Even so, Castillo wanted to be known as more than a father killer. Near the end of his final video segment, he announced: “It’s time to teach history a lesson.” That is where the school shooting came in. Castillo wanted to be remembered as a shooter in the tradition of Harris and Klebold. Just before the teenager was taken away from the school grounds in a police car, he yelled out to the cameras, “Columbine! Remember Columbine! Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold!”
For their part, Harris and Klebold seemed to have had more sinister motivations, with fantasies of malevolent grandeur that Katz categorizes as “primordial evil.” In their diaries, published in July 2006, they painted themselves as gods who wished to be feared, not loved. One year before the killings, Klebold wrote in his school yearbook, “My wrath ... will be godlike.” As gods, Klebold and Harris felt they stood above society and were beyond its control—and laws. And to demonstrate their “omnipotence,” they became masters of life and death.
Cho may have been trying to defend a similarly overwrought and distorted sense of morality. In his video Cho denounced materialism and hedonism, and in a note police found in his room he condemned “rich kids,” perhaps suggesting that his murders were an attempt to get back at privileged people. In another video, he hinted that he would become a martyr akin to Jesus Christ, musings that echo the grander fantasies of Klebold and Harris.
Cries for Help
Although adolescents may at first hide their destructive fantasies out of fear of rejection, over time they may increasingly feel a need to express them. Bosse, for example, created drawings and poems and dropped hints of his plans in conversations. Like some other emotionally disturbed youth, Bosse cried for help. In an online forum two years before his shooting spree he wrote: “I am gorging on my entire rage, and one of these days I’m going to let it out and get revenge on all the assholes who made my life miserable.... For those of you who haven’t gotten it yet: yes, I’m going to go on a rampage! I don’t know what’s the matter with me, I don’t know what to do, please help me.”
A few hours before his rampage, Bosse e-mailed a scanned copy of his diary to several schoolmates and wrote in a suicide note: “Because I know that the fascist police won’t publish my videos, notebooks, or diaries or anything else, I’ve taken care of that myself.”
In some cases, a youth may alert the media to his plans. At Virginia Tech, Cho unleashed two shooting sprees separated by two and a half hours. During that intermission, the young killer mailed a package of homemade videos, photographs and writings to NBC News. Castillo sent a video to a local newspaper in which he vented his rage and hinted that he was planning a massacre at his former school.
Such communications should not be ignored. School personnel, parents and peers alike need to be alert for verbal, written and other signs that an adolescent is becoming engulfed in a destructive fantasy world.
We are training teachers, principals and school psychologists to differentiate signs of serious trouble from ordinary adolescent rebellion. In addition to disclosing aggressive intentions, a student who is extremely interested in obtaining guns, collects movies and posters of shooters, regularly visits fan Web sites for school shooters or is a social loner is likely to be in dire need of professional help.
Symptoms of depression in a young person are another warning sign. In December 2005 a physician examined Cho and found him mentally ill, noting that he had a flat affect and depressed mood.
Access to weapons is yet a further cause for alarm, indicating that the youth has the means to turn fantasy into reality. Robert Steinhauser, a 19-year-old expelled student who executed 16 people in a school in eastern Germany in 2002, was a gun club marksman who had access to enough ammunition to kill hundreds of people.