On Feb. 27 in Chardon, Ohio, a student named T.J. Lane came to Chardon High School with a gun and killed three of his peers and injured two others. This news sets off a chain of reactions within me. Before I knew it, I was reading everything I could on the tragedy. Who was the shooter? Why did he commit this crime? It’s an unhealthy reaction, and the media only helps to encourage my habit.
Rather than read about the story as cold, hard news, I read it more like a movie script or the plot of a crime show. I can’t be alone in this reaction. School shootings have always piqued curiosity among the media, psychologists and everyday Americans.
The media’s fascination with serial killers and school shootings leads to dramatization of these events and puts the spotlight on the perpetrators rather than the community or victims. We ask who it is who killed these people and why, when we should be asking what we can do to ease the pain of a community that has just been shattered.
Reporters often generalize the tragedy, creating villains, T. J. Lane, and heroes, in this case Frank Hall, Assistant Football Coach, who ran after the shooter causing him to leave the building.
For example, in the New York Times article, “Teenager is Charged in Killing of Three at a School,” Sabrina Tavernise wrote, “As a profile of Mr. Lane emerged, the mystery surrounding his actions seemed to grow deeper. Friends and neighbors described him as a good listener, a skilled skateboarder [and] a kind young man who loved to be outside and cared diligently for his dog, Bowser.” A friend was even quoted explaining that Lane had raised his grades and loved school.
These descriptions make it seem like Lane was just a normal kid before something radically changed in him. The article continues detailing the life of Lane but not the victims.
Disturbed that the media would put so much attention on the shooter first and the victims second, I did a quick search for more news on Google to hopefully allay my annoyance. Instead, I discovered similar results: articles that detailed the life of the killer.
I find it hard to believe that the friends and families of the victims do not want to share memories of their loved ones. Yet it seems the media forgoes their stories in favor of the more dramatic character, the shooter himself.
Rising action is necessary before the climax of the story is presented. The media feels the need to give the shooter some sort of back story, almost victimizing him in a way as they recount tales of bullying or other challenges. However, school shooters aren’t always the outcome of some horrendous storm. They aren’t always the conclusive result that comes from mixing several negative ingredients together.
I used to believe we could prevent school shootings by focusing our time on preventing bullying. I still believe that bullying is something to be on the lookout for; but I don’t think that bullying is directly connected with every school shooting. Take Columbine, for example, one of the most famous school shooting atrocities to happen. The two teenagers weren’t bullied or ostracized.
I understand the media has to look at a story and make it appealing to the masses. I also understand that in order to properly tell a story you need all sides of the story and that’s why we did hear T.J lane’s life story. But why must we dive into these tragedies with zeal? We cannot allow the dramatization of a community’s tragedy and loss to be put into a news story that is written like a plot summary of a “Criminal Minds” episode.
The truth of the matter is a teenage boy made a terrible and horrific decision that day when he chose to murder his classmates. Journalists and reporters can try all they may to turn this tragedy into a movie script, but the cold hard facts are there. We shouldn’t be devouring endless amounts of seedy information about the killer. Instead, we should be thinking of the victims and the community that will never again be the same.