Country mourns and questions campus killings


Country mourns and questions campus killings


By Lisa Kunkel
Statesman Staff Reporter

Horrific school shootings such as the Virginia Tech massacre leave people wondering what can possibly drive an individual to such extreme measures.

Seung-Hui Cho took the lives of 33 people including himself at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va. Initially, "investigators offered no motive for the attack," read the article on Yahoo! News the day of the shooting, titled "Gunman kills 32 in Virginia Tech rampage."

Witnesses said Cho shamelessly opened fire as if he had no victims in mind, leaving the event to appear to be a random act of violence.

"It's hard to say what was random and what wasn't," said professor Emily Gaarder, of UMD's Department of Sociology/Anthropology.

Monday's shooting reminds us of another tragic event that occurred eight years ago in Littleton, Col., where two students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold,

killed 12 classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives at Columbine High School.

Prior to Virginia Tech, the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history took place in 1966 in Austin at the University of Texas, where Charles Whitman climbed to the 28th floor observation deck killing 16 people before he was gunned down by police, according to MSNBC.

These tragic events, along with many others, leave many boggled with one main question: What brings young people like Cho, Harris, Klebold and Whitman to commit such horrendous acts of violence?

Cho chose to tell the world his motive in a shocking yet disturbing videotape mailed to NBC news network the day of the shooting.

"You had a 100 billion chances and ways to have avoided today," Cho said in the footage. "But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off."

Though there is no motive that could ever make such a horrendous act acceptable, Cho's disturbing message does help to clarify what was going through his mind.

In the case of Columbine, investigators worked to find the killers' drive for a long time.

After years of research on the case, the FBI and its team have come to the conclusion that "the school served as means to a grander end, to terrorize the entire nation by attacking a symbol of American life," according to an article at

Student Gatane Gallagher, 19, cries at a
memorial on Virginia Tech's drill field.

Gaarder noticed that the cases at Columbine and other schools often followed a stereotypical trend where the perpetrator was an outcast who was bullied. However, these mass murderers can often be clinically labeled "psychopaths."

"Because of their inability to appreciate the feeling of others, some psychopaths are capable of behavior that normal people find not only horrific but baffling," wrote Dr. Robert Hare, in "Without Conscious," a book about the disorder. "For example, they can torture and mutilate their victims with about the same sense of concern that we feel when we carve a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner."

Gaarder also noted that it is typically men who are involved in these situations.

Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice note that "males represent 77 percent of homicide victims and nearly 90 percent of offenders," and "approximately one-third of murder victims and almost half the offenders are under the age of 25."

Student Gatane Gallagher, 19, cries at a
memorial on Virginia Tech's drill field

Gaarder said random acts of violence happen everyday to and from all sorts of people and that there might be ways to help prevent these acts.

"Maybe one thing we could do is teach the emotional skills as well as intellectual skills to students," Gaarder said.

Gaarder felt that people should come together to discuss what can be done to keep UMD safe aside from gun control and increased security.

"It would be a good conversation for students and faculty to have together," Gaarder said. "Students are at the frontline of people who could help bring attention to this."

Sociology/Anthropology Professor Robert Weidner teaches his students daily about crime and the media.

"From a criminology standpoint, you can't study it," Weidner said. "The hindsight of it is 20:20."

Weidner said that high school shootings are very rare events and college are even more rare.

"School is the safest place to be," Weidner said.

Less than 7 percent of all crimes occur in school, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice.

"Violent victimization is 20 percent lower among college students compared to non-college 18-24 year olds," Weidner


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Lisa Kunkel


The Statesman




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Lisa Kunkel, “Country mourns and questions campus killings,” The April 16 Archive, accessed May 23, 2024,