THE BLOG
08/03/2010 02:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Columbine and Hartford Distributors Shooting

Maybe the most obvious connection between Columbine and today's shooting at the Hartford Distributors liquor business in Connecticut that reportedly left at least eight dead is that the suspects committed suicide afterwards.

Committing suicide at the end of such rampages is commonplace, and even school shooters who do not kill themselves often express a desire to die in the midst of the shooting. It's hard to find a clear cut answer for these suicides. Columbine shooter Dylan Klebold often expressed a desire to die in his diaries; life on Earth was so terrible for him, and he dreamed it would be better in an afterlife. But there are other reasons that may contribute to a suicide. Shooters see it as empowering to script their own ending, and/or killing others does not quench their thirst for revenge or violence. They can only put out that fire by killing themselves. And while the ultimate goal may be suicide, shooters feel they need to make a point first (such as revenge or a show of power).

One of the things that struck me about today's early news reports is that the Connecticut suspect was scheduled to attend a disciplinary hearing. Experts say rampage shooters do not snap; there is often a simmering (and clues left behind) before the actual event. At the same time, there do seem to be final, precipitating events. In the case of school shooters, it may be a breakup with a girlfriend or a discipline.

I discuss in my book how the juvenile diversion program meant to set the Columbine killers straight after they broke into a van may have actually fed their anger; they may have chafed at having to attend seminars, do volunteer work, meet with a counselor, etc. in the approximately one-year program. Psychologist Aubrey Immelman, whom I quote in my book, asks whether the Columbine shootings would have occurred if the killers had not been in diversion. (Which is not to say that they should have gone undisciplined.)

Today, we might ask the same question as to whether the disciplinary hearing set off the Connecticut shooter. Again, this is not to say that people shouldn't be disciplined. And something else may end up setting them off. The key point is trying to recognize the warnings before the shootings.