Why Do Students Kill Their Class-Mates?

Detachment, Isolation, Dehumanization, and Emotional Estrangement from Human Relationships

A recently released phone video shot by 19-year-old Parkland, Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz, reveals a cold, callus young man who claims to “hate everyone and everything.”

Los Angeles Times reporter, Melissa Healy, compares Nikolas Cruz to Sandy Hook school shooter, Adam Lanza, and sees a commonality in isolation and “a profound sense of alienation from virtually all human relationships.”

The anonymous web on which we play and interact is clearly a double-edged sword. Healy notes:

Most adolescents and young adults come to recognize there’s a fundamental difference between going online and actually having a close personal relationship. But for kids who are not fitting in, that’s a very attractive alternative: You can hide or disguise who you are and what you’re thinking.

Many young shooters, however, have attributed motivation to wanting to be “known” indicating feelings of being unheard, invisible, insignificant.

The need to “belong” to be part of a “family” or something bigger than oneself has been reported to be at the root of adolescents joining gangs, cults, and being recruited by foreign terrorists.  While not joining, others feel in sync with terrorist’s ideologies, identifying with the intense anger but striking out as lone actors.

Another noted commonality of school shooters and mass murderers is fatherlessness by various causes:

  • Evan Ramsey, 1997, who shot and killed two people and wounded two others at Bethel Regional High School Alaska was a foster child.
  • Adam Lanza, 2012. Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut, killing 28, was a child of divorce.
  • Stephen Paddock, 2017. Shooting into a crowd of approximately 22,000 concertgoers attending a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip, killing 58 people and injuring 851 more. Paddock’s father was a grifter, a con artist, a bank robber and a jail-breaker who spent years on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list and was absent for much of Stephen’s life.

Divorce, death of a father, and unintended single parenthood have been creating fatherless children for generations. Today we add to these misfortunes by intentionally eliminating the role of a father, and creating children detached from mothers as well.

Affluence, Technology and Family Deconstruction

We need to consider why school shootings are uniquely an American occurrence. One obvious reason is access to guns. But what are some of the other influences and contributing factors that cause children to use these readily available weapons to kill?

In many cultures, lack of options leads to extended families living together. Survival is mutually dependent. Children may have few material “things” but they feel part of and connected to their kin and by extension humankind.  To hurt another of their clan would be to hurt oneself.

In America we admire independence and live in nuclear families, with single parent households making up approximately 26% of families with kids under 21. Young adults move to states – and even countries – where they find employment. As a result, their children grow up not knowing their extended families such as cousins – who in the past acted like siblings we didn’t live, or compete for attention, with.  Instead of learning to share, many kids today have their own “devices” and separate television screens in the back seat of their parents’ vans. Instead of talking to anyone, they text using acronyms and emojis more than words.

The gadgets and devices, like violent movies and video games, are contributing factors. But we need to look at the larger world in which today’s youth are growing up that seeps into their psyches even with no conscious awareness. American children grow up with a constant backdrop of violence, divisiveness, hate, and unending war.

Closer to home, America’s marriage rate hovers at 50% as does the divorce rate. While the majority of children in the U.S. live in two-parent households, the prevalence of divorce makes all children today anxious, less assured that their parents will remain married, a concern that did not exist in former generations. They wonder when and how a divorce might change their family dynamic.

In addition, approximately 4 out 10 children are born to unmarried mothers. Once stigmatized, it’s now a statement modeled by celebrities who enter motherhood with no visible or known father.  Creating families is approached with a menu of choices that are selected based on convenience and what one can afford with total disregard for the genetic connectedness of the children produced or how they may feel about it. How families grow, how adults chose their method of obtaining offspring, are not simple choices without consequences, but rather have lifelong effects on the child being created.

We promote and encourage adoption, permanently removing children from parents who are often dealing with a temporary crisis, believing that substitute love can undo the trauma and that the end justifies the means.

We commodify and commercialize all aspects of family creation, applauding reproductive choices, with little recognition of the loss created for the child, down-playing biology, even while genealogy is the fastest growing hobby.

We buy and sell spermatozoa, eggs, and sell frozen embryos – calling it adoption –  all despite the illegality of selling humans. We allow wombs to be rented, turning humans into incubators carrying unrelated surrogate fetuses created from purchased – or so called “donor” – gametes.  College students are sought out and preyed upon to sell their life-producing material, putting their health at risk and risking the children being created meeting one another and unknowingly committing incest.

All of these practices contribute to dehumanization which has been associated with an increased willingness to perpetrate violence. Studies have long shown that nations and their military dehumanize their “enemies” to justify destroying them. Those who dehumanize “others” – the homeless or people of different races – are less likely to consider their feelings and are thus more supportive of building walls and violent counterterrorism tactics such as torture, separating immigrant families, bombing entire countries, and committing genocide.

How Does it feel to be Dehumanized?

An estimated 30,000-60,000 Americans are born every year from artificial insemination. The Donor Sibling Registry has in excess of 59,000 members and has helped to connect more than 15,000 offspring with their half siblings and/or their donors. A 2010 study conducted by Karen Clark and Elizabeth Marquardt:

About half of [people conceived via sperm donors] have concerns about or serious objections to donor conception itself, even if parents tell their children the truth.

Mary Stuntz, an adult adoptee, described on Facebook what it feels like:

The truth for me is I was a victim . . . I was forced to become another couple’s child . . . I lost my lineage and the birth certificate I’ve been issued is a lie . . . I will never promote adoption that cuts off a child’s lineage and seals their birth records issuing a new one based in a lie. I was not born to the parents that raised me. As good as things were in my life I cannot morally stick my head in the sand and promote a practice that is based in lies and secrets.

Susan Golombok, a professor of family research and director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, has found that children born with the help of a surrogate may have more adjustment problems – at least at age 7 – than those born to their mother via donated eggs and sperm.

Signs of adjustment problems could be behavior problems, such as aggressive or antisocial behavior, or emotional problems, such as anxiety or depression . . .

While all the children seemed to be doing well by age 10 . . . the concern is, trouble could crop up later as kids hit their adolescence and are trying to find their identities and place in the world, experts say.

Anne C. Bernstein, a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, and author of Flight of the Stork: What Children Think (and when) About Sex and Family Building also recognizes the importance of more studies and following children of surrogate births into their teens when:

It might make a bigger difference to them at that point that they aren’t biologically related to one or both of their parent.

Brian, 18, is the son of a traditional surrogate, a biological father, and an adoptive mother. He says:

What about what the kids of traditional surrogacy think? . . . What you think doesn’t even make sense to most of us. It doesn’t make sense to the majority of people and that’s why surrogacy is so controversial! Do you expect us to have this sort of delusional thinking that you do or do you expect us to think like 99.9% of the general population who thinks that it is wrong to have a child in exchange for money or give away your biological child? How do you think we feel about being created specifically to be given away? You should all know that kids form their own opinions. I don’t care why my parents or my mother did this. It looks to me like I was bought and sold. You can dress it up with as many pretty words as you want. You can wrap it up in a silk freaking scarf. You can pretend these are not your children. You can say it is a gift or you donated your egg to the IM [intended mother]. But the fact is that someone has contracted you to make a child, give up your parental rights and hand over your flesh and blood child. I don’t care if you think I am not your child, what about what I think? Maybe I know I am your child. When you exchange something for money it is called a commodity. Babies are not commodities. Babies are human beings. How do you think this makes us feel to know that there was money exchanged for us?

Yet, surrogacy is popularized and normalized by celebrities who chose it and is included in many television scripts.

The latest statistics from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) show that the number of children who were created with a donated egg rose more than 30 percent from 7,284 in 2004 to 9,541 in 2011, while the number of births involving a surrogate jumped more than 200 percent, from 530 in 2004 to 1,179 in 2011. No one knows how many births have resulted from sperm donations, but estimates range from 30,000 to 60,000 per year, according to a New York Times report.

Where do we go from here?

Do we continue down this path raising generations of disconnected children in a society filled with hypocrisies and dichotomies that berate the poor for having babies “out of wedlock” while admiring affluent mothers for their bravery in choosing single parenthood?

Or do we take stock and look at the consequences of choices such as third party assisted reproduction and surrogacy which eradicates one or more of a child’s progenitors? These practices need to be seen as what they are: dehumanizing acts of violence that we are normalizing and exposing our youth to, wondering why they find it so easy to pick up weapons, act out their hurt and anger by committing acts of violence against their peers.

How can children grow up feeling a part of, and a healthy attachment to, humanity while living in a society that dismisses human connectedness at every turn?

How many children are products themselves of such casual creation that discards their roots? How many have friends who have been disconnected from their progenitors, not knowing who “begat” them, who they get their hair and eye color from?

It’s a painful loss and a wound constantly reopened because human nature subjects us to family members noticing and commenting on who resembles whom because one of the major ways people connect and bond is visually. When a baby is born, one of the first things asked is: “Who does he or she look like?” People learn by mimicking behavior of those closest to them and seeing a reflection of themselves in their caretakers helps them understand and accept themselves. Lack of such mirroring causes angst and lack of human attachment.

Adoption as it is currently practiced in the US is based on lies that are validated legally by most all states denying truth with the sealing of birth certificates and replacing them with a false one that states that the adopted person was born to his or her adoptive parents, which in some states that could even be two people of the same gender.

Adoptees have long written about feeling alien, hatched, unmoored to their roots. But instead of hearing how the primal trauma of separation from the sounds, smells, and rhythm of the womb affects people’s ability to trust and form healthy attachments, we have continued to encourage adoption – not just as a way to find homes for children in need – but as a way to “build families,” fill empty arms, and basically fill orders.

Instead of hearing the damage adoptees experience we continue to replicate the eradication of reality and commodification by allowing the sale of human beginnings and surrogacy and now the tearing apart of immigrant families.

So when we wonder and look for causes of troubled youth and wonder why today’s youth are feeling isolated and isolate themselves even while in a crowd . . when we see behavior that is totally out of touch with humanity . . . let us consider the ways in which our laws and practices accept and encourage detachment.

We need to ask what society is doing to make parents interchangeable and their genetics unimportant. We have collectively “normalized” the destruction of families and made reproductive manipulations simple personal choices for family creation, as if they have no consequences.

Ignoring the blood that runs through our veins, disregarding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), the self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms as the main constituent of chromosomes and carrier of genetic information, denying the truth is crazy — making gaslighting and putting people’s life and health at risk and has caused adopted people a great deal of anguish.

How can we teach children to be honest and tell the truth when their lives are based on lies? How can we hope the children of tomorrow will not continue to show indifference for a human race that has betrayed them and disallowed them knowing their righteous connection, leaving them feeling untethered? How can we raise children with compassion when they are treated as commodities to fill the wishes of those who play god with their origins?

Mirah is author of two internationally acclaimed books, more than 200 published articles, and cited in twenty professional journals having been researching, writing and speaking about American and global child adoption, restoration of adoptee rights, as well as contract anonymous conception and surrogacy since 1980. More at her website and Wikipedia. Read other articles by Mirah, or visit Mirah's website.