Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation Of School Shootings
By Jonathan Fast Overlook; 336 pages
School shootings are among the most shocking acts of violence in modern America, and yet the one question asked by every parent and survivor--Why?--has rarely been systematically approached. Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University, examines five case studies from 1974 to 1999--spending most of his time on 1999's Columbine massacre--hoping to figure out what drives young perpetrators to mass murder. Unfortunately, the motives are as varied as they are tragic: while Fast faults easy access to powerful firearms as a constant factor, sexual abuse, mental illness, broken homes and social isolation have all played a part in one rampage or another. Fast regards school shootings as "acts of terrorism without an ideological core" and believes that trying to predict them is largely futile. Most warning signs are overlooked or--in the case of one 16-year-old who advised his classmates on the best seats from which to view his killing spree--dismissed. The book is worth reading, if only as a reminder that the shooters, in some ways, are victims too.
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