Running head: SCHOOL SHOOTINGS: AMERICA’S TRAGEDY
School Shootings: A Tragedy in America
School Shootings: A Tragedy in America
The school shootings at Westside Middle School were orchestrated by two juveniles. On Monday, March 30, 1998 two boys ambushed students and teachers outside Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Andrew Golden a youth of 11 years and Mitchell Johnson who was 13 years old were responsible for this hideous tragedy. Apparently, Mitchell Johnson hid in the woods while Andrew set off the fire alarm causing the students and teachers to run out of the building. Armed with three stolen rifles and four handguns, the documentary explained that the two youth flushed kids and teachers out of the school by means of a false fire alarm then opened up on them. When they stopped shooting, four students and a teacher lay dead and 10 students were wounded.
Alan Fox discussed some typical characteristics of school shooters which included easy access to guns. Other characteristics were alienation, frustration, and low self esteem. Mr. Fox stated that these kids typically just don’t feel good about themselves. He blames the recent spate of school violence on the media and instant popularity arising from intense news coverage after the violence which encouraged a surge of “copycats”. He also discusses the role of violence seen in today’s movies, MTV and video games. Ignoring the warning signs of potential explosive juveniles was also sighted as a reason for this surge in school shootings.
The series of so-called copy cat school shootings started on February 2nd, 1996 in Moses Lake, Washington at Frontier Junior High when Barry Loukatis age 14 opened fire on his algebra class in room 15. Home and family conditions of this child were bizarre and would later be used as mitigating circumstances. Barry’s early childhood was described as “happy” by his mother Jody. But life changed for Berry around age 11 when he moved from Iowa to Moses Lake and his parents separated. The documentary depicted Barry as mentally disturbed and fixated on the idea that his father was having an affair. Berry had a plan for revenge. Berry and his mother conspired to tie up his father and his girlfriend and then his mother would shoot herself while her estranged husband watched. Berry’s mother told her son that she planned to do this on February 14th.
At school Berry was described by his peers as a “dork” or “hick”. The most popular guy in school called him a “faggot”. He was generally picked on for not fitting in and was outcast from peers and became known as a loner. Prior warnings that Barry was going to become violent included the fact that he had been suspended for bringing a gun to school. Other warning signs: he was a loner, bullied by his classmates and unhappy. Fox stated that early intervention by teachers and parents may stop a potentially explosive teenager. Fox proposes that after school programs, counseling, getting peers to speak out and approaching the teen making threats as the first step in disarming the violence. The Moses Lake School District now uses surveillance cameras and staff identification badges. The district, on the recommendation of a local task force, also added an alternative middle school targeting kids who were not thriving at mainstream schools. Fox describes the impending “warning signs” of violence at school which included wearing black trench coats. I agree with Fox, and although I also believe that juveniles should be allowed to dress as they please, we should also look at teens carefully who dress in macabre, dark clothes as they are personifying how they feel. Police need to be actively involved with juveniles who bring drugs or guns to school or make threats of homicide, but as Fox mentioned Police will not get involved unless concrete evidence exists that the juvenile is breaking the law. If there is one message that can be gleaned from Fox, it is to other parents: Get involved. Know what school policies are, and know what’s going on with your kids.
Agnew’s strain theory can be applied to the Loukaitis case when looking at the deviant adaptions to the strain theory. Agnew’s strain theory focuses primarily on negative relationships with others, in that a person is not treated in a way that he or she expects or wants to be treated. He argues that people are pressured into criminal or deviant acts by negative affective states, such as anger, which results in negative relationships (Agnew, 2002). Such a negative affect leads to pressure which then leads to illegitimate ways to attain a goal. Agnew argues that strain theory is central in explaining crime and deviance. His theory is written at a social-psychological level so that it focuses on an individual’s immediate social environment. Much of the theory is focused toward adolescent criminality or delinquency. Using the strain theory, Loukaitis needed an illegitimate way to attain a goal. Berry was not accepted by his peers. His immediate social environment was shattering fast with the deterioration of his family, mother’s judgment and his own ability to make sense of world. The strain theory asserts that Barry was pressured into this deviant act which was brought on by his own negative state of mind and poor family support system.
Movies, actors, films, books and popular culture all played some role in the developing personality of Berry Loukaitis. The haunting words before he opened fire “This sure beats algebra don’t it” comes directly from Steven King in his book “Rage”. It was noted that he was a Clint Eastwood idol and his favorite movies included “Fist Full of Dollars” and “Natural Born Killers” which he rented 7 times. His favorite video played on MTV was by Pearl Jam and was “Jeremy”. This video was a bloody youth fantasy about a boy shooting his peers at school in the classroom.
Was Berry Insane? Some argued that he had to be insane to commit such a ghastly act of terror. Other view points included that he knew what he was doing and premeditated the murder. As a juvenile his age dictated the belief that he did not know the consequences of his actions. One school of thought was that he could not differentiate fantasy from reality. Fox states that 14 year old juveniles who commit violent crimes do not know the difference between reality and fiction. Fox believes that a 14 year old does not have the capacity to realize the long term consequences of his actions.
Sadly, one of the first copy-cat school shootings was in Pearl, Mississippi on October 1st, 1997. Here two students were killed and 7 others wounded by Luke Woodham age 16. Luke was also accused of killing his mother and his friends were said to be outcasts involved in Satan worship. Too many similarities exist between this school shooting and the one at Moses Lake. Woodum’s reason for committing the crime was to show society that if mistreated then he would push back. He was outcast as was Berry and he had relationship trouble with his girlfriend. His idol was rocker Marilyn Mansion, who sang of death and Satin worship.
Fox stated in the documentary that 100 thousand kids carry guns to school each year. He stated that they are carrying the guns because they feel that they need them. This is a startling amount of weapons in the hands of our youth. Berry’s defense pled insanity. The trial was set in Seattle, Washington. The prosecution thought that Barry was faking with his dramatic shuffle in and out of court. It became known as the “Barry Shuffle” with him looking down and dragging himself around the court room in a despondent manner. It was reported that after court his affect would brighten considerably and he would return to the juvenile detention center happy and ready to play ball. The defense did not work. Barry was not tried as a juvenile. He was waived to adult court by Judge Cooper. Although, mitigating circumstances with his dysfunctional family and his age were considerable factors in this case, Loukaitis was convicted of two counts of aggravated 1st degree murder and sentenced to two mandatory life terms without parole.
The typical reaction to school violence has been mourning followed by the copy-cat shooters. Policies implemented include the now common metal detectors and police in the schools. Increased awareness of the warning signals of violence have been implemented in the schools through intense education and closer parent/teacher/peer relationships. Violence-prevention also involves school training programs that help teachers keep students in line, instruction to keep gangs from flourishing and parent-training sessions. Administrators are focusing on the little things before they grow into major problems and checking on tips from students who report on rumors of violence. Moses Lake handled the school incident by letting the children return to school immediately after the crime scene and touch the chairs where the violence occurred. They allowed those victimized to speak directly to Barry and verbalize their anger, feelings, fears and or ability to forgive him. Moses Lake did not pretend as if this did not occur, instead they embraced the horror and let the juveniles openly get in touch with their personal feelings. Signs in store fronts boasted of strength and hope in the community. Arnie Fritz’ mother who lost her child in the shooting publicly forgave Barry. Counseling programs in the school and community were intense and direct. At present, the current policy of no weapons tolerated and search and seizure for weapons as a standard practice is the highest that we can aim for to create a safe school environment. Encouraging peers to get involved and not to ignore warning signs of violence is uncomfortable, yet is the beginning to create a unity where goodness can flourish in the halls of learning and any darkness brought to the attention of others and help given where needed to those few troubled juveniles who have the potential for violence.
Poems written by Barry Loukaitis before he opened fire on his classmates in Moses Lake, Wash.:
A sullen life style gripped with pain
The feeling of murder
The heat of hate and the love of death
Barry was aiming for one youth in particular, a male student who had called him a ”fag:”
”Murder ” It’s my first murder
I’m at the point of no return
I look at his body on the floor
Killing a bastard that deserves to die
Ain’t nuthin’ like it in the world But he sure did bleed a lot
Publication date: 11-10-98
Copyright 1998, The Cincinnati Post. All Rights Reserved
Agnew, R. (2002). Strain theory and school crime. Of Crime and Criminality (Sally Smith Ed.)
School Shootings: America’s Tragedy. DVD