In the wake of the horrific Parkland Florida massacre at which school shooter Nikolas Cruz gunned down fourteen students and three staff members, there has been a tidal wave of discussion about HOW to keep this from happening again–and with good reason. The truth is, since a school shooter took down twenty beautiful souls (most of them first graders) at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut five years ago, nothing has been done to stop school shootings. Ideas range from stricter gun laws (my opinion? At LEAST some common sense rules starting with higher age limits are needed) to arming teachers to better parenting (that one, so VERY hard to enforce), to trying to instill kindness and end bullying in schools. In many cases, such as the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 and allegedly in the Parkland case, the shooters had been bullied and wanted to exact revenge on his cruel classmates.
In the wake of all this discussion, a scientist and self-professed nerdy kid, Gary Warner, wrote a revealing blog post about what it was like to be a bullied kid. He frankly discusses his problems in school as a kid, and says he very well could have ended up a school shooter. He says his daughter also faced relentless bullying at school and on social media, and tragically took her life at 19. (Side note, it seems to me that a bullied boy is more likely to be a school shooter, and a bullied girl is more likely to take her own life. Just something to take into consideration in both bullying and school shooting discussions.)
With the background of being a bullied child, and having a child of his own who was bullied and took her own life because of it, I think that Warner’s words on the topic of preventing a child from becoming a school shooter carry a particular weight. He writes that as a kid, he had much in common with the two teens who murdered their classmates at Columbine, saying,
When Columbine happened, and the media began listing all the reasons that everyone “should have seen the signs” I was astonished by how many of “the signs” they could have seen among me and my friends. I shared a locker with another D&D nerd who wore army surplus camouflage pants and kept a stack of Soldier of Fortune magazines in our locker. We stole chemicals from the school and made explosives at his house. We “borrowed” guns from parents and went adventuring in the woods. And when we played modern era role playing games (Top Secret was a favorite), there were several scenarios that involved which of the school bullies we would kill and how they would die. True story.
All the negativity in his school life at that point could have led Warner to becoming a school shooter, but he says, some very important things in his life stopped him from ever getting to that point. He continues,
I had a few things going on for me that “Columbine-proofed” me.
I found something I loved (ballet) and built an alternative universe where, if I could just make it to 3 PM, I could go to the dance studio and be among people who shared my passions and praised me as a talented human being. While becoming a dancer made EVERYTHING worse on the bullying front, it also gave me confidence that I had previously lacked and physical strength that cut short many future potential acts of physical aggression against me.
Additionally, Warner says, there were a few teachers who took an interest in him that set his life not on a collision course with death and destruction, but with health and ambition.
I had a few AMAZING teachers who sought me out and frequently “talked me off the ledge” when things were more than I could handle. More than anyone else, those teachers made my life worth living. I’ve named them before, but Christine Morgan, a 7th grade English teacher in Imlay City, Michigan, who put up her own prize money to encourage creative writing, Frances Becker, who taught an amazing speed reading class where she challenged us to “explore our full human potential”, and most of all Kathy Hanewicz (now Navarro) who challenged me and inspired me and held me to an entirely different standard than her other students. (Yes, that would be an A+ for anyone else, but Gary you aren’t LIKE anyone else!) When I moved to Ohio, teachers like my Spanish teacher, James Ferrell and our choir director, Debra Bringman, were amazing at supporting me and students like me.
And finally, Warner had some adults at church who were willing to pour into his life as well.
I had adult friends from my church denomination who poured time into me and (other youth) and listened to my problems. The Youth Leadership Corps took kids on weekend encounters where adults taught us leadership and coping skills and challenged us to be leaders.