Research growing to determine link between Columbine massacre and mass shooting suspects

When school opens for most students in our state next week, some parents will worry about how safe their school is.

Perry Hall High School students lived through the horror of a school shooting two years ago.

When a shooting happens, we wonder what goes through a child's mind that turns them into a potential killer. We aren't the only ones wondering.

The In Focus team learned it's a growing field of research.

Since the 1999 Columbine High School attack -- there have been 20 confirmed shootings on school and university campuses.

Motivations for these facts vary, but in instances where research has be done, a number of the killers and would-be attackers have cited an obsession with the murders carried out by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

In some cases -- the attacks were thwarted by police before being carried out.

Just three months ago in Minnesota, 17-year-old John David Ladue's planned assault that included murdering his family and as many people at school as possible was stopped when a witness saw him making frequent trips to a storage unit.

"My plans were to enter and throw Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs and destroy everyone, and when the SWAT comes, I would destroy myself,” Ladue told police.         

Ladue also told investigators he was obsessed with Columbine.

It's the same story two Tennessee teens told police following their arrests of plans for a mass shooting at their high school.

The school shooting at Columbine High 15 years ago left 12 dead and 20 injured.

It's a case, analyzed still today. Investigators said research is understandable when you consider the profiles of mass shooters that include Adam Lanza, T.J. Lane and Columbia mall shooter Darion Aguilar - all cited Columbine as a driving force to their attacks.

They’re looking for someone to emulate,” said Dr. Elias Shaya, the Chief of Psychiatry at Medstar Good Samaritan Hospital.

“They’re very vulnerable to their disease because of the impairment in their brain and the inability to understand the consequences of certain decisions, the distortion or perception of their surroundings, society, their relationships,” Shaya continued. 

That perception of notoriety -- even if for a brief moment --. Shaya said is often perpetuated by round-the-clock media coverage by local and national news outlets.

“As rare as it remains, it moves to the forefront. Clearly the media coverage puts it in the forefront of our response. Maybe some of us who are impressionable makes it accessible, fall into a trap, draw them to act,” Shaya said.

Mass shooters in a school or public setting make up a small percentage of cases with no "one size fits all" answer available.

“I like the statement that says ignorance is the driver of discovery,” Shaya said. “The first thing we should say is that we don't know and understand our knowledge is very limited. Start from a blank slate to find a genuine answer.

“Now as you pointed out,” Shaya continued, “many are attempting to find answers and human nature seeks simpler easier accessible answers. The greatest risk there is that when we don’t have the answer we can’t resist the temptation to make them up.

Another challenge, Shaya said, is on the legal front.

In some instances, professional help isn’t required even though it may be needed, even if the parent or guardian is aware.

Once patients reach a legal age, they can check themselves in or out of certain services.

This is an area, he contends, could see changes as research progresses.