School Shooting Brings Bullying Back into Sharp Focus

December 8th, 2017 | by RON BELL

School Shooting Brings Bullying Back into Sharp Focus

As Aztec mourns victims the victims of the recent school shooting, the search for answers continues – could bullying be one of the culprits?

Violence in Aztec, N.M, Leaves its Small Community in Search for Answers

“There is a shooting here at school, mom”. Receiving a text message with these words is every parent’s worst nightmare. Yet, this is exactly what Heaven Angelica Hughes, a 15-year-old freshman at Aztec High School in Aztec, N.M., texted her mother in the wake of a deadly shooting that happened there last Thursday. As various news outlets report, that day, shortly after first period had begun, pupils started hearing loud noises they initially thought was somebody banging on lockers. As the noises got louder, however, an announcer issued a warning over the school intercom of an active shooter on the school grounds. “This is not a drill”, the announcer added, just before the school descended into chaos and terror.

The building went into lockdown. Teachers locked the classrooms and students huddled in the corners, took cover under their desks or hid in the closets. Police arrived at the school less than a minute after getting the initial calls. Still, before the situation was contained, the shooter managed to kill two teenagers – senior Casey J. Marquez and junior Francisco I. Fernandez. There were no other victims or injuries. The shooter himself was killed too. However, his or her identity still hasn’t been disclosed and it is not clear whether the perpetrator was killed by the police or committed suicide. The school remained closed for the rest of the day and throughout Friday, as the close-knit community of Aztec gathered together to mourn, seek and offer comfort, and try to come to terms with this unspeakable tragedy.

Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez

Unpreventable Tragedy?

Since 2013, the year of the infamous Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, there have been over 250 school shootings in the U.S. – an average of nearly one a week. Whenever another one happens, the question on everyone’s mind is, “Why?”. Why did it have to happen again? Words seem to fail us, as these tragedies are often described as “incomprehensible” or “senseless”. These words suggest that the actions of the perpetrators of these horrible crimes were strictly irrational and thus unforeseeable. And by virtue of being unforeseeable in essence unpreventable. But were they really? Do we, as a society, do enough to prevent such tragedies from happening over and over again?

This can quickly become a heated topic. Each shooting rekindles the debate over gun control laws in the U.S., with each of the sides of the controversy touting the same old arguments. While much is said, little is done and the debate invariably cools off after some time, or simply drowns in the incessant stream of other pressing issues. Then, another shooting happens and the cycle repeats itself. Yet, while easy access to guns is, in the opinion of many, one of the most prominent culprits of school violence, it is hardly the only one. As the debate on gun control rages year after year and decade after decade without bearing much fruit, we, as a society, run the risk of discounting the importance of other issues that may lie at the root of the problem. In this case, bullying might be one of the most overlooked ones.

In this two-part article series, we will explore the link that might exist between bullying and mass shootings like the one that happened in Aztec. We will offer a closer look at the problem of bullying and the efforts that are being taken to address the problem.

Bullying and School Shootings

The link between bullying and school shootings is well established. According to Michael Kimmel and Matthew Mahler, both of whom are professors at Stony Brook University of the State University of New York, “most of the boys who have committed shootings in American high schools and middle schools were mercilessly and routinely teased and bullied and that their violence was retaliatory against threats to their manhood.” Indeed, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris who carried out the Columbine school massacre in 1999 were bullied by other students. The same is true of Seung Hi Cho, the perpetrator of the Virginia Tech shooting. Elliot Rodger, who killed six people and injured fourteen others at University of California Santa Barbara before turning the gun on himself, claimed he too had been bullied throughout his adolescent years.

Of course, violence and mass murder have no excuse or justification. In addition, bullying cannot be viewed as the lone motive for any school shooting. After all, thousands of students are victims of bullying but only a small fraction go on to be perpetrators of violence. Nevertheless, the link is there and should not be ignored. After all, young lives are at stake and we, as a society, should explore all possible means to prevent another tragedy from happening.

Scope of the Problem

But how widespread is the problem of bullying anyway? The answer is: probably much more common than many parents or teachers realize. 25% percent of, or 1 in 4 students are bullied face to face, while 40% of pupils experience cyberbullying. Moreover, 70% of bullying incidents occur on school grounds. According to one study, however, only 36% of children who are victims of bullying report it. This means that 64% of all instances of bullying never get discovered and most bullies get away without suffering any consequences. Those who suffer are, of course, the victims, and although they often experience their pain in silence, suffer they do. Many studies have shown that victims of regular bullying are at a higher risk of developing sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. They are also more prone to alcohol and substance abuse and self-injury. Some of the victims suffer psychological damage that can be as severe as post-traumatic stress disorder well into their adulthood.

  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

Our next article in this series will talk about efforts that can be made by teachers, parents, and legislation to address this problem as well as possible legal actions that can be taken.

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