Courageous Conversations: Why Are Schools A Target of Mass Shootings?

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- High school students in Springfield are joining a national movement

"It is our responsibility as students to take action because it is our schools," said Megan Phillips, a senior at Springfield Catholic. 

She and Zoe Sweaney, a junior at Kickapoo High School, among several other students from area high schools, have been involved in a march, a walkout, and other events encouraging change surrounding gun violence and school safety. 

"I think the Parkland shooting was kind of a reality check for everyone," Phillips said. 

"That's the exact thing that we are thinking: what if we are next?" said Sweaney.  "And we want to do something before that happens. before I have to watch my friend before I have to watch myself, be involved in a school shooting." 

For them, schools have become the target.. way too often. But why? That is always the question after a mass shooting no matter where it happens. 

"I think it's more personal when it's at a school because usually, a school shooter is someone who went to that school," Phillips said. 

Many times when the shooter dies in these circumstances, it may be difficult, sometimes impossible for police, the families of the victims and the rest of the world to learn the shooter's motive.

In the Sandy Hook mass shooting on in  2012 for example, a report failed to point out a specific reason why a 20-year-old killed 20 children, six adults his mother and then himself. 

However, it indicated the young man had a mental health issue, a deep interest in firearms and an obsession with mass murders. Also, in that case,  there was no indication as for why the school was chosen other than perhaps proximity to the shooter's home. 

In February of this year, a gunman killed 17 people and injured 15 others at a high school in Parkland, FL. His exact motive remains unclear, but he used to be a student there. 

Months before the shooting an account under the same name of the suspect commented on Youtube saying: "I am going to be a professional shooter." The gunman also had posed with guns on social media posts in the past.

Reports later revealed the young man had struggled with mental and emotional health growing up and had trouble adjusting to a traditional school environment. He was removed from the high school by school officials for unspecified behavior issues. In that same year, his mother passed away. 

Sheryl Puzach is a deputy juvenile officer at the  Greene County Juvenile Center. She deals with teens under the age of 17 accused of skipping school or running away. or even law violations like assault. 

While none of the teens she's worked with here have been perpetrators in a school shooting, we talked to her about violent behavior in teens. 

"We examine these factors to find out why they're acting out," Puzack said. 

In what's called a social interview with all kids they meet with, she tries to find out if they have experienced trauma, or been a witness to domestic violence, or have other family issues and talk about mental health.  

"Because sometimes that goes undiagnosed," she said. "If there are any diagnoses, that that's being handled and managed because that can contribute to violence and anger." 

Puzak says in some cases the teens have been caught with firearms and can't always produce an explanation as to why they have a gun. 

"Sometimes they say 'I don't know.' They don't have a reason not to, but they don't have a reason to have it, which kind of demonstrates the not thinking before their actions part," she said. "I've also heard for protection. If they feel they need protection from whomever or for whatever reason. There were a couple kids I've worked with that it was just what they knew, from family members who have weapons available frequently, and they were just following those footsteps." 

On an even bigger scale like a mass school shooting, it may be even more challenging to understand the reasons behind this violent behavior being aimed at schools. 

But it seems now students are more empowered than ever to speak out about prevention whether that be school safety, gun control or mental health services, and they hope they are doing their part in preventing the next school shooting anywhere else or even at home.  

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