School Shootings: What Do Nikolas Cruz and Dimitrios Pagourtzis Have In Common?
Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive material related to school shootings.
What could drive a young person to commit the heinous act of mass murder?
I asked myself this question on April 20, 1999, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (both 17 years-old) killed themselves, plus 13 others, and wounded 24 more at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.
And again on, April 16, 2007, when Seung Hui Cho (23 years-old) killed 32 people, including himself, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, in Blacksburg, Virginia.
And again on, December 14, 2012, when Adam Lanza (20 years-old) killed his mother, then entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 20 first graders, six school employees, and himself.
And again on, May 23, 2014, when Elliot Rodger (22 years-old) killed six people and wounded 13, before killing himself outside the University of California, Santa Barbara in Isla Vista, CA.
And again on, October 1, 2015, when Christopher Harper-Mercer (26 years-old) killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Oregon. Mr. Harper-Mercer was later killed exchanging gunfire with police.
And again on, February 14, 2018, when Nikolas Cruz (19 years-old) gunned down 17 and wounded 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
And again on, May 18, 2018, when Dimitrios Pagourtzis (17 years-old) shot and killed ten students and wounded ten others at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas.
And again on, May 25, 2018, when a middle school student injured two people before being disarmed by his teacher at Noblesville West Middle School in Noblesville, Indiana. The name of the student cannot be released at this time.
I hope I don’t have to ask it again, but sadly I have a feeling I will.
This nagging question led me to research the background of two of the latest killers, Nikolas Cruz and Dimitrios Pagourtzis to see if I could find a common theme in their pasts. According to the facts I uncovered, this is what I discovered:
Both shooters were male teenagers, who had a fascination with guns, were drawn toward white supremacist dogma, were reported to have difficulties with girls, and experienced bullying.
These characteristics are superficial and merely scratching the surface of a much larger problem in our society. According to Dr. Reid Meloy, there may be an intermittent sociological contagion that has become a part of our culture, a psychological phenomenon known as the “copycat effect.” Copycats feel such a strong unconscious connection with someone else’s behavior or appearance they consciously emulate their fixation.
Most of us have gone through a phase where we take on characteristics of people we admire like our parents, teachers, peers, or famous figures. When this fixation with another becomes obsessive, there can be a more serious problem known as identification.
Most often identification can be expressed in a non-threatening way such as wearing your favorite icon’s tee shirt or sporting your favorite designer shoes. Dr. Meloy surmises that this characteristic in tandem with violent tendencies is an area that needs to be investigated. He stresses, “that identification warning behavior is a new concept, is not a predictor of violence–but may be a correlate of targeted violence–and should be treated at this point in time as another helpful lens through which the threat assessor can view his or her case.”
Studies have shown that mass murders are on the rise in America. Four or more unrelated people killed in a public setting is considered a mass murder. Social media may be the key reason for why these killings have increased. Cyberspace has made it all too easy for the people who commit these terrible crimes to achieve their goal—notoriety.
Nikolas Cruz and Dimitrios Pagourtzis both used social media to post pictures of their guns and other toxic items related to their deviant behavior. To top it off, they have also become mainstream media sensations, garnering front-page headlines across the country, conversations on various news outlets, and articles like this one being written about them.
Since we are steadily learning the driving force behind the shooters’ actions what can we as a society do to stop them? First and foremost, we must be vigilant in our perception of dangerous behaviors and report them. The Sandy Hook Promise is a national Non-profit Organization that offers a program to help protect children from gun violence. They have relevant resources that help students, teachers, and parents identify potential threats.
We also have to reevaluate our media consumption. Like sex, violence sells. Many Americans, myself included, enjoy video games, movies, and TV shows that showcase violence almost like a main character. This isn’t a new fascination; it is only a side effect of the human condition magnified by technology. As a species, our fascination with violence and its many lethal weapons has wrought civilizations that conquered and raped the Earth, enslaved other humans, and drove many species into extinction.
A return to nature is something else we must strive to accomplish. When we gave up our connection to the earth for processed food and bottled water, we lost a fundamental element that helped us interact more harmoniously with the world and all of its inhabitants. Shinrin-yoku or forest-bathing is a common practice in Japan that people engage in to reconnect with nature and reduce stress.
In one study, hostility and depression levels dropped significantly after time spent among the trees. Some experts have recommended nature walks for children with ADHD. A study of children who engaged in these types of walks found that these children were better able to concentrate afterward.
Although we have made great strides in advancing our sciences and technologies, we have a long way to go in our evolution towards equality for all and to curb our propensity for violence.
Ellwyn Autumn M.ED.
Coffee House Writers
Sandy Hook Promise Advocate
We have had far too many moments of silence since Sandy Hook. Our children and community deserve real action to stop the epidemic of gun violence in our country. We’re not alone and we’re not helpless. There are many seemingly simple, yet powerful things we can do today.
More and more of our neighbors are uniting to bring the change we need. The phones in Congress are ringing off the hook with calls for commonsense gun reform, peaceful rallies are growing in numbers in cities across the country, and families and friends are gathering together in their own living rooms to talk about bringing violence prevention programs to their schools. The movement is growing and we must keep growing it.
There is reason to have hope that we can prevent gun violence before it happens through sensible gun safety laws and programs in our schools and communities that help us identify the signs and signals before a shooting happens and intervene.
To keep this hope alive and bring the change we need, I am asking everyone to take two simple actions today. First, call your member of Congress today and ask that he or she support gun violence prevention legislation to keep guns out of dangerous hands. Secondly, make the Promise at www.sandyhookpromise.org and bring Sandy Hook Promise’s no cost, violence prevention programs to our schools and community.
Yours In Children’s Safety,