Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Copycat Catchup: NYU's balconies, Russian roulette, Minnesota fallout (news from Red Lake, Spokane gun incident)

It has been a busy week. Here's some items that have come to my attention in recent days.

NYU's balconies

On March 29, New York University's student paper, the Washington Square News broke the news that NYU was going to be closing all the balconies at two more dorms on campus to discourage jumping suicides. On March 30, the rest of the New York media - New York Times, Newsday, New York Post - picked up the story. Following two suicide leaps from the atrium of the Bobst Library, and after the series reached five recent NYU jumping suicides, the copycat effect certainly was occurring. NYU consulted with many specialists, including calling and talking to me, reading my book, and then decided to limit access to the lethal means, the dorm balconies. As one news source noted, it is no different that building a fence to prevent suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge. In answer to the students' and other critics who quickly said: "Well, if people want to kill themselves, they will just go to another method," - no, that may occur, but it usually does not. The copycatting of jumping is very real. The interruption of the suicidal plan that saves lives is a reality of suicide intervention and prevention work.

I'm at the University of New England today, to give a noontime talk to a student and faculty group there about college suicides.

Russian roulette

I got an email over the weekend from a colleague asking about The Deer Hunter and requesting some advice on talking to a teacher who had shown the film last week to a classroom of students, without even discussing it. Remarkably, the teacher had stopped the film at the point of the Russian roulette scene, and had the students rent it to watch at home. Of course, The Deer Hunter has a graphic depiction of Russian roulette and almost 50 copycat deaths are know to have been linked to viewing it. Needless to say, I recommended this parent share those passages in my book, filled with the case examples and research about The Deer Hunter, with the teacher. I learned yesterday she had, and the teacher was unaware, and thus shocked by this information. Education, education, education. Whew.

As fate would have it, I had recently learned that on March 22, 2005, according to Orange County law enforcement officials, an Apopka, Florida man, Jeremiah Overstreet, 27, had killed himself after watching the movie "Man on Fire" with his girlfriend at his home in Apopka. There is a scene in the movie in which the Denzel Washington character plays Russian roulette. As one media outlet, Local 6 News too graphically noted: "Overstreet put his own gun to his head knowing that there was one bullet inside the gun. The gun fired and hit Overstreet in the head. He was pronounced dead at the scene."

Red Lake Fallout

Another arrest has occurred in Red Lake, Minnesota. Investigators suspect there was a wider attack planned and have taken the tribal chairman's son into custody, according to the Pioneer Press of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Meanwhile, "The Devil in Red Lake" is the ill-advised and truly unfortunate headline in this week's Time Magazine, with reference to Jeff Weise and the school shootings at Red Lake, Minnesota.

With headlines like "Teen motivated by shootings in Minnesota," the Associated Press and MSNBC reported that a 14 year old Ferris High School (Spokane, Washington) student was arrested for bringing a loaded gun to his former school on Thursday, March 24. He allegedly planned to kill a teacher and himself, and told investigators he was partly motivated by the recent deadly shootings at a school on a Minnesota Indian reservation. He had taken the gun from his father. Police say the youth wrote a suicide note, then took the gun to Ferris High, where he saw his intended victim, a teacher inside a doorway. He came within six feet of the teacher, police said, but because others were around, he didn't carry out his plan. A family member called police after finding the boy's note. Officers later found the teen walking about four blocks from the school. Some news reports appear to say he was arrested on Friday, but it seems he was taken into custody on Thursday.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Predicting Dates of Future Shootings and Prevention

Predicting when the Red Lake school shooting would occur this year was relatively easy when one becomes attuned to the copycat effect.

So, now, when should we look for the next round of shootings? And can educators and law enforcement professionals do anything to be on the lookout and prevent them?

First of all, I do sense the wall-to-wall coverage of the Red Lake shooting may trigger vulnerable suicidal boys with guns who over-identify with Jeff Weise. Will the next one be another neo-Nazi who uses a gun or someone that hates their math class? I'm not a psychic but all the incidators are that a suicidal youth who "wants to take some people with him" could repeat this awful tragedy in the next month. There is a three/four-day, seven-day, and one-month media cycle that are behind these copycats.

So, if we get through next Monday, we might get beyond this current short-term window. But then in a month, we are going to be entering an extremely dangerous time. The whole week from April 18 through April 26 will be key. You have dates that are well-known twilight ones, extremely high priorities on the neo-Nazi-suicidal-school-shooter calendar, including April 19 (Waco & Oklahoma bombing anniversaries), April 20 (Hitler's birthday, Columbine anniversary), April 21 (Red Lake, MN's one-month anniversary), April 24 (Edinboro, PA school shooting anniversary), and April 26 (Rudolf Hess's birthday, Erfurt, Germany school shooting anniversary). Considering the multiple variables related to these dates, combined with when most suicides occur (Mondays), and the anniversaries at work here, I would say that the Mondays of April 18 or April 25, could be the dates to most worry about. As schools will be tuned into April 19-20, the dissemination of the other key dates should happen and officials should not let their guards down before or after these oft-mentioned dates. School shootings are not a remembrance of Columbine, and have more to do with rage, hate, and those feelings, for example, projected via neo-Nazi events or local specific death anniversaries, points on the calendar that have meaning to the shooters, personally.

What should people do? The hidden secret in preventing a school shooter is to have a broad-based suicide prevention program in place that identifies and takes seriously the link between suicidal males and school shooters. The other prevention means you hear on the media - heavy security at school via armed guards, via unarmed guards, via friendly school resource officers, metal detactors - are important, of course. But by the time student is thrown out or disassociated from his school, it is too late and he comes back to kill. A broad, coordinated suicide prevention and mental health approach needs to be given in conjunction with a safe school environment, and one in which students save lives through telling adults. Students need to be able to tell adults about their fears and what they have heard without thinking they will be "getting" a peer in trouble. The reinforcement of listening/telling skills must happen, so these front-line students can see that the youth they identify are given help, not punished.

It is a complex issue that calls for anything but simple answers.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Flawed Article: "Experts Debunk Notion of Copycats"

An Open Letter to the Rocky Mountain News Editors:

Unfortunately, concerning the phenomenon of school shootings, the Rocky Mountain News' "Experts Debunk Notion of Copycats" is a dangerous treatment of a serious subject and hardly a comprehensive survey of "experts." I count two Colorado individuals, one a lecturer in sociology and the other an assistant director at a research center as attempting to overturn over forty years of well-documented rigorous studies of behavior contagion and the copycat effect. In my book, The Copycat Effect, I use over 300 pages and 400 references to show the extent of this research and the findings.

Copycat suicide waves after the suicides of famous people are known as the “Werther Effect,” from a 17th century suicide fad among young Europeans who had read Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” whose protagonist shoots himself with a pistol. Historically, "experts" such as Karl Menninger, Sigmund Freud, and Emile Durkheim wrote about the copycat behavior being a factor with suicides. Today, the copycat effect is well-documented, despite your two "expert" debunkers.

This effect has been proven to have a factual basis in reality over and over again, and it is harmful articles such as this one that tends to continue the ignoring of the problem. For over twenty years, the federal government and various suicide prevention organizations have published "media guidelines" for reporting on suicides because the copycat effect is a fact.

The copycat effect is so predictive that after the wave of rampage shootings that began this year, I wrote this prediction in my Copycat Effect blog last Friday, March 18th, that we should expect a "series of school shootings from March 20th through April 20th...I hope not, but every indication is that the media is entering its first post-9/11 'shooting rampage' feeding frenzy, and as March nears its end, and into April, 'school shootings' could be next."

In my book, in my long chapter on school shootings, I also predicted the underlying factors that are at work - males, neo-Nazis, all
are suicidal youth, use of guns, the twilight use of dates such as April 19 (Oklahoma City bombing, Waco), April 20 (Hilter's birthday, Columbine), and April 26 (Hess's birthday, Erfurt school shooting). The media factor is at play here too, with the spillover any time you have a great deal of attention to workplace violence, such as experienced in Tyler, Texas-Chicago-Atlanta judge-courthouse shootings.

I hope someone at the Rocky Mountain News, someday, reads The Copycat Effect, and looks at what the real "experts" who have actually conducted studies of the issue say.

Keep the kids safe through awareness,
Loren Coleman, M.S.W.
Suicidologist, Consultant, Author

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Red Lake School Shooting Will Lead to More

After predicting on March 18th (see in this blog below) that we should expect a school shooting in the March 20-April 20 period, and seeing it come to pass, my hope is people are becoming more alert to what is unfolding here. I also was correct in noting in my book the warning signs we should be aware of in the shooter (neo-Nazi, male, use of guns, twilight language, suicidal). Perhaps we should even reexamine the overlooked focus on math classes in these shootings, from Moses Lake (1996) to Red Lake (2005). We must watch out for the full impact of the copycat effect from the Minnesota incident.

Already, more "hit list" stories are in the media today at a high school in Noble, Maine, at a high school in Biloxi, Mississippi, and at an elementary school in Shelby County, Kentucky.

American and international school shootings could follow in the near future, if the pre-9/11 pattern returns. Furthermore, I am warning be on the lookout around the high violence dates of April 19 (Waco and Oklahoma City bombing anniversaries) and April 20 (Hitler's birthday and Columbine). Law enforcement authorities have been aware of this "twilight calendar" for some years, and it is time for educators to wake up to it now. The copycat effect is real.

We are entering a dangerous temporal zone of death, and the best prevention, to do more active listening to teens who hear about hit lists and threats, combined with aggressive suicide interventions with the most vulnerable youth, are the keys to a safer time.

Remember, the underlying theme of all of these school shooters is that they have given up on any hope of a painless life, and wish to take some people with them in their final suicidal outbursts.

Korean Copycats Increase After Actress' Suicide

The Korean media is alerting us to a new wave of copycat suicides in the wake of a celebrity suicide, "Lee Eun-ju Sparks Copycat Suicide Craze."

Actress Lee Eun-ju hanged herself on February 22nd.

The article mentioned: "The Seoul Central Prosecutors Office said analysis of deaths in seven Seoul districts" from January through March 17th, "revealed that there were 2.13 suicides a day in the 23-day period after Lee’s suicide. This was 2.5 times the daily average of 0.84 during the 53-day period before Lee’s suicide."

"A woman in her 20s who hung herself in her room on the morning of March 1 told people around her that she had found a way to free herself from debt after learning of actress Lee Eun-ju’s suicide, police said."

Hanging had moved from 53% of the suicides to 80% of the deaths, with 14 of the 15 individuals in their 20s using the method of hanging. Clearly, behavior contagion and modeling are occurring in Korea. The article mentions the "Werther Effect," as the concept is clearly understand in Korea, and is realized as an important component in these suicides.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Unfortunately, School Shooting Prediction Can Occur

Sadly, the school shooting was no surprise to the readers of this blog, of last Friday, March 18th.

"...a possible series of school shootings from March 20th through April 20th could occur...I hope not, but every indication is that the media is entering its first post-9/11 'shooting rampage' feeding frenzy, and as March nears its end, and into April, 'school shootings' could be next."

I based this from an analysis of how the Werther (copycat) effect from other events (mall shootings, murder-suicides, courthouse shootings) spill over into school shootings, and the anniversary reality of the calendar.

In my book, The Copycat Effect
(NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004), I point out the youthful suicidal "school shooting" subculture uses the neo-Nazi calendar as a temporal roadmap. Columbine's and Erfurt, Germany's school shootings are the two most obvious examples.

This morning's Steve Karnowski-authored Associated Press story from Minnesota gives details on the alleged shooter's father who died by suicide, and the background of neo-Nazi information emerging about the boy who killed so many.

As I write in The Copycat Effect, the neo-Nazi underpinnings and the use of dates with twilight meanings (death dates and birth dates of Nazis) to these suicidal young males are significant components in past incidents. These elements are found once again in the Red Lake, Minnesota school shooting. There is evidence, once again, of this "school shooting" subculture overwhelming what would appear to be a strong cultural milieu, in this case, the Native American at Red Lake.

Now we must hold our breath to see if this event will trigger more school shootings, in the three-day, seven-day, and one-month copycat media cycle. I would look to especially April 19-20 as the next key dates, with attention being given for that entire April 18-26 time period.

Friday, March 18, 2005

2005's Red Danger Zone

All the warning signs are pointing to a possible series of school shootings from March 20th through April 20th. I hope not, but every indication is that the media is entering its first post-9/11 "shooting rampage" feeding frenzy, and as March nears its end, and into April, "school shootings" could be next.

I base this from an analysis of how the Werther (copycat) effect from other events (mall shootings, murder-suicides, courthouse shootings) spill over into school shootings, and the anniversary reality of the calendar. In my book, The Copycat Effect (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004), I point out the youthful suicidal "school shooting" subculture uses the neo-Nazi calendar as a temporal roadmap. Columbine's and Erfurt, Germany's school shootings are the two most obvious examples.

[This is a reconstructed posting, due to it being deleted by accident.]


The above warning of March 18, 2005, was followed by the Red Lake event: Neo-Nazi/Native Jeff Weise, a 16-year-old student at Red Lake High School, killed nine people and then himself in the town of Red Lake, Minnesota, on Monday, March 21, 2005.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A Month of Madness

The following is a summary of the multiple death "rampages" that have attracted wide media dissemination so far in 2005. Several of these are murder-suicide situations. The fingerprints of the copycat effect are all over these events - courthouses, judges, and then spillovers to other mass shootings.

March 12, 2005 - Total of eight dead, shooter kills self
Seven were shoot and killed, before the 45-year-old turned the gun on himself, at the Sheraton Hotel in Brookfield, Wisconsin, west of Milwaukee, during a regular service of the Living Church of God. The church is an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God which was founded by American evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong in 1933.

March 11, 2005 - Total of four dead, shooter gives up to police.
A judge presiding over a rape trial, his court reporter and a sheriff's deputy are shot to death at the Fulton County Courthouse in Atlanta. The next morning, a US Customs agent is killed. Authorities say the suspect overpowered a sheriff's deputy and grabbed her gun. After a 26 hour manhunt, Brian Nichols surrenders on March 12.

February 28, 2005 - Total of three dead, shooter kills self
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow finds her husband and mother shot to death in her Chicago home. Bart Ross, 57, who argued a case before Lefkow involving medical claims later shoots himself in a suicide in West Allis, Wisconsin, on March 9. Police identify Ross as the killer, and, in an unusual aside at their news conference, mention that West Allis is also known as the hometown of Jeffrey Dahmer.

February 25, 2005 - Total of three dead, shooter killed by police
David Hernandez Arroyo Sr., 43, angry about being sued for unpaid child support opened fire with an AK-47 assault rifle outside a Tyler, Texas, courthouse, killing his ex-wife and a man trying to help the couple's adult son. Arroyo was killed a few miles away in a shootout with police, in what may have been a "suicide by cop" event. Some officers received critical wounds.

February 23, 2005 - Total of three dead, attacker kills self
Clarence L. Moore, 24, an ex-soldier, who had a history of domestic violence, fatally stabbed his young son and his wife’s son with a hunting knife and wounded her three other children before taking his own life, in Columbus, Georgia. Clarence S. Moore, a 1-year-old who was Moore’s only birthchild with his wife, died from a cut to the throat. Stephan Moore, 2, died two hours later from stab wounds to his head, neck and back. Moore, who had slashed his own throat, died in surgery.

February 20, 2005 - Total of five dead, shooter kills self
Alicia Renae Smith, 27, her boyfriend, Robert Carmickle, 38, and her two children, Mathew Scott Smith, 5, and Angelia Reanne Smith, 4, were killed by her estrangled husband, Lee Smith, 36, in Loogootee, Indiana. He was walking a few blocks away when he fatally shot himself as an officer approached a short time later, police said.

February 13, 2005 - None killed, shooter arrested
Robert Bonelli Jr., 24, of Glasco, New York, fires 60 rounds with an AK-47 assault rifle at the Hudson Valley Mall, in Ulster, New York. Two people were badly wounded; one man, a U.S. National Guard recruiter, reportedly may lose his leg. Authorities searched the suspect's room and turned up a cache of "Columbine memorabilia." The shrine included media accounts and other information about the Colorado shooting spree by two students, 17 and 18, on April 20, 1999, that left 15 people dead. Bonelli would have been 19 in 1999.

That was just in the last month. Of course, right before the mall shooting, all was not quiet, as we have noted in this blog.

January 27, 2005 - Total of 11 dead, suicidal man arrested
On this Wednesday, January 27, 2005, at around 6 a.m. Pacific Time, Juan Manuel Alvarez, 25, of Compton, California, parked his Jeep Grand Cherokee on the Metrolink tracks at Glenville and got out before a train smashed into it. Alvarez told police that he was going to kill himself. The train crashed and resulted in 11 dead and 180 people injured. News that this was a suicide attempt flooded the media by the afternoon of the derailment. Reports that the SUV was a Jeep were widely disseminated.

January 27, 2005 - Total of 2 dead, shooter kills self
Later on that same Wednesday, January 27, at about 8:45 p.m. Central Time, an employee, Myles Meyers, at a Jeep Liberty production plant in Toledo, Ohio, using a shotgun, went on a shooting rampage with a double-barrel shotgun and then killed himself. Three were targeted, with two reported dead, including the shooter.

January 11, 2005 - Total of five killed, shooter arrested
On Tuesday, January 11, 2005, David Lynn Jordan reportedly killed five and injured two people at the Tennessee Department of Transportation maintenance garage. The victims included his estrangled wife, Donna Renee Jordan, 31, of Jackson, Tennessee Department of Transportation clerk; David Gordon, 41, of Medina, HCI Supply warehouse manager; Jerry Hopper, 61, of Enville, Tennessee Department of Agriculture Forestry Division employee, who were all killed. Larry Taylor, 54, and James Goff, 53, both TDOT garage employees, were injured.