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Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
5 September 1999 Issue

1997 - 1999 School Shootings Roundup
by Nancy B. Miner

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 animals.

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 mean anything."

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 seriously.

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.

Epilogue

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 cool *"

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 victims.

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 twenty-seven.

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.

Resources
The Latham Foundation
Latham Plaza Building
1826 Clement Avenue
Alameda, CA 94501
Tel (510) 521-0920 Fax (510) 521-9861
www.LATHM@aol.com

•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
(888) 213-0956
www.hsus.org

• 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 connection.

American Humane Association
National Resource Center on the Link Between
Violence to People and Animals
63 Inverness Drive East
Englewood, Colorado 80112-5117
(877) link-222
www.americanehumane.org
link@americanhumane.org (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 (including pets)
• Which communities have successful Link-oriented programs
• Who are the expert professionals and organizations in Link research and practice
• 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
nancybminer@hotmail.com

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