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Why Isn’t There Already An Algorithm to Predict School Shooters?

We can do better.

Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was brutally murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, forwarded me this article last week entitled “Op-Ed: We have studied every mass shooting since 1966. Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters

On their website called The Violence Project, Doctors Jillian Peterson and James Densley aggregated a list of factors that they believe could be used to help determine why and how people becoming mass murderers:


From Dr. Peterson’s Ted Talk here are some specific correlations regarding school shooters:

Specifically, Doctors Peterson and Densley state that “the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying. The trauma was often a precursor to mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, thought disorders or suicidality.”

It appears as if there are common psychological and physical pre-conditions that cultivate a mentality that would commit mass murder; then there is usually a particular incident that is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and convinces the potential murderer that life is no longer worth living and that the best way to exert agency is to take as many victims as possible with him.

Similar to biologists analyzing genes to correlate propensities for alcoholism and other possible genetic inclinations, psychologists and sociologists could devise a grading scale — say 1 to 100 — that scores every student in America on his behavoirs, qualities, and inclinations that are similar to those of mass murderers (I use the male pronoun because the vast majority of mass murderers are men). Then schools could preemptivley provide special services or conduct immediate interventions once a student’s score breaches certain markers.

As a psychotherapist I am not advocating social workers or policepeople knocking on a family’s door saying, “We would like to see Brian. It appears from this graph that your son is a budding mass murderer.” However, providing Social-Emotional Learning skills, thwarting students from isolating, getting them involved in uplifting communal activities, restricting access to websites and message boards such as 8chan, and making them feel included in family, school, sports, arts and music projects could lower the probability of them acting out.

Lastly, although there has been a smattering of mass murders at movie theaters and restaurants in the past 40 years, the predominant place chosen to commit mass murder in the United States is a shooter’s school or former school. We need to ask, “What is it about the American educational system — the grading, the judging, the mandatory classes, the competition, the regulation, the time periods, the cliquishness, the marginalization — that is not only convincing young men that life is not worth living, but that they should kill as many people as possible when they die?”

My friend Scarlett has dedicated her life to finding the solution that she believes would have saved her son Jesses’s life and could prevent the suffering that leads someone to commit mass murder. Her foundation — The Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement — teaches students as well as adults how to mindfully respond to any situation and interaction with love. Her comprehensive program is free and now being taught in all 50 states and 80 countries.

Doctors Peterson and Densley have all of the data necessary to predict the pre-conditions that correlate with school shooters; we need to start using this data immediately to find students whose behaviors correlate with that of mass murderers; then we need to have specific interventions such as the Choose Love Movement ready to counter-act the situations that contribute to someone becoming a mass murderer.

Eventually we obviously need to alter our education system but in the meantime there is no excuse for us not to provide additional social and emotional resources and support to those who are suffering in the same manner that so many shooters have suffered prior to them acting out.

Restricting access to firearms for students and mentally unstable people would also help. But living in a society where children live in constant fear and are posting photos of themselves in case they are murdered at school is grotesque.

We can do better.

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