a twelve year old the summer that my own daughter was twelve, which should the rural community and prompted a walk-a-thon from Utica to Albany’s governor’s mansion to propose a stiffer jail sentence for kidnapping. Mr. Woods a country pastor and his wife and hundreds of townspeople made the news, and the Sara Ann Woods law was put into place.


It was this very passion fueled by a 10-year struggle with my son’s depression and ultimate death that softened my heart and made me fight the battles of poor state funding for children’s mental health services. I told more than one administrator, “Well, if they’re not going to spend the money for child’s services, tell them to build bigger jails because these kids are coming.” It was at this time that I worked with the “little murderers” who came to my modern well-equipped office from all over central New York.


They looked like ordinary children, they were of varying nationalities, white, African American, Hispanic, and usually had parents who could not meet their everyday needs for consistent nurturing, loving supervision, and child-centered family lifestyle. During my tenure, the youngest was six and the oldest was almost 18, at which point he would be placed in a half-way house for adults because no one wanted him.


How ordinary were these children? How extraordinary were their lives? I questioned myself every day. What was it about these children that made them set fires to their homes, torture cats, run away and steal for a living, and disobey adults? They did not cling to a mother’s breast or look up to a father’s adoring face. These children had lost their innocence, were emotionally disconnected from humanity, and had no conscience.


Many of the books I read as part of my research for this book assume that abuse (verbal, psychological, sexual) precedes killing, but the knowledge that I reaped from those grueling days of seeing one child after another, with no break, showed me something radically different.


My first hypotheses were as follows:

*children with low IQ were more susceptible to poor impulse control

*children who were physically abused were more susceptible to acting out against society

*children with immature parents who fail to nurture would not learn to emotionally attach

*children from poor households had more stress; poverty opened up many rooms of horror, e.g. parents’ drug addiction, parents’ addict friends who at times stayed with them putting the child at risk for sexual abuse, being left alone for long periods of time because parents worked two jobs, etc.

*the combination of low IQ and poverty was double jeopardy

*children who spend a lot of time without caring adults never learn self control


Certainly, I often thought, an abusing, authoritarian parent who used his role to overpower and humiliate would spawn a child who’d have no regard for human life. The beatings, lack of use of reasoning about what the infraction was and how the punishment matches the infraction (teaching moral reasoning), and the shame made the child hardened. Empathy could never be learned under these conditions.


Interestingly, empathy has been studied in toddlers by Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan who found to have biological roots. In other words, toddlers were capable of sadness or tears at the sight of another child’s cries. Kagan concluded that some of us are born with empathy already encrypted into our DNA. Does that mean that children who kill lack empathy from birth? And further, that these children with no empathy who are reared by violent, abusing, neglectful parents become killers?


Other research shows that defiant, oppositional, aggressive children are different physiologically than non-aggressive children. Aggressive children are thrill seekers because their physical resting state is much lower than non-aggressive children. With lower than normal heart rate and respiratory rate, aggressive children feel more “normal” when they fight. This gave me one more hypothesis to add to the others: children who kill need the “excitement” of hurting others to feel normal. Could this really be true?


All of these hypotheses did not explain all the children at Pinefield. Then, I came up with another hypothesis: There were two types of parents that spawned killers, the well-publicized abusive types and the less famous permissive (indulgent) types. This would explain why children with sweet, ineffectual parents or social-financially advantaged parents who randomly indulge and then neglect (gift giving as a substitute for loving involvement and real interest in the child’s life) could each spawn a child who uses killing as an outlet. This would not explain whether each of these parents may have a genetically primed child; but, it did explain that these styles of parenting could bring the worst out of a child. Interestingly, the media and the many books I have read about these killer kids do not see the importance of permissiveness and random indulgence as serious as the abuse. I tend to disagree.



 


ABUSIVE, PERMISSIVE OR RANDOMLY INDULGENT PARENTING.


At the core of all aggressive children are the following shared symptoms:

*poor impulse control

*lack of empathy

*poor social reasoning

*diminished moral reasoning


They don’t all have membership in social groups. Some of them are loners. The amazing thing is that modern day children who kill, do so with an audience. They ask other children to watch, seek their attention, and enlist their assistance and allegiance to some heartfelt charge against society. Like wolves who hunt in packs, these children prefer the presence of others almost as a staged performance. A rock music video perhaps.


It is eerie to think that, whereas sociopaths hide or shun attention while they plot, execute, and conceal a murder, these children prefer a staged drama, a drama that involves an enlisted audience, the murdering script, and the killers as main characters. This is truly a different crime than that of sociopathic origin; this is a colossal error of abusive, permissive, or randomly indulgent parents who have halted the natural order of the children’s development by not being able to meet their normal developmental needs for one reason or other.


Here’s another question. Is there a time in the child’s development when abuse, permissiveness or random indulgence can be more damaging than at other times? For example, is an infant whose been made to lie in a dirty diaper in his crib without regular meals more damaged than a six year old whose single mother lets him fend for himself everyday on the streets because she needs to work a second job? Would we expect the infant to be more psychologically damaged or the six year old?


Let’s answer this question. The psychological damage is measured by how each child has been affected in terms of the development of the following:

Impulse control,

Empathy,

Social reasoning, and

Moral reasoning (conscience).



The infant that is left in his crib unattended for the first year of his life until, say, until he is able to walk, has missed out on some crucial learning. Many psychologists and psychoanalysts believe that human attachment happens during the first six to eight months of life. It is the attachment to another human being that makes us human.

Through attachment, the child learns to trust (because some one feeds her when she cries or changes her diaper when she’s uncomfortable), and essentially learns to love from which springs empathy, social connection, and caring about someone else’s welfare (the basics of moral behavior). Without these essential elements of our humanity, qualities that as a whole separate us from other animals, this child could become capable of murderous acts, perhaps without remorse. Actually, I would expect this child to become severely disturbed and mentally ill, in the very least. Predicting murderous acts is more complex to determine.


Now, let’s assume that the six year old had early nurturing/attention and successfully learned attachment but is left alone to fend for himself for several years. Let’s also assume he is an only child. He may learn to steal because he’s hungry and feel nothing for the owner of the store. He may learn to reason that hunger justifies his theft even though he knows it’s wrong. This child will learn that taking something from another person is okay because no one is taking care of him, and it’s up to him to survive. His world view may be survival-oriented but immoral nonetheless. He may resort to robbery when he’s older, and he may shoot the cashier out of his anger that he was abandoned in early life. Is this killing the same as the one that could be propagated by our emotionally disconnected infant?


Psychologists like Brian Siegel have opened the way for us to view the developing brain as mutable during the first years of life when the brain cells are growing at a vast pace. In fact, Siegel says that the fetus brain is learning in the womb even before birth because the mother’s hormones are directing the child’s emotional brain. In other words, if by age two, we already have 75% of our brain cells, then early learning is very, very important to the sculpting of the brain’s ultimate structure. Early learning is powerful because it sets down the pattern of our personality, how we respond emotionally and behaviorally, how we trust and love. The experiences are burned into the grey matter. Early insult seems to do more damage.


Does early deprivation predict that a child will kill? The answer is no. The severely deprived infant may just turn out to be a psychotic adult who is helpless and powerless to take care of himself but not to kill others. Killing behavior assumes other mental processes and other life experiences.

 


ABUSED CHILDREN


I would often here an attorney, Family Court judge, or mental health worker say to me “how could you do the work you do?” They ‘re all referring to working with children who are so physically or sexually abused to make an ordinary person’s heart ache. They come in every color, size, and social class. They are disenfranchised early in their development because they become the object of a deranged adult’s need for power and “love.” These children are deprived of their childhood innocence and made into surrogate parents for a sexual predator who lies to the world and enlists the child’s sexual favors by guilt and fear. Unfortunately, this predator can be a father, stepfather, grandfather, uncles, brothers, mother or a friend of the family. Most abusers are known to the child. Stranger sexual assaults occur with less frequency because its so much easier for a child to be molested when they are home or in a family member’s home.


I remember a 16-year old I’ll call Sarah who was hospitalized after she tried to commit suicide by cutting her wrists. Her story was gruesome. Sarah made a pact with her younger 12-year old sister that the next one who dad touched would “tell.” Sarah had been sexually abused by her father since she was twelve. It began slowly by taking naps together and then the naps became mandatory or else “daddy had a fit.” The mother overlooked the odd behavior. Every Sunday the family went to grandma’s for dinner, but Sarah was taken home early by her dad. No one questioned why he had so much alone time with Sarah. The seductions finally led to sexual intercourse when she was 14 and continued until finally Sarah became afraid that her little sister was next. One day she asked her sister if daddy acted “weird” toward her. She told Sarah that he wanted her to give him neck rubs or he got angry. Then Sarah and she talked about daddy’s touching, and they conspired to tell the very next time it happened to either one of them.


One afternoon, they had their opportunity. Their father began to touch the younger sister under her blouse as she rubbed his neck. With the excuse of having to go to the bathroom, the younger child called Sarah, they secretly left the house and went to a neighbor’s house to ask about calling 911. Once the neighbor realized what the girls were doing, she hid the girls until Child Protective Service workers showed up at her door. They told the worker about the abuse and the father was arrested.


The father was incarcerated for three years at the time that I treated Sarah. Unfortunately, this sexual predator did not stop his abuse even when he was behind bars. All hospital mail sent to the children was opened by hospital personnel, so when Sarah’s father wrote to her from prison, the letter was intercepted by Sarah’s therapist and given to me to read for treatment planning purposes.


This deranged father wrote Sarah, telling her how much he loved her, and how she was just as responsible for what happened between them because she “liked it too.” This confusion about true love will live in Sarah’s memory all her life. Her own guilt and self degradation will get her into abusive relationships with other men, until the cycle is broken with years of good treatment.


Once she turned seventeen and could live on her own, Sarah turned to prostitution and theft to pay for her street drugs. Her mother had lost custody for her role in the sexual abuse. She cried on the witness stand and admitted that she knew something was “not right” but she was afraid that her husband would get angry at her and leave her, so she kept quiet. She failed to protect her daughter. Worse yet, she sacrificed her daughter to her predator husband so she would not be rejected or somehow punished by him.


Sarah’s pimp would eventually use a gun to threaten her and the others who worked in horrific conditions in the bad part of town. Sarah became very dependent on her pimp who also supplied her with the drugs that “required” him to keep most of the money she made selling her sexual favors.


Sarah’s story ends when she kills her month old baby during a drug related rampage because she could not make the baby stop crying. Only eighteen, her life had suddenly taken a turn for the worse.



 



FORGOTTEN CHILDREN


It is well known that abuse begets abuse, just like neglect begets neglect. This means that individuals are poorly equipped to parent because of their own upbringing. It’s the proverbial trickle down effect. What goes around comes around. Children who are abused or neglected usually grow up to do the same thing to their children. Not always. There are some heartier personalities that brake the cycle of abuse or neglect. For example, a sexually abused boy whose made to feel powerless during his abuse, now wants to victimize to regain that sense of power. It’s a natural pattern: we do what we learn to do as children.


There are many levels of child neglect which result in many levels of psychological damage. The case of the neglected infant is the most extreme. I remember reading a naturalistic observational study by Province and Lipton (1961, Institutionalized Infants) who recorded their observations of children who were orphaned in WWII. This small volume was comprised of meticulous notes of what these two researchers saw and heard as they collected information about the children. The opening statement sent chills up my spine even now when I imagine them entering a large hospital housing hundreds of infants but no sound could be heard. Severe deprivation caused the babies to stop crying because they had learned that no one would come to their rescue. One nurse for every 60 infants, housed 2 to 3 to a crib with a dilapidated mattress, made it impossible to give any one-to-one attention. Babies were fed by bottles propped by a blanket and if they lived through infancy, they were fed solid food through a bottle as well.


Harry Harlow who studied social isolation of monkeys said “Human social isolation is recognized as a problem of vast importance. Its effects are deleterious to personal adjustment, normal heterosexual development, and control of aggressive and delinquent behaviors. He said this in an article published in 1978 where he demonstrated that social deprivation of rhesus monkeys from birth until 3, 6, or 12 months of age had serious effects on social functioning and threat behavior. Those monkeys isolated for three months were able to assimilate themselves after several weeks of being placed with other monkeys. With 6 months of isolation, there was a higher frequency of threats and no contact play, but by 32 weeks later the 6-month isolates regained normal social functioning except for bursts of aggression which the normal monkeys directed toward the isolated animals. Those isolated for 12-months practically showed no active play and the study had to be terminated because the normal monkeys became very aggressive toward the helpless isolated animals and might have killed them. Harlow showed that 12 month isolates were “highly fearful and showed almost no positive social behavior and no aggression. For both 6 and 12 months isolates, sexual behavior was similar. Some members of each group showed “suicidal aggression towards adults, and five showed aggression towards infants. Some monkeys from the 6 and 12 month group could not become socially normal, and aggression was evident. Interestingly enough, a later study by Novak and Harlow, showed that 12-month isolates could be “taught” to be social by gradually increasing the amount of companionship with normal monkeys. They concluded that if the basic needs (for monkeys these are nourishment, stimulation, and contact comfort) are put back in the environment after 12 months, can learn species specific social behaviors but only under very “controlled conditions.” Left to adapt by just increasing exposure to other monkeys, these isolates would never learn to prefer socializing but would rather choose to be withdrawn.


Both Harlow and Province and Lipton provide excellent examples of extreme neglect or deprivation and how this may affect children’s ability to trust, love, and control aggression.


But, what of those children who are neglected in less obvious ways.


Take, for instance, the case of a six-year old who I’ll call Brian. Out of the daily bombardment of new psychiatric admissions, the case of Brian stands out in my mind for God knows what reasons. Perhaps because it was Brian that began my foray into the dark side of child development, and it was Brian who opened my eyes to the reality that children begin their life of crime almost innocuously.


Brian was six years old and lived with his invalid father and timid mother. The mother was 15 years the father’s junior, a quiet unassuming girl from a small rural community in upstate New York. The father was bitter about his failing health and was more interested in his daily struggles of getting in and out of his wheelchair. The mother was a mousy haired woman in her 30’s reared in a local farming family who became easily overwhelmed with Brian’s care and clearly lacked maternal instincts. Soon their only child, a beautiful blonde boy, discovered the ease of taking his bike into town without asking for permission. On his first admission to Pinefield, he had run away from home and lived on the street for three days by stealing food from the local grocers. When he returned “this time” his father grabbed him from his wheelchair and beat him, and then quickly fell back into an exhausted hopelessness. The parents pleaded with Oneida County services to help them any way possible. Their response was to remove Brian from their custody, at least until an evaluation could be conducted on an inpatient basis at the state hospital.

The morning after his admission, Brian slowly walked into my office. I saw before me what I later described to my colleagues as an “Austrian porcelain doll,” blue eyed nymph-like face and blonde hair. He was quiet at first and looked just like any other six year old. I tested him and found him to have an average intelligence. Cognitively, he functioned like a normal six year old; he thought of the world in very concrete terms, being incapable of both abstract thought and relational thinking. There was no time concept as we know it; “yesterday” could mean two days ago or truly “yesterday.”

He displayed a full range of emotions, except for sorrow or fear. That’s what seemed odd, at first. As he described his escapades, he showed no obvious signs of fear or the awareness that having run away was not appropriate. He was matter-of-fact about stealing food, like he was talking about finding seashells on the shore with a right to take several home. After all, the beach was public domain, and so it seemed, were grocers with so much food at their disposal. Whereas children develop a conscience by 5 years of age, Brian did not. Having read the admission report, I knew for a fact that he had been beaten by his father. When confronted, he was as dispassionate about the beating as he was about the theft. He casually (and almost proudly, unless I was already morally biased to perceive an emotion that did not exist) shared the details of his trip into town, hiding out alone and then getting “a licking” when he got home. There seemed to be no attachment to the father or mother, usually seen in children of that age by their fear of being separated from them. Brian had no fear of being alone. Brian also did not respond with the usual childhood glee about the family cat. Eventually the cat (“Roger”) was duly used for target practice with a handmade sling. He disposed of the body which was later found in the woods, the cat having been stoned to death.

I interviewed and observed Brian as both clinician and parent, with a chilling realization that seemingly ordinary lives produce children who kill. The father was a factory worker until his injury five years previously; he married his wife about ten years ago after meeting at a church function. The mother had remained agrarian by nature but never worked outside the home after their marriage. The birth of their only child was seen

as a blessing but neither was equipped to nurture what seemed to be a healthy, active boy.

Long after Brian was discharged into the care of his parents and I submitted my two-week notice of resignation, I reflected, as I do today, on all those children who sat in my office. The test data for Brian showed his parents’ inability to nurture him, but it was cheaper to give this family home health care than to keep Brian hospitalized or place him in long term residential care. Long term care was discouraged in a climate of deinstitutionalization begun in the 1970s while children’s services were haled as a priority but no state administration carried the torch to the end. Brian was sent home, as many of the children I treated were because it’s hard to see the beast in a child.

I discovered that children reared by “faultless” but very permissive parents, brutally abusive caretakers, or very neglectful households equally shaped children to consider destroying others or property without conscience. Development of the conscience is a developmental pattern normally found in most of us, but it does not happen in these children. The conditions under which this critical piece of our humanity fails to grow is not clear, so it won’t surprise you to hear that many people who should have learned to kill never did, for whatever reason. For example, the well-publicized case of Sybil (a nonfiction book adapted to a movie) brings to mind that severe physical abuse can have outcomes other than killing of others. Sybil developed multiple personality disorder to cope with the abuse, others become self destructive. Those who kill are “externalizers,” meaning that they perceive others to be at fault for some mishap. If an externalizer cannot finish his homework, he tells the teacher that it’s the fault of noisy neighbors who interfere with fulfilling his responsibility.

The last example is the case of Britney, a 13-year old whose wealthy attorney father and socialite mother were too busy to provide after school care, leaving Britney to her own imagination. This is an great example of “random indulgence” which results in the same poor impulse control, lack of empathy, poor social and moral reasoning. Living in a beautiful estate in suburban Utica, Britney rarely had dinner with her parents and saw them sporadically as they each lead very “busy” lives. Her father was a cooperate attorney whose international clients required him to travel a great deal of the time. The husband’s absence forced Britney’s mother to rely on community activities for her own emotional satisfaction. There were PTA meetings, tennis club, fund-raising functions, and for a time in their youth driving Britney and older brother to doctor visits, soccer games and other sports activities. She also ran a household, she’d complain, which consisted of overseeing gardeners, cleaning women, and housekeepers. This mother’s life was full of activities, never realizing that her children were being neglected. The parents’ obvious disconnection from Britney’s needs was clearly demonstrated by both smoking even though Britney was asthmatic. Britney has learned that adults do not care about her wellbeing, she had to get attention (“love”) from boys, and there was no one to ask for help or give their opinion about what was right and wrong.

Britney became the school “bad girl,” soliciting sex from 13 year old boys and older boys by being outrageously sexual with them. For example, she admitted to grabbing a boy’s groin under the lunch table, shocking and disgusting him and the others when they later found out. She did not care about what other kids thought of her because she was so attention starved. Britney had parties for her friends which included drugs and alcohol. Her older brother left her alone too. Coming from such a privileged background, with educated and wealthy parents, and living on a gorgeous estate would not make us think of Britney as neglected. After all, all her physical needs were being met. Given that they lived in a low crime area of upstate New York, you would think her safety needs were being met too.

As a way of dealing with their inadequacies, both parents rewarded Britney and her brother with gifts. Each had his/her own computer, CD player, digital camera, and a host of luxurious new cars beginning with their 16th birthdays. At their least complaint, they got whatever they wanted. Britney and her brother never learned to value themselves because they never had to work for anything. They never connected the gift with some good behavior or skill they learned. They got whatever they wanted randomly.

This type of disconnected child is a growing social problems because ill-equipped with a self-centered view of the world, poor social and moral reasoning, and the anger of being abandoned, they see no reason to venture outside the social norm by killing those responsible for their grief. This, of course, includes parents, teachers, and school mates who they see as harming them. Not having nurtured the healthy channeling of aggression (normal to teen or toddlers, for that matter), these disconnected parents breed disconnected children whose arguments about their maltreatment are very distorted but to some extent are true.

Wasn’t it true that Britney’s parents were abandoning, self-serving, self-engrossed people who put themselves before the developing needs of their children? Wasn’t their parenting strategy of “loving” their children with random indulgence really a slap in the face of bright children who know that they are simply not important enough to garner the real love of their parents? These children lack the consistent loving attention and social reasoning of mature adults to help them sort out anger and disappointment in the world, clearly a state of emergency happening in all teenagers as their evolving cognitive abilities help them to evaluate the world and the people in it in more sophisticated ways.


Who should teenagers discuss their disillusionment with when some one at school cheats or bullies and gets away with it? Social injustice is everywhere, beginning on the sidewalks outside the child’s house and in the vast social world of schools where a child clocks in more time (six hours per day, five days per week, 180 days per year for twelve years or more) than at the family dinner table or family vacations. Without consistent loving, nurturing adults that have taught the lessons of honest hard work and reward, and act as the compassionate sounding board for experience with injustices, discrimination, bullying, and other normal events in their lives at school, sports, or neighborhoods, children will resort to their own solutions. Unfortunately, these solutions are not socially grounded, they are products of angry abandoned children who witness irresponsibility from those who are supposed to love them.

I often remember the mantra of adopted children or children placed in foster care because of incompetent or dangerous parents (or in the case of adoption, not having the resources to care for the child) that if “if my own mother didn’t love me, who else can.”


Feeling unloved and abandoned, these privileged children take the bull by the horns, and fight their battles in the only way they know how: The use of force and primitive aggression as a means to an end.



Killer Profile:

How to predict kids who will kill who are not sociopaths. These factors are necessary characteristics of children who become killers.

Externalizers (low or missing empathic connection to others)

Aggressive; fights at school or neighborhood

Weak bond with parent(s)

Is rejected by kids at school; is a loner; picked on


The following traits magnify the chances that the child will kill:

Shows cruelty to animals or people

Weak or poorly developed moral development (cheats, lies)

Breaks the law (theft)

Is a bedwetter



 




Final Comments:

The 1990’s will be remembered as the Age of Little Murderers. It will be remembered as the decade marked by a pre- and post-Columbine massacre period. It was a massacre with deadly assault semi-automatic weapons, killing 12 innocent children, a teacher and then the suicide of the young murderers. Americans got a proverbal ‘kick in the head’ from the media’s depiction of two middle-class boys whose secret black trench coat society went on in full view of both peers and school personnel without any reasonable response. These adolescent boys planned their attack for one year, sent emails, made threats, identified themselves as killers-in-the-making, and even glorified Hitler by planning the massacre on his birthday, April 20th. Put simply, people knew about it but did not “see” a problem.


What exactly obliterates our common sense? Is it ignorance, apathy, or fear?


Before Columbine, killing violence in children did not raise as many questions about the causes and effects of killing sprees in school. If the killer was a child from a farming community, not smart, not achievement oriented, in short, not white and middleclass or privileged, then explanations were easier. But Middle America was struck a blow when the killers came from their loins. How could we have done this? That was the question that rocked America.


Like 9/11, catastrophes in school killings have been overlooked at a time when action would have prevented them, and then have left us flabbergasted and without built-in systems of protecting our children. Parents, teachers, school superintendents, and other adults are at a loss about what to do, even though the answers are right there in front of our eyes. Psychologists (the American Psychological Association), pediatricians, (American Medical Association), social workers and others have presented their research and clinically based insights to prevention, but we have, as yet, taken no steps to correct the problem.



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