There is no easy way to talk about violence in schools. Especially in American culture, the safety and innocence of children is an extremely high value. This makes it especially difficult to confront situations or partake in discussions that involve children and violence/cruelty. It is, however, a reality. Every time an incident of gun violence occurs in schools, the reaction from the public is shock and horror. Often the first reactions from parents of the school children and other on-looking adults are phrases like “How could this have happened” or “I can’t even believe it.”

Bullying In Schools – Shock and Awe

Because the discomfort of connecting children and violence is so great, people tend to take the road of shock and awe, looking at the shooting as if it was a random and unexplainable act of violence. But often the truth is the opposite, for in many well-known incidents of school shootings, there was already violence and cruelty occurring before a weapon or gun ever entered the situation. This violence and cruelty manifests itself in bullying.

In this article we will look at 3 different school shootings and how previous bullying of the shooters directly influenced their violent behavior.

Bullying In Schools – Examples:

Columbine High, 1999

Perhaps the most well-known shooting event in modern US history, the shooters of Columbine High School were Columbine seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. While there were many identified motives for the boys, bullying has continuously been sighted as a significant factor. The level of bullying these boys actually experienced may never be fully confirmed. In the years following the event, many stories came out involving Harris and Klebold dealing with social abuse from their peers. Certain classmates have testified that the boys were often picked on. One fellow student claimed he saw a group of older students throwing ketchup-covered tampons at Klebold, and another said Harris was often mocked in the locker rooms for a chest indent he was born with.

These stories are all witness-based, so proving just how severe the boys were bullied is impossible to verify. But based off their journal entries found after their suicides, both boys certainly believed their peers cruelly mistreated them, further justifying their plans for an attack on the school.

Red Lake High, 2005

At Red Lake Senior High, a school located on the Ojibwe Indian Reservation in Minnesota, a school shooting occurred in 2005. The perpetrator was 16-year-old student Jeff Weise. The morning of the event, Weise shot his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, then went to his school and killed 7 more people, wounding 5 others. He then committed suicide.

Weise was already documented as suffering from depression, and had attempted to commit suicide two times the year before the event. Coming from a neglectful home life, Weise already struggled with making connections with others. He was also incredibly tall and large for a boy his age, and combined with his seemingly strange clothes and solidarity he had allegedly suffered from bullying since his middle school years.

Rio de Janeiro shooting, 2011

The most recent event in this small list, the Rio de Janeiro shooting occurred in 2011 at the Tasso da Silveira Municipal School in the capitol of Brazil. The shooter was 23-year-old Wellington Oliveira. Oliveira was a former student of the school, and entered the school one morning under the pretense of wanting his school records. He was then allowed into the school, where he went to the second floor and shot 12 students who were all between the ages of 12 and 14. He was then shot by a nearby policeman and then preceded to take his own life.

There are multiple motives sited for Oliveira’s violent actions. A recent fascination with the Islamic religion and the September 11 attack on the New York Twin Towers are a few. Another, revealed by Oliveira in a self-shot video soon before the event, is the bullying he received while at the school: name-calling, mocking of his leg limp, and even being pushed into a dumpster.

In conclusion, active shootings in schools are usually initiated by people with multiple motives all combining to give the shooter(s) a storehouse of mental justification for their actions. Bullying itself is rarely the only motive, but it is consistently one of the motives.  Working to eliminate bullying in schools, effective early intervention, and increased awareness can all play a valuable part in decreasing violence and active shooter events in schools.