Understanding School Shootings

Kimmel & Associates e-Letter

An Electronic Mental Health Newsletter from Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. & Associates

Volume 7, Number 12

What a mixture of feelings this December. The joy of the holiday season mixed with the tragedy of Newtown and the financial worries of the fiscal cliff. The buying and giving of gifts mixed what the sadness and tears of a truly tragic and incomprehensible event. What a rough month.

Despite this, all of us at Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D. P.A. and Associates want to take this opportunity to wish you Happy Holidays and our best wishes for a healthy and peaceful New Year.

in this December E-letter, in an attempt to understand why the Newtown shootings occurred, we present information about Understanding School Shootings, Our Ask the Doc question is about how to talk to children about the shooting, and our email of the month is about How To Stay Young. We hope you find the enclosed information helpful. As always, we appreciate your questions and feedback.

Handouts from previous e-Letters can be found on our website. We invite you to read and download them if desired.


Our E-Letter this month focuses on trying to make sense of the absolutely horrific shooting of 20 innocent and vulnerable children and 6 adults who loved working with and teaching these children. In reviewing the literature, one quickly sees that there have been many shootings that have occurred at schools worldwide. It always shocks us. Perhaps that’s because students are so vulnerable and unprotected. Perhaps we are shocked because we all went to school and can remember our teachers; now it has become more personal. Perhaps it’s because these children were so young and easy targets. Perhaps it reminds us of our own children and what could have happened to them.

We just don’t expect crimes of any kind, much less murder, to occur in a place we think is so safe. A place of love and caring. A place of growth and development. A place of making friends and having fun. We trust school personnel to provide a safe environment and care for our children. And they do. Yet evil in the form of mental illness can destroy anywhere within the blink of an eye. Many shootings occur in school because children are easy targets and they are there.

The reasons for school shootings are complicated. While politicians believe that gun control would be an easy fix, those who want to kill will find other means. We need to start by understanding how violent our society is. Just look at the movies to see glorified heroes violently dispatching the enemy. Watch the news to see videos of explosions and shootings. Watch television shows that in detail provide information about gruesome deaths. Listen to music to hear glorifications of fighting and killing and hurting others. (Whatever happened to the Beatles Love is All You Need?). Read violent books about vampires and warriors. And most of all, what about violent videogames? In our opinion these games may do more to promote school shootings that the other factors mentioned. Videogames make the players participants in violent actions, albeit virtually. Players learn about weapons, body armor, strategies, and feel a sense of power. They become desensitized to pulling triggers and killing virtual enemies. They learn how to shoot and get practice in improving their aim. While these games do not promote shooting children, they do promote shooting and a decreased threshold to harming others. In front of their computer screen, players become powerful and important, a somebody.

To complicate this mixture is people with a mental illness. Most people who have mental illness or a mental disorder are not violent and would not act out their aggression. However, there are those who have such distorted thinking or have been bullied and rejected, that they become so angry and see killing others as a way of getting retribution, importance and attention. They can derive a sense of power from school shootings even though most know that they will die as a result. Some choose revenge as a motive. These shooters seldom act on impulse; rather, their actions may have been planned for months. They dress the part and acquire multiple guns for their plan. They are often introverted with low self-esteem. They frequently let others know of their plans or leave indicators of their plan. Many of them have taken antidepressants whose side effects can produce aggressive and violent behavior.

What can we do? In 2008, the Harrold Texas Independent School District became the first public school district to allow teachers to carry firearms in the classroom. Is this the answer? Some would say it’s a start. Others would say to position security officers at each and every school. But these are specific answers. We need to have a comprehensive look at our society to decrease violence in the media, on the internet, in music, in the movies, and on television. We need to integrate our different societal groups into a community that cares about each other, much like what happens after a tragedy. We need to review our existing gun laws to determine whether there is really a need for assault rifles. We need to not be naïve and recognize that no place is safe from a shooter, whether it be a school, a movie theatre, or a mall. And most of all, we need to understand and accept mental illness. We need to be able to identify at an early age those children with propensities towards violence, those who are being ostracized and rejected, those who are just different, those who are the victims of bullying, and those who are so depressed that they feel they have nothing to lose. Not only do we need to identify them but we need to provide treatment programs and facilities for these individuals at an early age before their problems become larger. Its time mental illness is recognized as an illness which can be treated.

We offer the following information on Understanding School Shootings:

“We are mourning the loss of some of our own this week, and it is a sobering reminder that violence does not discriminate. It can hit close to home”— Jenna Von Oy

What to Know!

  • In a study in Mother Jones, of the 61 shootings that occurred in the last 30 years, more than half the shooters had mental illness that was apparent to others before the killings
  • Researcher Katherine S. Newman found:
    • That school killers do not snap; rather they plan and acquire weapons
    • They take a long and often public path toward violence
    • They are not “loners” but “joiners” whose attempts at joining fail
    • They frequently let their thinking and plans be known to others
    • School shootings are rarely impulsive acts and are typically thought out and planned out in advance
    • Prior to most shootings others knew the shooting would occur and did not try to stop it or alert anybody
    • There is no “profile” of a school shooter as they differ in numerous ways
  • Signs of school shooters include: being excessively introverted, lacking strong social attachments, are pessimistic about their future, have low self-esteem, may have been harassed or rejected, and may have been pressured by peers and teachers
  • They are often high achieving and intelligent but others see them as losers, weak, unmanly and unattractive
  • Frequently rejected by others, shooters often look to gain attention and feel important
  • Research by the US Secret Service found:
    • That alienation or persecution drove shooters to their violent behaviors
    • Almost all school shootings are done by young males; only 4 of the 101 school shootings worldwide since 1974 have been committed by females
    • Most of the shooters took antidepressants which can have the side effects of producing violence and aggressive behaviors
  • Contributing to these shootings is easy access to weapons and the failure of the healthcare system to identify early and treat mentally ill people
  • One approach to preventing these school shootings is to identify potential shooters early and send them for treatment as well as preventing lethal weapons from getting in to hands of the angry, alienated, and isolated
  • Having relationships with others and not feeling alone or isolated may be one of the best ways to prevent mass violence

What to Do!

  • Do not try to find out every detail and limit your TV watching as the media provides “train wreck entertainment”; healing occurs by getting out of the obsessive pattern of watching and reliving the tragic event
  • To overcome the emotional effects of the tragedy which may be affecting you, resist viewing negative images, walk away from negative conversations, keep up your daily patterns, try not to be alone, and appropriately hug friends/family
  • Seek professional help if you cannot overcome feelings of hurt, anxiety, anger, depression, and helplessness

We Can Help!

Call us at (954) 755-2885 or email us at drkimmel@kimmelpsychology.com

Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates
5571 N. University Drive, Suite 101
Coral Springs, Florida 33067

As always, we would like to welcome new readers to our e-Letter. We hope that you find it informational and enjoyable. We invite you to share this e-Letter with others. If you have received this from a fellow reader, please send us your email address to include you on our list.

Practice News

Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. We have been certified by the Department of Children and Families, State of Florida, to offer the Parent Education and Family Stabilization Course. Sometimes referred to as the Divorce Class, this 4 hour class is state mandated for divorcing parents of involved children. This course is intended to teach parents about the effects divorce has on children, to lessen the impact of difficult transitions, and to improve the ways they communicate with each other and their children. Our course is provided live and in small groups. Please contact our office at 954 755-2885 for further information.

Low cost counseling: Denise Champagne, M.S., is offering low cost counseling as a mental health intern. She is currently seeing patients and is available to take on new patients. This allows those individuals who cannot afford treatment to obtain it and allows her to get the required training. If you or someone you know is in need of counseling but just cannot afford it, please call the office and ask for Denise. All treatment provided by Denise will be reviewed and supervised by Dr. Kimmel.

Testings. If you are concerned about your child’s school placement for the next school year, this would be a good time to have them evaluated. Recent questions from parents have ranged from should their child be retained to whether they are gifted to whether they have a disability that can qualify for accommodations at school. Our practice does different types of evaluations to help answer those questions and information about these evaluations can be found on our website. If you have more specific questions, please contact Dr. Kimmel who would be happy to answer them.

Qualified Supervisor. Dr. Joel Kimmel has been certified by the State of Florida to supervise mental health counselors seeking supervision to meet the licensing requirements. If you or anyone you know needs a qualified supervisor to meet these requirements, contact Dr. Kimmel for further information.

Ask the Doc

RW asks: I have 2 children, 8 and 11 years old. They have been quite upset since the Newtown shooting. They have nightmares and are worried that a shooting can happen in their school. They won’t sleep in their own rooms and come into mine. The 8-year-old has a lot of headaches and the 11-year-old complains of stomachaches. They don’t want to play with their friends and cling to me. How do I handle this?

Dr. Joel Kimmel replies: Your children’s reactions are typical for those who have experienced a trauma. This is an opportunity for you to talk to and listen to them and help them develop coping skills. It is extremely important for you to be honest with them and to listen to everything they say even though it might seem silly. They are scared and are manifesting anxiety symptoms. You need to understand that this is a low frequency but high intensity event. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it is traumatic.

It is very important for you to be reassuring to your children. They will look to you for how you are handling your own emotions. They need to feel a sense of safety and security from you. Reassure them that they will be ok and having learned from this, they will become even stronger. Explain to them that this was a very bad thing and that bad things do happen. However, you should tell them these bad things don’t happen often and that many people including yourself, teachers, and police are working to keep them safe. Encourage them to express their feelings to you by talking, drawing, writing or playing. Try to help them express their fears and put them into perspective in regard to their everyday life. Try to help them get back to their regular everyday patterns. Children are resilient and you need to help them bounce back.

Also, it would be extremely helpful to monitor their watching television and limit their watching the news if they do. Some people become almost obsessed with the tragedy and cannot stop watching the news. Your children don’t need to know that much about the tragedy and limiting coverage can help them return to their normal patterns. Gradually guide them back into their rooms to sleep at night. Inform them that they need to attend school and go with them so they can see that it is really safe for them. Make play dates and have them return to all their routines. And vey importantly, let them see that you are ok and have recovered from this tragedy.

Email of the Month

We would like to thank Janine M. for sending us the following email:


  1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them. That is why you pay ‘them’.
  2. Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.
  3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.’
  4. Enjoy the simple things.
  5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.
  6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person, who is with us our entire life, is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.
  7. Surround yourself with what you love , whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.
  8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.
  9. Don’t take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country but NOT to where the guilt is.
  10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.

Please continue to send us your comments, questions, and favorite emails for our e-Letter.

Till January…

The information provided in this electronic newsletter is not a substitute for professional treatment. It is the opinions of the writers and is provided solely for educational purposes. For mental health care, seek a qualified professional.

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Copyright © 2014 by Joel I. Kimmel, Ph.D., P.A. and Associates.