The antecedents and consequences of some of America’s most famous—and horrifying—killings.
In his nonfiction debut, Fast (Social Work/Yeshiva Univ.) explores the phenomenon known as school rampage. He offers an in-depth, two-chapter exploration of the slaughter committed at Columbine High School by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, and also details some massacres now less well-remembered. We’re reminded of kids like Brenda Spencer, a petite 16-year-old who in 1979 opened fire on an elementary school; Wayne Lo, the 19-year-old Taiwanese prodigy who killed a classmate and a professor and wounded several others at Simon’s Rock College in 1992; and quiet Luke Woodham, who in 1997 killed his mother before heading to school with a hunting rifle. Though he provides detailed and thoroughly researched descriptions of the events leading up to these and other killings, as well as of the murders themselves, Fast also irresponsibly offers remote diagnoses of the school shooters based on media reports, in several cases turning mere speculation into psychological diagnosis. He gives grossly oversimplified explanations of psychological outcomes: for example, that an eight-year-old victim of Spencer’s later became a drug addict as a direct result of the injuries she sustained during the shooting. The formula from trauma to pathology is rarely so simple, as can be seen by the fact that the school shooters often have no good explanation for their actions. Many children are bullied and teased by their peers, as most of the rampagers appear to have been, but few progress to homicide. Harboring violent fantasies, struggling with parental expectations and experiencing the heartache of being unceremoniously dumped are likewise not exactly unusual events during adolescence. While Fast does an excellent job of revealing what these broken children had in common, he is less apt at explaining what made them different.
A valiant but ultimately unsatisfying attempt to answer an urgent question.