The Columbine killers and most other school shooters are severely mentally ill, concludes psychologist Peter Langman in Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters.
Released just before the 10th anniversary of Columbine, the book is all too timely as Germans try to figure out why 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer murdered 15 people, including nine students and three teachers at his former school, before killing himself. An unsuccessful student from an affluent family, Kretschmer had been treated at a psychiatric clinic for depression. Allegedly, the teen bragged about his plans on a chat room the night before the attack:
“I’m sick of this shitty life, always the same — everyone laughing at me, nobody sees my potential,” it said. “I’m serious Bernd — I got guns here, and I’m gonna head over to my old school tomorrow and have myself a good ole barbecue.”
Langman describes Columbine killer Eric Harris, 18, as a rage-filled, egotistical, conscience-less psychopath. After reading the journals of Dylan Klebold, 17, Langman diagnoses him as “psychotic, suffering from paranoia, delusions and disorganized thinking.”
. . . Like Klebold, four other psychotic shooters profiled by Langman “were suicidally depressed and full of rage at the inexplicable unfairness of life,” writes the 49-year-old psychologist. “In addition, they were not living in reality. They all believed that people or monsters conspired to do them harm … They were confused and desperate and lost in the mazes of their minds.”
The most prevalent misconception about school shootings, Langman contends, is that they are perpetrated by loners or outcasts striking out against classmates who bullied them. In reality, most shooters were teased no more or no less than their peers, most had friends, and most of the victims were targeted at random.
How do you tell the kid who’s dangerous from the kid who’s just fantasizing? Look for “attack-related behavior,” says Langman. But it may be seen only in hindsight.