Affiliations: Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Note:  Address for correspondence: Friederike Sommer, Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Habelschwerdter Allee 45, 14195 Berlin, Germany. E-mail: [email protected]
Abstract: A plethora of studies have appeared which argue that, prior to their attack, the perpetrators of school shootings had experienced intense conflicts and problematic relations (e.g. bullying) with peers and teachers, and were on the periphery of the schools' social life. This in turn resulted in the perpetrators' view of themselves as marginalized victims. However, methodological problems and inconsistencies mark many studies, and findings vary. In an attempt to clarify the role of perpetrators' negative social experiences with peers and teachers prior to their attack, we have undertaken a systematic search of the literature, including 35 international primary studies on school shootings. In selecting the studies we limited ourselves to ones which deal with at least two (Range: 2–39) cases in which a violent targeted attack was carried out by a current or former student who chose their school or university as the site of the attack. A total of 126 cases (128 perpetrators) from 13 countries (USA, Canada, Germany, Finland, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Bosnia, Greece, Hungary, Netherlands, Sweden, and Thailand) were examined. The mean age of the perpetrators was 19 (Range: 6–62 years, SD = 8.72), and in 121 cases the perpetrators were males. Detailed information relating on the social dynamics that contributed to the attack was found in 67 case reports. Our analysis revealed that in 88.1% of cases the future perpetrator experienced social conflict within the school environment. A minority of perpetrators (29.9%) were physically bullied, while 53.7% experienced peer rejection, verbal and otherwise. Romantic rejection was only found in 29.9% of cases. Conflicts with teachers (43.3%) proved a decisive factor. In order to better understand the role of social dynamics in the developments leading up to school shootings, it is necessary to analyze the perpetrators' position within their social network and the ways in which they experienced interaction with their peers and others at the school. In addition we must obtain precise information on their views of themselves as victim over a period of time.
Keywords: school shooting, bullying, social rejection, severe targeted school violence, systematic review