Profiles of School Shooters
Since the various shootings that have occurred in both Canada and the United States, there have been studies on the different school shooters, searching for common characteristics among each. These common characteristics have been compiled and formed into 'profiles' which are designed to aid in identifying possibly future school shooters.

The data collected by researchers on the different incidents was used to identify risk factors or predictors for future school shooters. From these risk factors, profiles have been created by various agencies (more predominant in the United States), such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Department of Education (Ferguson, 2008 pp.5). Based on the profiles from different agencies, the common profile for the school shooter would be Caucasian males who are typically quiet loners feeling persecuted by their peers. They may also have interests in violence with their motives being that of vengeance. The proposed 'Classroom Avenger' profile defines school shooters as depressed and suicidal adolescent males, usually Caucasian, whose motives are personal vengeance rather than drug or gang related. They are typically from rural, suburban or small communities and commit a non-traditional, multi-victim homicide in a school or classroom setting (McGee & DeBernardo, 1999 pp.1). Based on a study of school shooters in the United States from 1993-2001, common characteristics have been compiled, forming an inclusionary criteria for the Classroom Avenger. These characteristics are shown in the chart below:

Inclusionary Criteria: Characteristics Associated With Classroom Avengers (McGee & DeBernardo, 1999, pp.12)
Demographic/Dispositional Factors
Historical Factors
Clinical Features
Contextual Variables
- Male
- Caucasian
- Middle Class
- Average age of 16
- Rural or small community residence in south or northwest
- Physically healthy
- Dysfunctional family (superficially normal)
- Family anger and power struggles
- Poor parent and sibling relationships
- Loner/social outcast
- Member of alienated group
- Attends public school
- Family history of mental illness, personality disorders or substance abuse
- Guns in the home, proficiency with firearms
- Appearance of normality to adults
- "Geeks" or "nerds" who are rejected by mainstream students
- Diminutive, physically unimposing
- As infants - colicky, tempermental, delayed milestones
- Problems with attachment and bonding
- No history of serious school/conduct problems
- Covert vandalism and dishonesty
- Distrustful and secretive with adults in authority
- Immature and socially inadequate, rejected, teased and bullied by peers
- No participation in prosocial groups or "normal" pastimes - narrow interests
- Interest in real and fictional violence in the media
- Target female and high functioning students
- Lack of empathy, intolerant of others
- Brags about violence and cruelty
- Negative self-image and unstable self-esteem
- No physical handicaps, disabilities, mental retardation or severe mental illness
- Average to above average IQ
- Narcissistic attitude of superiority
- Projects blame
- Sensitive to criticism
- Atypical depression with action equivalents
- Mixed personality disorder with paranoid, antisocial, and narcissistic features
- Motive vengeance and achievement of power/status
- Violent fantasies
- Premeditation/planning/surveillance of targets
- Stalking of females
- Menninger Triad (suicidal, homicidal, suicide by cop)
- Recent multiple psychosocial stressors including rejection, discipline, humiliation
- Copycat influence
- Inappropriate communications of intent, journal writing about violence and alienation
- Recent decline in attendance and performance in school and recent change in appearance
*Although there are many characteristics listed in the chart above, it is only a proposed profile and does not account for every case of school shootings.


Types of Rampage School Shooters (Langman, 2009, p. 3)
In addition to the "Classroom Avenger" profile, 3 types of rampage school shooter profiles were proposed based on Peter Langman's study on different school shooters published in his article Rampage Shooters: A Typology. A rampage shooter has been defined as a shooting incident elicited by students who attend the same school as the attack; one that occurs on a school-related property in which results in the death of multiple, random and symbolic victims. These types of shooters are:
  1. The traumatized
  2. The psychotic
  3. The psychopathic

The Traumatized School Shooter:
  • come from broken homes
  • suffered physical and/or sexual abuse
  • had at least one parent with either substance abuse problems
  • had at least one parent with a criminal past
  • Example: Evan Ramsey
    • In 1997, then sixteen year old Evan walked into his school in Bethel, Alaska with a shotgun and opened fire on students and faculty, killing one student as well as his priniciple. Up to that point, Evan had experienced a difficult life. His father was sent to prison when he was seven, his mother became an alcoholic soon after, and he was sent to live in several foster homes. At one of these homes, he suffered sexual abuse and humiliation and at the age of ten, he attempted suicide.

The Psychotic Shooter:
  • come from stable families
  • did not experience abuse, parental substance abuse or had a parent with a criminal history
  • exhibit symptoms of either schizophrenia or schizotypal personality disorder, including paranoid delusions, delusions of greatness, and auditory hallucinations
  • Example: Seung-Hui Cho
    • When Cho was in the eighth grade, he displayed thoughts of suicide and homicide precipitated by the Columbine Shootings. In June 1999, he was diagnosed with major depression and soon after, he developed social anxiety. In his college years, he became known to other students for his extremely withdrawn personality, complete isolation from others both in and out of the classroom, and for his threatening violent behaviour.

The Psychopathic Shooter:
  • come from stable familes
  • has not experienced abuse or significant family dysfunction
  • demonstrates narcissism
  • lack of empathy
  • lack of conscience
  • sadistic behaviour
  • Example: Eric Harris
    • Eric Harris, along with Dylan Klebold were the perpetrators behind the school shooting in Littleton, Colorado in 1999. Eric Harris portrayed a number of psychopathic qualities such as pathological lying, manipulation, charm and grandiose in which he was able to fool his parents and teachers. He continually referenced himself as 'God' and believed he was superior to any figure of power. Eric was also sadist in which he fantasized about harming and raping others and during the occurence of the attack, he laughed as he gunned his fellow classmates. In addition, he was repeatedly involved in antisocial behaviour and did not honour traditional values.

Example of Using Profiles in the Media

CBS: Profiling a Shooter
The above video demonstrates how a profile has been used to explain why Seung-Hui Cho had committed the murders at Virginia Tech. The profile, drawing from other cases of school shootings, has been created by the U.S. Secret Service and shown over the news to explain the actions and behaviours of the shooter. These proposed profiles of school shooters have been used widely in identifying or helping youths who are deemed as 'at risk' to demonstrating such violence. However, these are only profiles based on past incidents and merely suggest what may be considered as identifyable characteristics or traits of individuals who commit such crimes.