School shooters: Why they do it and what we can learn from them

Katherine Newman's research sheds light on rampage school shootings, including the recent violence in Newtown, Conn.

Friday's shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., left us with more questions than answers about the gunman and his possible motivations.

While we may never know what prompted Adam Lanza to kill 27 people before taking his own life, Katherine Newman, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, has some insight into these types of incidents and the individuals who carry them out. She spent two years studying similar shootings that occurred in the late 1990s and co-authored Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, which was published in 2004.

Newman authored an article for in which she lays out the defining characteristics and psychology of school shooters. "Though they are often intelligent, high-performing boys, their peers tend to see them as unattractive losers, weak and unmanly," she writes. "In a school culture that values sports prowess over academic accomplishment, they face rejection. The shooters are rarely loners, but tend instead to be failed joiners, and their daily social experience is full of friction."

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Look at photos of Seung-Hui Cho, the shooter at Virginia Tech who murdered 32 people, and you will see eerie echoes of what Lanza reportedly wore: mask, military fatigues, multiple guns in assault position. Many of these young men are trying to cast themselves as stars of a movie that ends in a blaze of suicidal gunfire and notoriety. Our research on earlier shootings showed the attack is on a school because that is the center stage in a small town, where the young men can rivet the entire community

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