Two Experts on Virginia Tech Shootings

Two Experts on Virginia Tech Shootings
“We never seem to get much of an explanation as to why”

Virginia Tech,VA (rushprnews) April 17, 2007 – A psychologist who has written four books on school crises and consulted at Columbine and Red Lake and a criminal justice professor who teaches one of the few courses on mass and serial murder, comment on the Virginia Tech shootings.

About 60 percent of Virginia Tech’s students will bounce back with little or no psychological damage from the shootings that left 33 dead on April 16. Another 20 percent will suffer minor psychological problems. A final 20 percent are at risk for major problems.

So says Dr. Scott Poland, professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and the author of four books on school crises. He has served on national crisis teams after numerous school shootings including those in Littleton, CO, and Red Lake, MN.

“What needs to happen at Virginia Tech right now is a psychological triage,” he says. “There are three circles of vulnerability. The first circle includes those students and staff who were in close physical proximity to the shootings. The second circle includes those who were in close social proximity to the shooting victims—people who were their close friends or roommates, for example. The third circle is comprised of people who have had a history of trauma or violence in their family.”

Poland says the problem in the immediate aftermath of school shootings is that people focus on why the massacre occurred instead of what the survivors need.

“We never seem to get much of an explanation as to why—and there is always a lot of second-guessing about what could have been done differently. But the most frustrating thing about that is that we need to focus on the mental health and psychological needs of the people who have been through the experience.”

Scott Thornsley, associate professor of criminal justice at Mansfield University in Mansfield, PA teaches a course on theories behind mass murder and serial murder and has often served as a source for news media on these topics. Regarding the shootings at Virginia Tech he says:

“There is usually some precipitating incident in mass murder. We don’t know what it was yet (for this one). The killer was familiar with firearms and likely led a life of frustration. The killer probably had few outside friends who could help him cope with growing rage; he probably felt he had no one to turn to and had a limited view of (his) options. After his first kill he may have felt that this is his ‘final statement’ about his life.

While there are exceptions, Thornsley says that for many mass murderers handguns are the weapon of choice. “They appear to give little or no thought to their inevitable capture or death. Their killing appears to give them a degree of control of their life, even if only for a minute.”

“Why have American mass murderers become so successful? Easy gun laws, easy on ammo clips. It is easier to kill 32 people than one or two with a knife.”

“What should we be aware of in this case? That this incident may only fuel the fire and allow someone else to visualize their fantasy from media accounts. After all, this gunman will now be world famous,”

Thornsley has appeared on NBC’s “Meet The Press” and other news programs and during the DC sniper shootings was a source for many print and broadcast news outlets.

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