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It would be relatively easy to put the tragic events of Monday 16th April at Virginia tech, USA down to the act of an insane lunatic who had nothing better to do that day but that would ignore the reasons why this and several similar incidents continue to overwhelm the American public.
The scenario that unfolded at Virginia Tech was unprecedented in scale but in the past twenty years there were two incidents in the UK that could bear comparison, the Dunblane massacre and the events at Hungerford both events unfolded in a similar pattern to the tragedy at Virginia Tech but where the two UK incidents involved the killing of victims at range the Virginian experience was “Up Close and personal”.

In 1987 a man took up position on a roof with an AK47 rifle and a Beretta pistol at a school in Hungerford, Berkshire, England. On that day he killed his own mother and sixteen people as well as wounding fifteen others before killing himself.

His name was Michael Ryan; he was 27 and an unemployed labourer who lived with his mother following the death of his father two years previously. His killing spree was a moveable feast and encompassed many locations in and around Hungerford but ended at The John O’Gaunt Secondary School where he was a former pupil and where he killed himself. In the aftermath a great deal was written about his former life but one passage has come to be significant as it hold similarities to the perpetrators of incidents, which are alike. The passage reads: -

Ryan was an only child, reportedly bullied and sullen at school. His father was in his fifties when he was born and had died around two years prior to the shootings. Ryan lived alone with his mother, who was a dinner lady at the local primary school; there was extensive press comment on this suggesting the relationship was 'unhealthy' and that Ryan was 'spoiled'. A Guardian headline described Ryan as a 'mummy's boy'.
In 1996 a former Scoutmaster with a fascination for guns, survival training and Boys clubs walked into a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland carrying four hand guns and over 730 rounds of ammunition, as he opened fire the terrified bodies of pupils and a teacher fell to the floor dead, he later turned the gun upon himself. The death toll at Dunblane included fifteen children and a teacher and left a further fifteen wounded.

His name was Thomas Hamilton and up to a time shortly before the incident he held a valid firearms certificate for his weapons.
Thomas Hamilton was born on May 10, 1952 at Glasgow Maternity Hospital in Scotland. At the time of his birth his parents, Thomas Watt and Agnes Graham Hamilton, were already divorced. They had been married for only one and a half years. Watt left his family for another woman while Agnes was pregnant. Consequently, Hamilton never got a chance to get to know his natural father.
His grandparents who had thought it to be in the child’s best interest adopted him. As a child he did well academically but where Michael Ryan was bullied at school in a situation he could do little about Hamilton was at the opposite end of the spectrum failing to find a peer group to which he could belong. They were both insular one with a low esteem whilst the other had an unusually high opinion to placate.
Both were at odds with their early family life and Hamilton had been told that his mother was in fact his sister; he did not find the truth of the matter until 1974 when he was 22.
In April 20th 1999 at Columbine High School, near Denver, Colorado, USA two young men engaged upon a killing spree, which until Monday 16th April 2007 was the bloodiest incident to date. They killed 12 students and one teacher, wounding a further 24 before individually committing suicide. Their names were Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold both were said to be insular characters and only at ease when together.
Their arsenal included, pipe bombs, incendiaries, and propane bombs, two sawn off shotguns, a 9mm Hi-Point carbine and a 9mm TEC-9 semi automatic pistol. The shotguns, the carbine and pistol all began as legal weapons.
Columbine high was a school with a strong athletic bias and it was believed to have homophobic undertones that resulted in a toxicity of bullying and intimidation, though Columbine high deny that there was a serious bullying problem it was thought that both Harris and Klebold were victims of that which the school maintained did not exist. There was also an acceptance amongst students that some but not all of the teaching staff had condoned the culture.

On Monday 16th April 2007 an insular student Cho Seung-Hui shot and killed two people at Virginia Tech at between 7 and 8 am then he took time out to pop down to the Post Office in Blacksburg where he posted his manifesto to NBC so that he would get the publicity. He knew he would have time to do it because he had noted the response times of the authorities. He then returned to Norris Hall and shot 30 more people before killing himself.
His armaments were a Walther P22 and a Glock 19, the Walther came from a pawnshop and the Glock cost $500 from a gun shop, spare magazines were bought off the Internet no questions asked. The Walther holds a clip of 10 rounds whilst the Glock has the choice of clips holding 15,17,19 or 33 rounds if a heavy day is expected.
Cho was an insular student and was separated from other students by his “eccentric” behaviour, which had been noted by his English teacher who was concerned but then she had seen this situation before in England prior to Hungerford and Dunblane. No one had the courage or inclination to act before the incident although Cho came close to being committed for psychotherapy on previous occasions, none of which was flagged when he bought both guns or the considerable amount of ammunition and spare clips. He was also the subject of jibes by other students who suggested he should “Go back to China” frequently which a young man of Korean extraction would find insulting.

Within four days another hostage situation took place at the Johnson space centre, the hostages were killed and the perpetrator then killed him self.

For whatever reason attacks involving the deaths of pupils in school is becoming more prevalent, there were 17 separate attacks involving the deaths of students and their murderers between 1996 and 2001. Most are murder suicides.

Moses Lake, Washington 2/2/96
Bethel, Alaska 2/19/97
Pearl, Mississippi 10/1/97
West Paducah, Kentucky 12/1/97
Stamp, Arkansas 12/15/97
Jonesboro, Arkansas 3/24/98
Edinboro, Pennsylvania 4/24/98
Fayetteville, Tennessee 5/19/98
Springfield, Oregon 5/21/98
Richmond, Virginia 6/15/98
Littleton, Colorado 4/20/99
Taber, Alberta, Canada 5/28/99
Conyers, Georgia 5/20/99
Deming, New Mexico 11/19/99
Fort Gibson, Oklahoma 12/6/99
Santee, California 3/ 5/01 and
El Cajon, California 3/22/01?

To believe that all of the perpetrators are insane is stretching credibility too far, to accept that schools are a soft target that will gain the most publicity when they are attacked and need protection requires a change in thinking on American Campus Security. In the past five years billions of dollars have been diverted to the Department of Homeland Security to combat the threat of international terrorism, the threat to the USA does not come from the “Axis of Evil” outside the USA every day but from within. Wherever injustice has been disregarded and allowed to fester. The acquisition of guns and explosives to carry out the retribution that is an obvious factor is far too easy and whilst the educational institutions myopically refuse to accept that anything is amiss the attacks will continue. Whilst it is as easy to buy a gun, as it is to buy a car or a hamburger all educational institutions are at risk in the USA. Whilst the trigger points that indicate a potential attack are ignored or even denied no student is safe. Whilst Homophobic, Xenophobic and downright abuse of any student’s personal belief, opinion, race, colour or orientation is permitted there will be no safety on campus. Whilst the highest incidence of suicide occurs within the male population and centres on the 18-25 age group murder/suicide crimes will be common.
The most precious commodity that the USA can posses, its future, is at risk and that future attends its schools, colleges and universities every day. Anyone who has a grievance and can buy a gun knows exactly where to find it and they are assured the maximum media coverage when they do. It is time for America to wake up and smell the coffee.

The supply of automatic and semi-automatic weapons in the USA is too easy and is in fact an equaliser that the Law Enforcement agencies can no longer allow. When they have to deal with an incident they need an edge and that edge can be provided by curtailing the supply of rapid fire weapons, anyone can kill when we are born we are essentially animals and it is only the values imprinted by society that prevent us from the “kill or be killed” nature that we are all born with. That survival instinct is most prevalent in young men it simmers just below the veneer of civilisation, which is why it is so easy for the military to turn a mild mannered boy into a ruthless killer very quickly. All they need is cause, in time of war it is nationalistic and controllable, in time of peace it can be depression, injustice, bullying, low esteem or exclusion for jingoistic reasons which makes it far more dangerous because the “enemy” is not clearly defined it is the whole of society.


Posted: April 24, 2007 

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