cover image Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings

Ceremonial Violence: A Psychological Explanation of School Shootings

Jonathan Fast, . . Overlook, $25.95 (333pp) ISBN 978-1-59020-047-6

In this penetrating examination of the nation's school shootings, Fast, a professor of social work at Yeshiva University, explores such psychological theories as identity confusion and childhood abuse. Outlining 13 incidents, Fast concentrates on five between 1979 and the 1999 Columbine shootings. Each shooting is described in unflinching detail, from 16-year-old Brenda Spencer's declaration that her hatred of Mondays led her to kill two adults and wound eight children at a San Diego elementary school, to 16-year-old Luke Woodham's brutal matricide before killing two students and wounding six more at his high school. Avoiding simplistic labels, Fast builds a psychological profile of each teen, weighing upbringing and prior history of violence. His meticulously detailed portrait of Columbine's Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold anchors the work, and Fast dissects not only the boys themselves but the culture of Columbine as a school and Littleton, Colo., as a community. Although not a book about solutions, it is not without hope. Fast recognizes the impossibility of predicting school rampage shooters, but outlines clear and realistic goals for educators, community leaders, parents and students that could help prevent these violent attacks. (Sept.)