(Photo by Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS/Sipa USA)

Opinion: Confessions of a potential school shooter

Jake Hughes
March 15, 2018 - 11:33 am
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Let me tell you a story.

It was sometime in late April/early May, 1999. I can’t remember the exact date. It was my second semester of my freshmen year at high school, so I would have been 13 at the time. I was sitting in geography class, when the school intercom came alive. “Joshua and Jacob Hughes, please report to the Principal’s office.”

I was confused. I didn’t remember doing anything wrong…well, this time, anyway. I had a bit of a history of angry outbursts and not doing most of my homework. I get up and leave the classroom, all eyes on me, accompanied by the prerequisite “ooooooh!” of the class. I trudged to the principal’s office, and see my brother sitting there, looking as confused as I was.

“Dude, what’s going on?”

“Dude, I have no idea.” We both grew up on Hulk Hogan and Ninja Turtles, hence the double “dudes.”

Soon after, the principal walked in, along with the school counselor. A withered old woman, with a Texas accent even worse than mine. She smiled at us, a fake and genial thing. “How are y’all feelin’ today? Everythin’ alright? How are things at home?” These kinds of questions continued for about 30 minutes, with both my brother and I giving mostly non-committal grunts in response, rarely meeting their eyes. Then, as suddenly as it happened, we were excused back to class, where I was heckled incessantly by my classmates.

It wasn’t until the next week that we finally figured out what was going on. Again, this was early May, 1999, a few weeks after the Columbine massacre. Apparently, the word had gotten out to all the schools to hone in on their “most likely candidates.” At Dulles High School in Fort Bend County, Texas, that was my brother and I. Of course, we promptly argued over who was number 1 and who was number 2.

I didn’t give it much mind at the time, but with the benefit of hindsight, I can see why they picked me as “Most Likely to Blow Up the School.” According to psychologist Michele Borba, most school shooters have several characteristics in common:

  • Male
  • Caucasian
  • Withdrawn (pulls back from school activities)
  • Isolated or rejected from peers
  • Living in a rural community
  • Have easy access to weapons
  • Bullied repeatedly from a young age (there is a point when the bullied child flips roles and becomes the bully)
  • From a troubled home

Wow. Save for one or two things, that perfectly describes me as a kid. Hell, in some ways, it describes me today! She further points out eleven behaviors commonly exhibited by shooters. Things like feelings and behavior are easily influenced by peers, victimized or treated badly by peers and "associates with children known to be involved with morbid, destructive or violent behavior or fantasy." I stated in an earlier op-ed that I've been playing violent video games since I was a preteen and listening to extremely violent music since around the same time.

At school, I always wore black t-shirts with violent images on them. I say all this to make you understand that I was "that kid." The wierdo, the oddball, the freak at the back of the class who just wanted to be left alone, but was the constant target of the more "in" crowd.  I can tell you this: if one of them had come up to me and tried to be my friend or invite me to sit with them at lunch, I wouldn't have done it. I would have looked upon them with suspicion and not a bit of contempt.

In the past week, students across the country walked out of their classrooms to protest gun violence and to campaign for stricter gun control laws, accompanied by the hashtag #WalkOutWednesday. Personally, I highly disagree with their desired outcome, however, I understand and commend them for trying to get involved in the process. Voting rates of 18-25 year olds has always been low, especially in recent elections, so seeing the "next generation" becoming actively engaged is a good thing, I think.

But as in all things, there has been pushback. Some people don't want to see the kids protesting. Instead, they came up with a different hashtag: #WalkUpNotOut. You've probably seen this post somewhere while searching Facebook:

I understand the intention: be nicer to the weird kids. "Be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes!" as Abraham Lincoln once said. But while the intentions of this little meme might be good, in practice, it faces several problems, especially as an alternative to protesting.

Firstly, it assumes that simply being nice would stop a crazy kid form being crazy. In many studies, it's been shown that antisocial behavior is often the result of a broken home life. Speaking for myself, yeah, I was the weird kid, but I was never overly aggressive, especially from 10th to 12th grade. The reason I believe is because I had a mom and dad to teach me right from wrong, that violence isn't the answer, but sometimes, even that is not enough. Eric Harris was a clinical psychopath, and Dylan Klebold was manic depressive. Yes, they were bullied, but Harris was known to bully others himself. The point is that sometimes, little can be done to stop a maniac using just words.

Secondly, to me, it blames one thing for a problem with multiple factors. Bullying is terrible, take it from a kid who was bullied every year of middle and high school. And it can lead to students doing terrible things, like attempting or committing suicide. But to say that bullying is the sole or common cause of school shootings is silly. What second graders bullied the Sandy Hook shooter? By all accounts, the Virginia Tech killer was bothered by no one. This is not to say being severely bullied can't be a factor of school shootings, but it's not an all cross the board factor.

For a third point, if I may, it puts the onus of stopping school shootings on the students, and that's horrible. "Well, sorry all your friends are dead, Timmy. Guess you should have been nicer to Jerry, huh?" Again, using me as an example, I would have rebuked any attempts to befriend me back in my antisocial days. Even through the first few years of my military career, I just wanted to be left alone. Granted, I never had any serious violent ideations. The point is that telling kids that they need to fix the problem is all well and good, but now that they are, we're suddenly shocked by their methods! It's like we told these kids to be more active in fixing their problems, but now we're saying, "No, no, no! Not like that!"

Finally, it seems, to me anyway, a bit condescending. When you see the above meme, you usually see comments like, "Oh, these Tide Pod eating morons want to have their rights taken away!" And while some of that sentence is true, simply dismissing the entire movement as "idiot kids being idiots" is terribly unfair. Now yeah, if you look around the net, you'll see some kids with dumb signs. I saw one girl holding a sign telling people to ban guns, all while wearing a shirt that bore the infamous "Molon Labe" saying on it. Or one asking why the White House is a gun-free zone but schools aren't. Um... there are a lot of people with guns in the White House, and schools are gun-free zones.

This whole "Walk Up, Not Out" thing is just a ploy to shut up kids who are saying things we don't like. We let the genie out of the bottle, and now it's taken on a life of its own. Now again, you can disagree with their intended goal, like I do, but we have to let kids do these kinds of protests because "petitioning the government for a redress of grievances" is as American as the 2nd Amendment. However, I do agree with the "Walk Up" portion of the hashtag. It won't work with all kids, as I've said multiple times in this piece. But there might be that one kid who thinks no one cares about him, and that suicide might be the only way out, or some other self-destructive action. And having a "Chad" or "Stacy" type befriend them might help. But we have to remember that simply saying "hi" and moving on isn't enough. Being nice is a full-time commitment.

The point I'm making is that kids are going to be kids. There's nothing that can stop that. Kids will always have cliques, will always engage in some form or tribalism, and there will always be the kids at the bottom rung of the social ladder. High school is hell for some kids, as it has been since our school system was regulated. Being nicer is all well and good, but to claim that will magically solve all the problems is silly. It's a complex, nuanced problem and kids are finally taking action. Maybe the hashtag should read #WalkUpAndOut? I believe, as in all things, the answer is in the middle. So don't just dismiss the kids who participated in this protest. Talk to them, listen to them. And as always, remain calm, talk things out and have a blessed day.

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