“Perfect storm.” Those were the words 19-year-old Orlando Harris used to describe the reason as to why he shot up the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, Missouri. When he entered the school, he was armed with an AR-15 assault rifle and 600 rounds of ammunition. The school was a charter school with seven security guards. They saw him coming, but he had graduated from the school the year prior and knew the weak points, so he was able to get in and kill two people - a 61-year-old teacher and a 15-year-old dance student. He also wounded several other people before the police shot and killed him. Upon later investigation, they found a note in his car that he had written explaining why he shot up the school. He said he had no family, no friends, no girlfriend, no job, no hope, and no future. He said it was a perfect storm for a school shooter and that his goal was to be the next school shooter, a goal that tragically came true. His parents did try to get help for him earlier on. They had him committed a couple of times on 51/50’s, had him placed on medications, and tried to get him into therapy. They also searched his room and checked his mail; they were determined to stop him from doing anything dangerous. They did eventually find a gun in his room and made him give it up, but he somehow got the gun back and used it to attack the school. His parents were unaware that he had gotten the gun back and didn’t know he had made meticulous preparations for the attack – he drew a diagram of the school, created a hit list, and researched previous school shooters. We are very lucky that only two people were killed. He could’ve killed half the school with the 600 rounds of ammunition he had, but fortunately, the police arrived quickly and shot him down. This incidence is tragic because although his parents tried to get help for him, they were faced with formidable obstacles.
How do we help school shooters and prevent them from committing these acts of crime? Most therapists don’t understand the problem that school shooters face. School shooters believe that violence is power and that ultimate violence is ultimate power. When you have somebody who feels that violence is power, you need to give them a better way to assume power. To do this, we can use role playing and mentoring as well as person centered planning and self-determination. We need to build a team of people who can help steer them in the right direction and show them that real power is not violence, real power is the ability to navigate the world successfully. Also, some medications can make people worse by causing them to be even more violent and dangerous than they usually are. I don’t know what medications Orlando Harris was on, but some of the drugs his doctors might’ve been prescribing him could’ve been dangerous. There is also a very strong possibility that he was autistic. One of the students who was in high school band with him said he was very quiet, lonesome, socially isolated, and had very few social skills, which practically screams autism to me. With that added to the list, his parents faced a lot of challenges in trying to keep him under control and prevent him from carrying out his school shooting plans. His mother is absolutely heartbroken seeing as she failed in her efforts to keep things under control. Now, her son is dead along with the two people he shot at the school.
I think we need a campaign to educate therapists about the mentality of school shooters and the problems they face. These shooters believe that violence is power and might not have the same capacity to make friends and get along with people as most others. We also need to have a conference on how to stop violence because this sort of thing isn’t just affecting one community, it’s killing the soul of our nation. The shooting in St. Louis was the 40th school shooting this year. Overall, there have been 536 mass shootings in America in 2022. I don’t think democracy is going to survive much longer with this kind of trauma taking place every day. People would be able to recover if it happened only once in a great while, but it keeps happening again and again. I think there is a very real possibility that this country will go back to being an authoritarian society because anything is better than living in fear every day and sending your child off to school just to get a phone call saying they’re dead. This is breaking the soul of America.
These shooters are human time bombs ticking away until finally they explode and kill a bunch of people. We have to work to figure out the underlying causes and stop them. Yes, guns are a part of the problem and I do think assault weapons should be banned, but we’re kidding ourselves if we think that’s going to solve the entire problem. The bigger part of the problem is these peoples’ belief that violence is power coupled with the incapacity and inadequacy of our mental health system to deal with them. 40 school shootings this year. What does that say about America?