Recently, the Australian Government rejected a proposed R18+ rating for violent video games, thereby prohibiting such games from being sold in country. A major policy reason for this rejection was that these games inspire violent crimes; in particular, trigger-happy campus massacres are often linked to violent video games. This reasoning, causality issues aside, raises an interesting question: are there really that many campus crimes, and if so, how serious are they? This article presents the chilling answers to these questions.
Where relevant, the death tolls below include the deaths of the perpetrators (either due to police action or suicide).
The Columbine High School Massacre (Colorado, 1999; 15 dead, 23 injured)
Perhaps the best known campus massacre is the 1999 Columbine High School Massacre, so well known in fact that “Columbine” is now synonymous with “campus shooting”. What makes the Columbine atrocity so gripping is that it forced America to swallow the bitter truth: the inviolable sanctuary of the schoolyard was a mere illusion.
On April 20, 1999 (Adolph Hitler’s 110th birthday) Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris implement a year-long plan to besiege their school – a plan that would result in 15 deaths, 23 injuries and a complete rethinking of the school system. Wearing trenchcoats to conceal their shotguns, handguns and ammunition, the pair walk into the school’s cafeteria, and deposit two propane bombs (with enough explosive power to kill all 500 students therein). The initial plan is to execute anyone fleeing from the cafeteria, but when the bombs fail to detonate, the pair embark on a trigger-happy rampage through the school’s corridors, cafeteria and library. After a brief shootout with police, Klebold and Harris commit suicide in the library, just 49 minutes after they began their spree: the 4th worst campus crime (by death toll) in America’s history. With no explicit motive for the massacre, academics have postulated several reasons for their actions, ranging from frustration at their inferiority in the social hierarchy, to the influence of violent video games (e.g. Doom), movies (e.g. Natural Born Killers) and music (e.g. Marilyn Manson), to Goth subculture, family instability, and mental illness.
For those wanting further information this webpage gives an incredibly detailed account of the massacre, including the Jefferson County CO report, videos from the school’s surveillance tapes, coroner’s photos, extracts from Harris and Klebold’s journals and balanced considerations of possible motives.
Red Lake High School Massacre (Minnesota, 2005; 10 dead, 12 injured)
2005 bore witness to the worst high school shooting after Columbine when 16 year old Jeff Weise went on a similar shooting rampage. On March 22, Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, then, equipping himself with his grandfather’s police issue ammunition belt and bulletproof armor, drove to his former school where he shot a security guard, a teacher and five fellow students in little under 9 minutes. He then committed suicide. Weise’s unknown motives saw commentators jumping to draw parallels with Klebold and Harris, suggesting fractured parental relationships, violent movies (Elephant), the Goth subculture and his alignment with Neo-Nazis ideologies as potential motivating factors. However, Weise’s own family attribute an over prescription of the anti-depressant Prozac for his actions, further fanning the flames of the medication of minors debate.
The University of Texas Tower Sniper (Texas, 1966; 17 dead, 30+injured)
The University of Texas Tower Sniping is another incident where the actions of the shooter have been attributable to mental illness. The perpetrator, Charles Whitman, was an exceptionally intelligent and talented man: he had an IQ of 138 at age 6, was the world’s youngest Eagle Scout, an All-American athlete, and a scholarship recipient at the University of Texas. However, at some point in serving with the Marine Corps he developed violent impulses and reported serious anger management difficulties to his psychiatrist. These were later found to be caused by an aggressive brain tumor, but the discovery came too late: the tumor was found during the autopsy.
The standoff, which resulted in the deaths of 16 victims and injuries to over 30 more (some sources state 38, others 31, and others yet state 32) began on August 1, when he brutally stabbed his mother and wife to death, allegedly to prevent them from the embarrassment of his intended actions. The next day, he barricaded himself in the University of Texas belltower with ample weaponry, ammunition, sandwiches, and water. He then proceeded to shoot indiscriminately at people below, preventing police access to the wounded and to the tower itself. Police were finally able to end the standoff by sneaking into the tower through an underground access tunnel and shooting Whitman, but until that point they were unable to stop the rampage. Because of their inability to deal with such an unprecedented situation, the Texas Tower Sniper shooting is attributed as the catalyst for the creation of the SWAT team.
Virginia Tech Shooting (Virginia, 2007; 33 dead, 17 injured)
For almost 45 years, Whitman’s tower sniping remained America’s worst mass shooting incident until that ignominious crown was passed onto Seung-Hui Cho, the notorious Virginia Tech gunman. On April 16, Cho shot 32 people in two separate incidents: the first was a double homicide at the West Ambler Johnston residential college at 7:15am. Cho shot Emily Hirscher in her college room, and then proceeded to shoot the RA who presumably came to investigate the noise. He then returned to his own dormitory, changed clothes and prepared for the second incident, which has become America’s worst shooting incident by a single gunman during peacetime. At approximately 9:30am, Cho entered the Norris Hall building and chained the three major doorways shut. He then embarked on an astonishingly short 11 minute shooting spree that left 30 dead and 17 injured. At 9:51 am, the spree came to an end when Cho shot himself in the head. Apart from a general mental condition and unchecked anger issues, there is no clear motive for why Cho struck when and where he did. The sheer rate of killing overshadows most of the other shooting incidents in this article, but also throws into light the problems with a system that failed to prevent so egregious a crime. In particular, a report by the Virginian governor found that there were serious issues with the state of mental health treatment and sharing of information: Cho (who had been ordered to a psychiatric outpatients’ ward for fear of self-harm) should not have been able to purchase the firearms, but managed to pass the background check as the treatment centre, unclear of its privacy obligations, did not release this crucial information.
Bath School Disaster (Michigan, USA, 1927; 45 dead, 58 injured)
Although the Virginia Tech Massacre may be the worst instance of a shooting in America, the Bath School Disaster is by far the worst mass murder involving an American school. The Bath Disaster was wrought by Andrew P. Kehoe, a frugal and disgruntled farmer. “Disgruntled by what?”, the reader may ask. The answer is taxes, the easing of which would gruntle many. The Bath School was but 3 years old, and in order to fund it, the Bath community increased levies, much to the chagrin of Kehoe. Kehoe joined the School Board and attempted to reduce the taxes, but was unsuccessful. This failure, coupled with increased medical expenses from his wife’s deteriorating health, resulted in foreclosure of his farm. Seeking an avenue for revenge, Kehoe offered his electrical expertise to the School Board, which eagerly accepted the opportunity to cut costs. And indeed, Kehoe gave them a whole lot more than they bargained for — 500 pounds of dynamite more. On May 18th the dynamite was detonated; scores perished, including 38 children. Kehoe himself died at the scene when he blew up his pickup truck after inviting the police superintendent inside. As horrific as the crime may seem, many more could have died: a short circuit prevented much of the dynamite from detonating, and many of the older children had not arrived due to exams.
École Polytechnique Massacre (Quebec, 1989; 15 dead, 14 injured)
Unlike Kehoe, Marc Lépine, the perpetrator of Canada’s worst mass murder, was not motivated by economic factors, as he declares in the opening to his suicide note:
“Would you note that if I commit suicide today 89-12-06 it is not for economic reasons (for I have waited until I exhausted all my financial means, even refusing jobs) but for political reasons. Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker.”
Attached to this note was a list of 19 prominent Canadian women, whom Lépine intended to kill, but, feeling that he had “started too late”, he instead turned his attention to females at Université de Montréal École Polytechnique (in English: the University of Montreal School of Engineering). Lépine had previously and unsuccessfully applied to this school, and believed his rejection was an example of affirmative action. On December 6th 1989, Lépine decided to take a-firearm-ative action when he strode into the school with a concealed semi-automatic rifle. In an act later termed “gendercide”, Lépine hunted women, lining up female victims and executing them, whilst expelling the males. When, 20 minutes later, he finally turned his gun upon himself, he had killed 14 women and injured 10 more; only 4 men had been injured (NB: many sources, including the one above, cite 13 injuries, however the Coroner’s report lists 14). Out of respect for the victims’ families and for fear of similar anti-feminist attacks, the police restricted the release of many details including his suicide diatribe, and a public inquiry was never held. Lépine’s suicide note was only made public when it was leaked to journalist Francine Pelletier, who was one of the 19 prominent women proscribed in it.
Dunblane Massacre (Scotland, 1996; 18 dead, 15 injured)
The massacre of 16 school-children in the Scottish city of Dunblane marks the worst school-related attack in British history. The facts are rather straightforward: on the 13th of March 1996, Thomas Hamilton, a 43 year old Scoutmaster, entered a school gymnasium and began shooting. Killing many children, a teacher and ultimately himself, it’s therefore unsurprising that the controversy surrounding the incident is far more interesting than its morbid chronology. The first controversy stems from Hamilton’s seeming lack of motive. However, he was a suspected pedophile, due to complaints made about inappropriate behavior with his charges. One commentator has argued that Hamilton was a member of a high-level pedophile ring containing members occupying the highest ranks of British Government, and the massacre was a means to silence any victims. This theory was strengthened by Government’s suppression of the Lord Cullen Report (the “public inquiry” into the massacre); as well as the then shadow Secretary of State, Lord Robertson, sanctioning a gun license for Hamilton, which had been previously refused on grounds of mental illness. Conspiracy theories aside, the second controversy is much more tangible: that of the legal state of handguns. The Snowdrop Campaign, a lobby group set up in response to the tragedy, successfully lobbied the Labour Government to ban privately owned handguns in the United Kingdom.
Cologne School Massacre (Cologne, 1964; 11 dead, 28 injured)
Germany has had many campus attacks. Of them, the Cologne School Massacre is peculiar: not for its death toll (the 3rd worst school-related attack in German history) but for the attacker’s choice of weapons. On June 11th 1964, Walter Seifert attacked a Catholic high school with a homemade flamethrower and lance. The 42 year old schizophrenic WWII veteran lost control when he found out that his tuberculosis was worsening, and went on a rampage. He entered the school shouting, “I am Adolph Hitler the Second!” and set about igniting and stabbing indiscriminately, as any man compensating for the size of their small moustache does. Eight children and two teachers perished in the atrocity; Seifert tried to commit suicide by swallowing insecticide, but did not die until a few days later in hospital.
Erfurt Massacre (Erfurt, 2002; 17-18 dead, 7 injured)
The Erfurt Massacre is Germany’s worst campus shooting incident, which, depending on the source, resulted in either 17 or 18 deaths. The perpetrator was 19 year-old Robert Steinhäuser, a student who had been expelled from the Gutenberg-Gymnasium several months prior, thus disallowing him from sitting university entrance exams. On the 26th of April he realized his bloody revenge: clad as a ninja, he stormed the school, specifically targeting teachers (13 or 14 of the 17 or 18 dead were teachers). He shot one police officer in the subsequent standoff, and eventually took his own life. His last words, “enough for today”, were directed at a teacher who managed to distract and lock Steinhäuser in an empty classroom by offering himself as a sacrifice. It is an ironic coincidence that on the very day of the massacre, the German government was debating whether or not to change the legal age for ownership of firearms from 18 to 21.
Winnenden School Massacre (Winnenden, 2009; 16 dead, 9 injured)
The silver lining in the thundershock that was Efurt was the implementation of a system to prevent future attacks. This system, although it did not prevent the Winnenden bloodbath, certainly reduced the death toll. On the 11th of March, the Albertville School went into lockdown after the rather chilling coded message, “Mrs. Koma is coming” was broadcast by the principal after he learned of the approach of an armed gunman. The perpetrator, Tim Kretschmer, entered his former high school and opened fire, shooting several teachers and students. When police descended upon the school, he hijacked a car, and after shooting several bystanders, escaped. Police chased him and engaged him in shooting standoff, until Kretschmer shot himself in the head when it became apparent that he would be apprehended. This is another case where the motives of the perpetrator were unknown, but it is suggested that, given the female death toll (11 of 15 were female), his actions were misogynistic. The Winnenden School Massacre is terrifying not only because of its significant death toll but also because the country was hit by a wave of copycat school shootings shortly after the incident.
Azerbaijan State Oil Academy shooting (Baku, 2009; 13 dead, 10)
2009 was a bad year for campus shootings. In addition to the Winnenden massacre and the following crimson tide of copycat shootings, the Azerbaijan State Oil Academy was subject to an armed attack. On the 30th of April, 2 buses of Azerbaijani SWAT-counterparts assembled outside the ASOA in response to a shooting alert. Inside, a Georgian gunman, Farda Gadirov (spelled ფარდაგადიროვი in Georgian) was shooting academy members with a Makarov pistol, killing 12. The rampage ended when გადიროვი committed suicide. However, given the surprising precision of the shooting (surprising given that Gadirov had no military training), and the difficulty of procuring firearms in Azerbaijan, it was suspected that Gadirov was not acting independently. Soon after, the Azerbaijani government declared the involvement of another Georgian national, Mardun Gumashyan, in the shooting – he is still the subject of an international manhunt.
Kauhajoki school shooting (Kauhajoki, 2008; 11 dead, 2 injured)
The carnage at the polytechnic school at Kauhajoki was certainly no joki. On the 23rd of September, the perpetrator (unnamed in the official government report but Wikipedia names him as Matti Juhani Saari, a culinary student) entered the school and began shooting other students. He managed to kill 10 students, but the majority managed to escape due to a warning given by another student who glimpsed Saari. He then prowled the halls for victims and set fire to the school. Just shy of two hours after he began, Saari committed suicide after seeing the police taking control of the school. The official report cites depression, deaths of close family members, high school bullying and potential relationship breakdowns as motives. It also suggests that he had become obsessed with the Jokela Massacre (see below) and adopted the hairstyle, dress and weapons of Pekka-Eric Auvinen.
Jokela School Massacre (Jokela, 2007; 9 dead, 12 injured)
The Jokela Massacre occurred a year before Saari’s rampage, and was both the second and second-worst campus shooting in Finnish history (the first ever school shooting, and least severe, was a double homicide in 1989). The perpetrator, Pekka-Eric Auvinen, was an excellent but violently misanthropic student. On the 7th of November he implemented what he hoped would be the “revolution of the small minority of strong-minded and intelligent individuals against the idiocracy of the weak-minded masses”. The “revolution” lasted a mere 34 minutes, when, faced with a 100-strong police response, Auvinen (you guessed it!) committed suicide. He had succeeded in slaying 8 victims, one of which was the school principal, who he executed in front of the entire school.
Kyanguli Secondary School Attack (Machakos, 2001; 58+ dead; 19+ injured)
The death toll in the Kyanguli Secondary School attack overshoots any of the campus attacks mentioned thusfar in this article – but unlike these other attacks, this attack was arson, not shooting. Two teenagers, who were failed for cheating on an exam, tried to organize a strike against the administration of the remote boarding school. When their classmates did not support them, they opted for a vicious fiery revenge, pouring gasoline through the sleeping dormitory and intending to set it ablaze. On their first attempt, the gasoline failed to light, rousing the suspicions of students who smelled the pungent fumes, but the school did not act on their complaints. The pair succeeded in their second attempt on the following night. Many awoke and tried to escape, but to no avail: for the “safety” of students, the school locked the external doors and windows. Because they knowingly allowed overcrowding of the boarding house, had installed subpar fire protection, and failed to respond to the complaints of the first arson attempt, the headmaster and deputy headmaster were also arrested and charged with negligence for failing to prevent a felony.
The very worst…
Beslan School Massacre (North Ossetia, 2004; 385+ dead, approx. 783 injured)
The Beslan School Massacre is by far the biggest school-related attack: it was a 3 day hostage crisis that resulted in more deaths than all the other massacres in this article summed together. On the 1st of September, the first day of the Russian school calendar, several dozen Chechen insurgents armed to the teeth with explosives and guns took over 1,100 people at a Beslan School hostage. The hostages were herded into the school’s gymnasium. The strongest looking, who represented the greatest threat, were executed immediately; several others (and some of their captors) died in accidental explosions. At first, Russian Armed Forces surrounded the school, but opted for negotiation rather than force to rescue the hostages. After unsuccessful negotiation attempts, the Chechen militants refused the hostages food and water on the second day, resulting in many deaths; the uncomfortably hot temperatures led to children stripping – which raised allegations of possible sexual abuse. However, negotiations started to progress and some hostages were released. These were cut short when a series of explosions erupted in the gymnasium on the 3rd of September. Fearing attack, the militants began to execute the hostages and the Russian Armed Forces decided to storm the building. It was at this point that the greatest casualties resulted: a haphazard battle ensued, with gunfire, explosions, and even thermobaric rockets being traded. Finally, three days after the hostages had been taken, the Russian security cordon managed to secure the gymnasium, but not before the deaths of hundreds. Today, 200 people still remain missing.