October 1, 1997 - Pearl Mississippi: Sixteen-year-old
Luke Woodham stabbed his mother to death, then took a rifle to school,
where he shot nine students, killing two.
December 1, 1997 - Paducah, Kentucky: Fourteen-year-old
Michael Carneal took a stolen arsenal of four shotguns, two rifles, a
pistol, and more than 700 rounds of ammunition to school, where he
gunned down eight classmates at a prayer circle, killing three.
March 24, 1998 - Jonesboro, Arkansas: Eleven-year-old
Andrew ("Drew") Golden and thirteen-year-old Mitchell Johnson set off a
fire alarm in their school, then opened fire on students and teachers as
they poured out of the building, wounding ten and killing five.
May 21, 1998 - Springfield, Oregon: Fifteen-year-old
Kipland ("Kip") Kinkel allegedly murdered both his parents, then took a
rifle and two hand guns to school and fired upon a crowd of students in
the cafeteria, wounding twenty-two and killing two.
April 20, 1999 - Littleton, Colorado: In the culmination
of more than a year of planning, seventeen-year-old Dylan Klebold and
eighteen-year-old Eric Harris reportedly used an incredible stockpile of
pipe bombs and guns to massacre twelve classmates and a teacher, and
wound twenty-three more, before killing themselves.
Although the incidence of school violence is dropping,
the severity of that violence is escalating. Following the Jonesboro
shooting, President Clinton ordered Attorney General Janet Reno to
establish a task force to look for links among the school shootings and
ways of averting such tragedies in the future. That was a full year
prior to the slaughter in Colorado.
Although few people are aware of it, we already have
that link. The nexus -- and the warning signal that could have saved
more than two dozen lives had it been recognized as such -- is one which
Clinton, Reno, and hundreds of educators, law enforcement officials, and
other experts have repeatedly ignored. It is the powerful connection
between cruelty to animals and human violence, a well-documented
phenomenon researchers call "The Link." In all five of the shootings,
the young gunmen were known to have committed, even boasted about, acts
of animal cruelty.
In his journal, Luke Woodham gave a chilling description
of the way in which he and a friend killed his little dog, Sparkle, by
beating her with baseball bats, dousing her with gasoline, setting her
on fire, and then tossing her body into a pond. "I made my first kill
today," Luke wrote. "It was a loved one...I'll never forget the howl she
made. It sounded almost human. We laughed and hit her more...I'll never
forget the sound of her bones breaking under my might. I hit her so hard
I knocked the fur off her neck...It was true beauty."
Michael Carneal talked to classmates about tossing a cat
into a bonfire.
Drew Golden was an avid hunter who boasted of torturing
and killing animals, a proclivity that led one family friend to say that
"guns and killing things were his whole life."
For years, Kip Kinkel had been bragging in gruesome
detail to his classmates about the ways in which he tortured animals,
from cats to cows, using guns, knives, firecrackers, and homemade bombs.
Dylan Klebold's family reportedly knew that he kept
firearms in the house, but dismissed it, saying that he saved the
largest of his guns "just to shoot woodpeckers." Other considerations
aside, shooting woodpeckers is illegal; they are a protected species.
Classmates said that Dylan and Eric Harris also talked about mutilating
In 1964, anthropologist Margaret Mead warned us that
"the most dangerous thing that can happen to a child is to kill or
torture an animal and get away with it." But, more than three decades
later, we still trivialize what should be regarded as a very clear
indication of serious trouble to come. When a child mistreats an animal,
all too often, we dismiss it by saying that "boys will be boys" or "he's
just going through a phase" or "children can be cruel, but it doesn't
To the contrary, deliberate cruelty to animals does mean
something. It is a harbinger of further violent, antisocial behavior.
People who hurt animals also hurt people. This is a
fact. We have more than two decades of scientific research and anecdotal
evidence documenting this connection. In the case of the school
shootings, dozens of people, including law enforcement and school
officials, were aware of the boys' abusive behavior, but no one took it
As a result, twenty-seven people, most of them children
or teenagers were killed, and many more were wounded. Of those who
survived, some are permanently physically disabled. Still others, with
less severe physical injuries, will lose years of their lives to the
struggle for emotional recovery. So will the families and friends of
both the victims and the perpetrators.
In addition to the animal abuse, the boys gave numerous
verbal warnings of their intentions, telling classmates and friends that
"something bad is going to happen," that the boys "had a lot of killing
to do," that the other students would soon find out "who was going to
live and who was going to die," and that the boys wanted to "kill them
ALL!!!" But, as one beleaguered school administrator pointed out, if
every student who threatened to kill someone were called into the
principal's office, the classrooms soon would be empty.
Deliberate cruelty to animals, however, is never an
equivocal warning. It is a reliable way of separating the potentially
lethal from the merely disgruntled. Every research study on the subject,
more than two dozen studies over the past twenty-five years, has
demonstrated that people who are cruel to animal are a danger to all of
us. They commit as many as five times more crimes of every type than
their peers do, from parking violations to murder. In fact, a history of
animal cruelty is so common among serial killers that it is part of the
"homicidal triad," a profile developed by the FBI that also includes
bed-wetting and fire-starting.
Officials at the National Education Association, the
largest teacher union in the United States, say that, since the school
shootings began making headlines in 1997, they have been inundated with
calls from principals, counselors, and teachers anxious for help in
identifying violent kids before they erupt. Researchers around the world
are looking for some kind of genetic marker for violence, a "murder
gene," some simple blood test that one day will be used to identify the
next Luke, Drew, Kip or Dylan.
We already possess the knowledge to avert future
tragedies. We simply need to apply it.
Luke Woodham was found guilty of three counts of murder and seven counts
of aggravated assault. He has been sentenced to three life prison terms,
plus an additional twenty years for each assault.
Michael Carneal, who pleaded guilty, but mentally ill,
to three counts of murder and five of attempted murder, has been
sentenced to a minimum of twenty-five years in prison without
possibility of parole. Michael says he prefers jail to high school. The
food is good, he sleeps well, and, he says, "People respect me now." As
to his killing spree, the only explanation he can offer is
heartbreakingly childish. "I just wanted the other guys to think I was
Drew Golden and Mitchell Johnson are being held in an
Arkansas juvenile facility for an indeterminate period * until the
Division of Youth Services decides they should be released. In any
event, Arkansas state law prohibits their being detained after they
reach the age of twenty-one.
As of this writing, Kip Kinkel is still awaiting trial.
Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold both were found dead in
the library at Columbine High School amidst the bloody corpses of their
What You Can Do To Help
Report any incident of animal cruelty immediately to either Animal
Control or the police (listed in the White Pages with the municipal
government phone numbers).
Notify the child's family and his school of the problem.
Because children who are cruel to animals often are the
victims of abuse themselves, notify Child Protective Services (listed in
the Yellow Pages under Social Service Organizations).
Write to your legislators demanding stiffer penalties
and mandatory counseling for people who abuse animals. Thus far in 1999,
at the urging of concerned citizens, Virginia, Illinois, New York,
Maine, and Nevada have passed laws making certain forms of animal
cruelty a felony, bringing the total number of such states to
A tip from the FBI: Cruelty to animals can be symbolic.
The child who dismembers a teddy bear may be just as troubled, and just
as dangerous, as the child who dismembers a kitten. This type of
behavior also must be addressed.
The Latham Foundation
Latham Plaza Building
1826 Clement Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501
Tel (510) 521-0920 Fax (510) 521-9861
The Latham Foundation is a unique 80-year old national,
nonprofit organization promoting respect for all life through education.
The Humane Society of the United States
First Strike Campaign
2100 L St, NW
Washington, DC 20037
First Strike, a world-wide campaign launched in 1997
by the Humane Society of the United States, is intended to educate
people the world over about the animal cruelty/human violence
American Humane Association
National Resource Center on the Link Between
Violence to People and Animals
63 Inverness Drive East
Englewood, Colorado 80112-5117
[email protected] (Kristen Mahlen)
What the Link is all about
What past and current research says about the Link
How to build a successful collaborative response to family violence
Which communities have successful Link-oriented programs
Who are the expert professionals and organizations in Link research
What are the common elements of the best model Link programs
To Reach the Author
Nancy Miner is currently at work on a book the connection between child
abuse and animal cruelty and welcomes questions and other feedback.
She can be reached at:
Route 1, Box 2385
Palmyra, VA 22963
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