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No easy answers as to why school violence occurs

Reynolds shooter didn't fit the profile, but was delusional


When Jared Padgett walked into his school intent on committing murder, no one knows what was going on his mind.

While the investigation into the shooting continues, the public won't know for some time what background clues, if any, there were to predict the tragedy that left one student and the shooter dead and a teacher injured.

Scientists have been studying school shootings for years. And in an article for Scientific American in 2007, Frank Robertz of the Violence Prevention and Applied Criminology in Berlin wrote that insights into the minds of adolescent shooters like Padgett can come from analyzing their violent fantasies.

by: CONTRIBUTED - Dan Singer“These imaginings take root in a desperate mind that yearns for recognition. Often these young assassins are inspired by examples set by previous shooters,” he wrote. “These fantasies typically intensify over a number of years before they are acted on. With time, the mental images become more detailed, and they often become buttressed by a distorted view of what is just or moral, such as the need to avenge a perceived offense or the belief in a divine right to decide the fate of others.”

Early on, Robertz wrote, troubled teenagers typically keep these fantasies secret, but in time they begin to leak out.

“Recognizing the signs of such deadly thoughts, as opposed to harmless daydreaming, can enable parents, teachers, social workers and other trusted adults to head off trouble before it begins,” he wrote.

But unless the investigation reveals otherwise, at this point in time, no one has reported that Padgett intended violence, just that he liked guns.

In her book, “Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings,” author Katherine Newman said in an interview with Science of Us that high school shootings are usually different from shootings at colleges or in public settings.

Newman studied high school shootings between 1970 and 2000 and found “there are certain universal or near-universal commonalities.”

The notion of school shooters as troubled lone wolves is a misconception, Newman said.

“Their daily experience is not one of being alone, but of being enmeshed in social friction. They experience rejection all the time, but that doesn't stop them from trying to join groups. They just fail, all the time.”

That doesn't seem to apply to Padgett. He was a good student, had many friends on his Facebook page, and was a member of the Junior ROTC.

Newman went on to say that future shooters often first try to get attention by first clowning around and being obnoxious. “Shooting is the last act in a very long drama in which all the other attempts to gain attention have failed. And sadly, shooting works,” she said.

Again, it's hard to say whether that criteria would apply to Padgett, but some people defy categorization, said Nicole Bragg-Scott, who teaches psychology at Mt. Hood Community College.

“Sometimes people are unique and defy fitting into a pattern or profile, which is what makes it really scary, how we understand it could be anybody, it could be any kid,” she said. “It must make us all understand it could be anybody.”

But what makes a shooter like Padgett different is his delusional thought patterns, said psychologist Dan Singer, in private practice in Seattle.

A normal person can be obsessed with guns, he said, but that doesn't mean they'll shoot people. He gave the example of road rage, where a delusional person will shoot someone who cut them off in traffic, or a person who is convinced his neighbors are conspiring against him and then kills someone.

“They can't make decisions out of normal obsessions, but they can make a judgment based on delusion,” Singer said. “When they're delusional they go outside the bounds and create their own reality and they'll do anything they want.”

Singer said clues leading up to the shooting will eventually come out, but unfortunately, it's too late to save Emilio Hoffman.

“Once you talk to a lot of his friends, there are a lot of behavior patterns that are not normal, it's often not an isolated incident, but I'm sure he did things that were quite peculiar to give us clues as to what he did,” he said. “It might be over the top, but it might be a clue.”

But Singer also said it's time to make schools even more secure.

“It's time for us to respond rather than diagnose and put in procedures to keep them (shooters) from coming in the schools, like a 24-hour officer,” he said.