When Bullying Turns to School Violence

Blackboard with Blood

I can’t believe the news today. Oh, I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. How long. How long must we sing this song. ~ U2

It happened (again) this week. In Spokane, Washington, 15-year-old Caleb Sharpe walked into his High School with guns and makeshift explosives and killed the boy who was picking on him as well as shooting at other students. When he was done, he surrendered to the Janitor of the school. Here’s the story if you missed it.

In the court records, Caleb told police that he wanted to teach his classmates a lesson about bullying others. He took his guns from his father’s gun safe and made the explosives. Then boarded his bus as if it was any other day, except he had a large black duffle bag with all his weapons. Here’s the story if you missed it.

What is particularly bothersome to me is the look of Caleb. He is obviously blank and lost with little emotional security left. In the Reuters story, it is suggested that Caleb made his decision because of mental health issues and possibly violence on television and in video games.

Here’s my problem with this.

Crossing the LineLast year I published my book, Crossing the Line, which includes a character who is planning to do almost to an exact parallel what Caleb Sharpe did this week. You might be saying, “hmmmm, I wonder if Caleb read Crossing the Line?” Don’t think I didn’t ask that question as well. But while I’m proud of the book, that is not the whole story.

When I did research for this character in the book, I looked at past school shootings and violence where the perpetrator said they did the act due to bullying. You see, Caleb Sharpe is not the first nor (unfortunately) the last young person who will contemplate and carry out school violence due to the fact that they were bullied. This is, by far, the most alarming aspect of the problem of bullying in the schools. During my research for Crossing the Line, here are some of the facts I discovered about school shootings due to bullying in almost all cases in the past:

  1. Mental Health – The bully victim is dealing with mental health issues. Caleb Sharpe was allegedly dealing with these. So were most of the other shooters. What is not explained is whether the mental health issues are because of the person or the social issues of being bullied. I mean, did the bullying cause the mental health issues? I know in many cases, long-term bullying certainly does cause feelings of isolation, loneliness, depression, and most important, disassociation, where the bully victim has lost their ability to feel empathy and compassion. At that point, they only see revenge with no emotion.
  2. Suicide or Violent Talking – Caleb Sharpe was talking about suicide right before he took the action he did. A bully victim shooter usually is dealing with the choice of taking their own life or taking others. It is the thin line that I talk about in my book. Once they reach a disassociation with their own emotions, things can escalate quickly to one of these ultimate choices that bully-victims make. Suicide and school violence are not that far apart in their spectrum.
  3. Availability of Weapons – Here’s the downright scary parallel to my book and what Caleb Sharpe did. His father had the weapons he needed and obviously, Caleb knew how to get them. Were they locked up? Maybe and maybe not. But either way, a 15-year-old probably knows where the key is and how to use the weapons if available. This could be the difference between a bully victim deciding suicide or school violence.

No matter the situation, there are the commonalities I found when researching Crossing the Line. I tried to also explain how a bully victim becomes a school shooter, due to the bullying and their mental health. I didn’t set out to write a book that is so close to the truth of this case, but the truth is that the explanations for why Caleb Sharpe went into kill his bully is not much different about all the cases of why bullying victims decide to do school violence. The key, to me, is to stop blaming the shooter in these cases and start looking at the climate they are in at school or at home and notice the reasons stated above for how this happens.

It is a fine line that a bully victim taken to the ultimate point of making a choice of suicide or school violence sees. Decisions are made by these young people with much thought of these choices. That is truly the ultimate issue that needs to be addressed. Hopefully, we can find a way to do so before there continue to be more victims of bullying that make this choice.

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe
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