Why Do School Shootings Happen?

Students gather in front of the War Memorial to mourn their fellow students, Monday, April 16, 2007, in Blacksburg, Va.
AP/ Sam Dean, The Roanoke Times
After a week full of shock and horror as more information has emerged about the Virginia Tech shooting that left 33 people dead, it is now time for the funerals and memorial services for the part of this nightmare where the families of victims can finally take their pain private.

The nation has begun to turn away — massacre fatigue has now set in. Six days and counting since Seung-Hui Cho, the author we discover of twisted student screenplays, did exactly what he set out to do.

Cho became a star; he won on reality TV in a category of his own choosing.

"That seems to be the model: become the Heisman Trophy winner of serial murder; try to become the heavyweight champion by exacting the largest body count in history," Northeastern University professor Jack Levin, who has been studying mass murder for more than 20 years, told Sunday Morning correspondent Martha Teichner.

"We set a standard for would-be killers when we talk about 'the worst — the largest in American history — around the country.' It's a game of one-upsmanship."

Except for the location and the body count, the script is the same, every time, as if the killers and the commentators both have copies. Virginia Tech might as well have been Columbine in 1999: Same month, same week. Cho considered Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold his heroes.

Read the full statement here.
"I don't think that we can probably ever be sure than we can prevent it," said Dr. Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "Maybe next to impossible. ... There's gonna be some amount of it that exists in society because we can never eradicate, I think, all of the problems and the things that determine human behavior which is very complicated, very complex, and something that often we can't anticipate."

The first known school massacre in this country was in 1927, a revenge killing in Michigan carried out by the treasurer of the local school board, who was convinced high school taxes were the reason his farm was foreclosed.

In 1949, a WWII veteran described as soft-spoken and devoted to scripture reading unloaded his souvenir German pistol on his neighbors in Camden, N.J.

In 1957, teenagers Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate went on their shooting spree across the state of Nebraska, but mass killings were rare in the United States —

Until 1966, when honor student Charles Whitman started picking people off from the tower at the University of Texas in Austin.

"What we didn't realize at the time was that this was the dawn of an age of mass killing in this country," Levin said. "There are now about 200 victims of mass killings every year in this country. It's constant. The problem is the big body count crimes have increased."

Click here to see a list of the victims.

Television coverage has come to mean wall-to-wall, 24-hour-a-day exposure for homicidal celebrity-seeking loners. Experts are still talking more and more about what should be done to end these mass killings.

"We see it — it comes on television," Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent For CBS News, said, "then it goes away — and then we wait for it to happen the next time."

Schieffer, a longtime observer of American politics, doubts anything will change.

"I just think the whole political system, because it takes so much money to get elected now, because you have to sign off with so many special interest groups before you get to Washington," he said, "you find time and time again, whether it's guns, whether it's other issues, Congress tends to sort of edge around the outside of a problem but never go at it head-on."

So it was left to the talking heads to trot out the issues and argue over them again this past week: There was the civil liberties debate, the question of our mental health system, and inevitably gun control.

The nation watches television and grieves vicariously — again — at the sight of the shrines and tributes. At home, we choke up over the bright, hopeful faces of the newly-dead.

"I'm just very sad, it just makes me very sad to sit here and know that this is probably going to happen again unless something changes. We have got to find a way to solve this problem," Schieffer said.

Already, the news cycle is ending. The press corps has moved on, but this made-for-TV tragedy is far from over.