Exploring the common threads between school shooting suspects

EVANSTON, Ill. – Friday’s school shooting in Texas is raising questions about why these violent outbursts are happening more frequently and what's driving the shooters.

The suspect in Friday’s shooting was identified as a 17-year-old white male who was former student at the high school. It is a description that fits the broad profile of many school shooters.  So why is this happening more and more and what common threads are driving these shooters?

For insight, WGN News spoke with an expert who has worked with high school students for three decades.

Jack Rosenberger is a licensed clinical social worker at Spark of Creation Therapy in Evanston.

“It’s happening with more frequency first of all, because it’s on the map.  It’s been done, a precedent was set. Columbine changed the world just like 9/11 changed the world,” he said. “There’s clearly a crisis in the young population, particularly young men.”

Rosenberger has worked with teenagers on the North Shore for 30 years and has given a lot of thought to the problem.

“First there are obvious mental health issues, and that’s obviously a problem,” he said. “But going even deeper than that, there’s almost a philosophical problem. …  They’re looking at their future and all they feel is despair.”

Rosenberger says nearly every school shooting in the past two decades has involved a troubled teenage boy partially because of the prevailing idea of masculinity and that men don’t talk about problems or share feelings.

“So you have all these bottled up emotions of depression and self-loathing, and given that some of these young men are phenomenally isolated – even from the families with whom they live – that isolation will inevitably boil over into something tragic.”

In the past, tragic outcomes have included suicide and substance abuse.  Today there’s a non-stop online world that fuels and enflames those feelings of despair and disenchantment.

“In the old days you could get away from your group of friends, or you could get away from the bullies that were tormenting you now, it’s 24-7. There’s no escape,” Rosenberger said.  “That’s why they’re cognitively, emotionally driven to the endgame. They’re living in an apocalyptic world all the time.”

Rosenberger says it’s too easy to blame violent video games and movies. Instead, he says parents, teachers and other students must now work harder to identify and help the teenagers on the margins before feelings of despair become deadly.

“The anger is being directed at their environment toward people with whom they don’t know how to connect, and that anger becomes violence, and we’re going to see that over-and-over again until we really look at the tough question of mental health and erase the stigma that comes with it.”

According to a tally from CNN, the Santa Fe, Texas incident was the 22nd school shooting this year.