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“Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters” dispels popular wisdom, finds surprising facts about the psychology of school killers

BETHLEHEM, PENN., January 6, 2009 – Ten years after the school shootings at Columbine that shocked the nation, a new book offers a breakthrough, in-depth psychological analysis and explanation of  school rampage shootings. “Why Kids Kill:  Inside The Minds of School Shooters,” by Peter Langman, PhD [Palgrave Macmillan], dispels the popular wisdom about the causes, tells us who the shooters are, and why they do what they do.

Dr. Langman is the clinical director of KidsPeace, a 126-year-old national children’s charity dedicated to helping kids overcome crisis.

Langman’s book challenges the long-held view that most school shootings originate from bullying.  “I was surprised by how little the issue of bullying plays in the lives of these kids,” said Dr. Langman.  “I think the media has focused on that as the root cause of school shooting: that these kids were picked on, and they unleashed their rage in extreme and violent ways. But my research shows that while some were picked on, bullying was not the cause for the vast majority of shooters.”

According to Langman, there were a number of things being missed in people’s attempts to account for the phenomenon of school shooting.  “People were looking too much at what these kids have in common, and not paying enough attention to what made them different from each other,” said Langman. “Bottom line: these kids do not part constitute a homogeneous group of people,” said Dr. Langman.

“Why Kids Kill” presents the profiles of 10 shooters who killed a total of 74 people (including themselves) and wounded 92.  The ten shooters are Evan Ramsey, Michael Carneal, Andrew Golden, Mitchell Johnson, Andrew Wurst, Kip Kinkel, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Jeffrey Weise, and Seung Hui Cho.

Violence in the Media & Medications Examined
Besides bullying, people often implicate video games and violence in the media as partly responsible for school shootings, but Langman finds no simple connection between media violence and murder.


Medications were also examined as causative factors. “There’s not enough evidence to support that,” says Langman.  Kip Kinkel’s rampage had been blamed on Prozac, but Dr. Langman points out that while Kinkel had taken the drug for a brief period, he stopped using the medication approximately eight months before his rampage. Eric Harris, one of the two shooters at Columbine, had been taking an antidepressant called Luvox at the time of the attack, but Dr. Langman notes that “if you read Eric’s journal…it is clear that he had the idea for the attack before he even started taking Luvox.”


Some of the kids examined in the book were not born mentally ill, but were abused and traumatized.  Some were born at risk. Others had horrendous upbringings.


“In my book I try to go beyond those simple explanations and show who these kids really are and all the different factors that drove them over the edge,” said Langman.

Preventing School Shootings

Dr. Langman points out that such school shootings, which emerged onto the American cultural scene in the 1990s, are still relatively unusual. “They are like terrorist attacks: statistically rare events committed by a handful of people who send shock waves through the nation,” he said. Still, we must pay closer attention to the causes, as well as preventing future shootings.  In his final chapter, “What Can Be Done To Prevent School Shootings,” Dr. Langman offers advice to parents, teachers and students. This advice includes:

Lesson #1:  The Limits of Privacy
•    Know your child.  Maintain an open and nurturing relationship, and open communications
•    Know your children’s friends, where they go, what they do, what websites they visit, what they are posting on their own web pages.
•    Monitor privacy
•    Parents should be alert to warning signs of potential violence.  “If they read a short story or a journal written by their child and have concerns about content, they need to know what to do.”  This could include reporting it to the school, to a mental health professional, or to the police.

Lesson #2:  Do Not Lie to Protect Your Child
•    If there has been mental illness in your family, do not hide it from a psychologist your child is seeing

Lesson #3:  Follow through with Due Process, No Matter Who Is Involved

Lesson #4:  If the School Is Concerned about Your Child, Pay Attention

Lesson #5:  Eliminate Easy Access to Guns

Lesson #6:  Assume Threats Are Serious until Proven Otherwise

Lesson #7:  Anyone Can Stop A School Shooting
•    School shootings can be prevented by anyone who notices a possible threat and takes prompt action

Lesson #8:  Recognize Possible Researsals of Attacks

Lesson #9:  Punishment Is Not Prevention

Lesson #10:  The Limits of Physical Security
•    The best defense is early detection.

About Peter Langman
Peter Langman, Ph.D., is clinical director for the 126-year-old national children’s crisis charity KidsPeace. With more than 20 years of experience in working with children and adolescents in crisis, Dr. Langman is a sought-after expert guest on news programs in the United States, Canada and overseas and has been called on frequently to comment on issues relating to the emotional health of children. In 2008 Langman was awarded the Pennsylvania Psychological Association’s prestigious Psychology in the Media Award.  Dr. Langman has served on task forces to address suicide risk and self-injurious behavior. He has written and presented on a number of topics related to psychology, multiculturalism, and mental health issues among children. Dr. Langman earned his Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from Lehigh University, his Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from Lesley College, and his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Clark University.

Outside of work, Dr. Langman is a poet and playwright.

Early Praise for “Why Kids Kill”
“Dr. Langman’s professional expertise and exhaustive research combine to produce a remarkably comprehensive psychological analysis of school shooters that will revolutionize our understanding of this phenomenon,” wrote Mary Ann Swiatek, Ph.D., member of the Association for Psychological Science.

Katherine S. Newman, Forbes ’41 Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs at Princeton University and senior author of “Rampage:  The Social Roots of School Shootings” said about “Why Kids Kill”:  “We desperately need this book.  It provides an interior view of the mind of rampage school shooters that helps us understand the origins of the narcissism, paranoia, sadism and thwarted rage that appears to motivate them.  Through the experience of Peter Langman, we come to understand the differences between shooters who are psychopaths and those who are schizophrenics, and why these distinctions matter.  A dispassionate, but clinically powerful analysis, “Why Kids Kill” will be of great interest to teachers, parents, school administrators, and law enforcement officials who are responsible for prevention and treatment.”

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KidsPeace is a 126-year-old national children’s crisis charity dedicated to giving hope, help, and healing to children facing crisis. Founded in Bethlehem, PA with 50+ centers nationwide, KidsPeace directly helps thousands of children a day with life-saving treatment to overcome the crises of growing up. KidsPeace helps millions more each year through prevention and awareness campaigns designed to help America’s kids and parents avoid and overcome the kinds of crises that can strike any child – from disasters and personal traumas to family issues and life crises. KidsPeace was awarded the Gold Seal of Approval by the Joint Commission, named “The Outstanding Organization” of its kind in the country by the American Association of Psychiatric Services for Children, and was called “a prototype of what we need for all children everywhere” by the late, nationally renowned child and family expert, Dr. Lee Salk.

Contact: Mark Stubis, vice president

              1-800-25-PEACE, or




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