The cluster effect: Shootings beget shootings, media begets media
Virginia Tech and now NASA--North American institutions have of late become the site of some serious incidents. This is nothing new to author Loren Coleman, who wrote the book Copycat Effect: last fall after the Dawson College shooting, Coleman said the following to CTV. CTV notes that it seemed like a "prophetic" statement before Dawson; in the wake of Va. Tech and NASA, it again seems premonitory:
In a September 18 email to CTV, Coleman said, "I predict that this week or next, there may be another major 'going postal' workplace rampage or school shooting."
While Coleman's email may now seem eerily prophetic, he told CTV.ca his prediction two weeks ago was simply the result of observing patterns among widely-publicized events.
These "clusters" (which have thus far manifested in bomb threats at schools, lockdowns, and now, the shooting at NASA), are completely normal consequences--after shocks, even--of these events. Coleman says that it's one event, and the ensuing media coverage, that triggers another. For Dawson it was an event in August of 2006 (if not before). For Virginia Tech, it could have been Dawson, but the more interesting thing, of course, is that Va. Tech was on the eighth anniversary of Columbine. In essence, this cluster began with Columbine. Where will it go next?
Listen again to what Coleman to further said last fall in his own blog:
Here is what I am finding:
- most contemporary school shootings tend to occur primarily during two periods of the school year - at the beginning (late Aug through October) and near the the end of the academic year (March-April)...
- copycats follow a regular temporal pattern that repeats - these could be after a primary media event in a day, a week, two weeks, a month, a year, ten years - vulnerable humans have internal media clocks...
- copycats imitate the previous violent attacks, oftentimes down to specific details as that mirror the previous specifics of the shooter, the victims, and the methods -
- "celebrity" events have a far-reaching impact and modeling effect - so, of course, Columbine serves as a dark cloud over many school shootings.
And perhaps more chillingly, quoted on his own blog from CTV:
Then, three days later came the shooting in Amish country, the deadliest of the cluster with five dead. Coleman says violent offenders, intent on shocking the public, sometimes "compete for the highest body count."