Identifying Warning Signs in Marshall County School Shooter Would Have Been Difficult

Jan 25, 2018

Students console each other outside Marshall County High School.
Credit Nicole Erwin, WKMS

A criminologist in Kentucky says it’s hard to know if the suspected teen shooter at Marshall County High School fits the profile of a typical mass murderer. 

The identity of the 15-year-old gunman still hasn’t been released two days after he allegedly killed two students and injured 18 others.  Dr. Daniel Phillips teaches sociology and criminal justice at Campbellsville University. 

"Being young like 15 to 25, being male, that's the profile of a lot of people who do violence throughout our country," Phillips told WKU Public Radio.  'Do I think there's a way you could go into a school and pick out a person who might do this? Probably not.'"

Absent of mental illness, Professor Phillips says a combination of factors can motivate school shooters, including anger, bullying, or abuse at home.  He says the warning signs would have been difficult to spot in the juvenile shooter.

"Teenagers in general may act different or moody, and it may be very difficult for parents or teachers to figure out who's going to do this sort of thing," stated Phillips. "Just because your teenager is upset doesn't mean they're going to do something like this. It may just be that they're being normal teenagers."

Little is known about the teen gunman who has been charged with multiple counts of murder and assault.  The alleged shooter is due in juvenile court Thursday, but those proceedings are closed to the public.  The teen's identity is being withheld until he is formally charged as an adult, which prosecutors intend to do.  In the meantime, the case remains in juvenile court.

The teen's motivation for the rampage remains a mystery.  Professor Phillips says while news coverage can encourage copycat shooters, the media also plays a positive role by prompting more action to increase school safety.

The New York Times reports there have been 11 school shootings in the U.S. so far this year.  Not all of those incidents resulted in fatalities.