Bottaro cautions that these characteristics may be present in a lot of people who don’t end up being school shooters. “But there’s an especially important red flag when you see a drastic change in behavior,” he said. “So you might have someone with these personality characteristics who’s always been that way, and that’s very different from somebody who has been fairly normal maintaining decent relationships … and then all of a sudden becomes very reclusive or turns to either gaming for long hours or disappears into a room for hours, starts missing school. The changes in behavior are really important to look out for.”
Among school shooters, there “seems to be a common thread of a real distortion in world view and not having any grounding in a world that makes sense or [seems] safe,” Bottaro said. “It can be a really scary world. We as Catholics see a Father who loves us, who created the world, who holds the world in being and makes it a safe place, and it makes it a place that makes sense. Even if there are bad things that happen, it all fits into the picture. We have a God who conquered death, so even death itself has meaning and has a place to understand it.”
But for someone who doesn’t have that world view, “this world is just in total chaos,” he said. “The external destruction and chaos is terrifying, and the internal destruction and chaos is terrifying. There’s a lot of brokenness in the family, in the home, with divorce, with parents that don’t how to connect with their kids. Social media is separating people further and further away from real relationship.”
The result sometimes is a “sense of internal chaos and disorder, so there’s nothing to ground a person’s experience,” he posited. “And it kind of becomes this existential hell. … And then you mix that with a desensitization to violence thru the media and video games with certain personality characteristics that are lacking empathy and understanding of social norms and how one’s actions affects others, and that’s where you really get a recipe for disaster.”
Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, pediatric emergency medicine doctor at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, said families often don’t seek psychiatric care until it becomes a crisis.
“How are so many families getting to this point? Well, I think there’s a general lack of parenting support,” said Berchelmann, who is a mother of six children. “More and more, the role of parenting is outsourced to schools and all kinds of support agencies and after-school programs. Even kids who come from middle class families have breakfast, lunch and dinner at school because they have after-school activities going on. They’re doing that because their parents are working two full-time jobs. Even some stay at home parents feel they can benefit from those programs.”
Berchelmann, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, commented: “Traditionally, parenting support came from community organizations like churches, or your own family, your own parents. You talked to your own parents, you talked to the parents at church, or talked to the parents you’d meet at school. More and more, people don’t have these communities anymore. They’re not going to church; the parents you meet in your kids’ soccer league have their plates full; you’re not really forming relationships with the parents of your children’s friends, as you did in the past. And of course all family structures have broken down. There are less and less multigenerational family structures that are supportive to family.”