You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Copycat Suicides Are Real. Are Copycat School Shootings?

Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty

According to early reports, a student in Colorado opened fire in his high school today, injuring two people before killing himself. Coming on the eve of the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, some are speculating that the killer drew inspiration from Adam Lanza. We know that suicides sometimes come in waves, and though it is less clear whether the “copycat effect” applies to school shootings, there’s evidence that at least some school shooters are influenced by reports of similar crimes. One case study appears in the 2003 book Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence, which profiles T.J. Solomon, a high school sophomore in Rockdale County, Georgia who brought a gun to school and shot 13 people a month to the day after the Columbine massacre.

The authors of this case study gathered data during two field visits to Rockdale County... and collecting a large body of archival material…[including] several hours of videotapes of the young offender, both immediately following the incident and from a psychological interview conducted three months later, investigative reports, psychological assessments, evidence inventories, crime scene photographs, depositions with family members during subsequent civil lawsuits, and voluminous miscellaneous supporting materials.

They concluded that Solomon went on the rampage because one of his depressive episodes—which he had experienced intermittently since his family moved from North Carolina to Georgia two years earlier—coincided with his hearing about the Columbine shooting:

Withdrawn and lonely, immersed progressively in constructing meaning out of the materials of transgressive popular music, he became obsessed with Columbine. This obsession and its suicidal implications are evident in writings T.J. made before he began shooting, reports by others of remarks he made to them, and writings and statements to psychologists that occurred after the incident at Heritage High School…. He began to talk about Columbine in odd ways to other people.

T.J.'s statement to investigators adds further support to the authors' hypothesis:

I had just gotten the idea from the shooting at Columbine High School on April 20. So the Monday of the May 20 shooting, I decided to open fire May 20, one month after the Colorado shooting.