Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Psychological Profile of Chardon School Shooter, TJ Lane

Nowadays, it seems like a school year does not pass by without a school shooting and the death of innocent children. When I was younger, the most other kids had to worry about was the school bully or maybe a gang, but no one ever feared that they could get killed in their classroom. It is difficult to say why school shootings have become so common these days.

It is likely some combination of increased access to firearms, worsening forms of bullying (such as cyberbullying), the influence of violent revenge themes in the media and entertainment venues (e.g, music, movies, video games), the breakdown of the family structure, and the increased availability of subculture movements such as Gothic and Emo that foster a sense of alienation from mainstream society. None of these factors by themselves is likely to trigger a school shooting. For example, there are many Gothic children and people who play violent video games who do not commit school shootings but the more of these variables are present, I believe that the likelihood of a school shooting increases.

Like many people, I am always interested in learning more about the shooter and the specific motive(s) behind the attacks. Before I know anything about the individual, however, there are a few things that I can usually make some safe assumptions about: 1) The person feels angry with and alienated from his peers and society (especially when the shooters attack people at random), 2) There were traumatic events (e.g., bullying, abuse, significant family dysfunction) in the person’s past that led to these feelings (which is not to excuse the shootings of course), 3) There is usually something in the person’s appearance (e.g, style of dress, physical characteristics) that shows that they are different in some way from their peers, 4) The person usually sends some signal ahead of time that the shooting was to occur. As it turns out, it seems that all of these criteria appear to have been met in this case. The reader should know that I have never met T.J. Lane and that I am not a professional criminal profiler. The profile of Lane that I put together is based on what I could gather from his Facebook page, early media reports (some of which may later be modified), knowledge of clinical psychology, and common sense.

When I first saw the picture above of the shooter, TJ Lane, my first reaction was that it fit the psychological profile I have of these shooters. The picture comes from his Facebook profile. Of all the pictures, he could choose, he picked one that was black and white, thus devoid of color. Color symbolizes positive emotions whereas black and white symbolizes the absence of such emotions and conveys a sense of despair and alienation, especially when other themes associated with this are present. This dark theme goes along with his black jacket, which may be related to the Gothic culture he became involved in. Note how he is looking to the side and not to his audience (Facebook friends). In this picture, he is showing that he does not want to look at you or have to look at you because he does not feel connected with you. The side profile picture also bears resemblances to side profile mug shots. You will notice that he is not smiling but instead looks disninterested, annoyed, and possibly angry. Self-esteem is likely low, which accompanies feelings of insecurity. His hands are in his pockets. Hands and fingers symbolize a sense of control (since we mostly control our environment with our hands and fingers) and thus hands in the pockets may indicate that he feels a loss of control in his life. Taking a gun and shooting people is a maladapative way to re-exert control and gain attention, which can improve his own feeling of self-importance. He is thin and one is left to wonder if he was picked on for his appearance, which was later confirmed via media reports. Other pictures on his Facebook page showed him shirtless with his arms folded and a defiant look on his face and he is never smiling. Thus, the only times where he does look at his audience, he is conveying a sense of anger. The profile picture was updated last, however, indicating a growing sense of alienation from others.

Initial media reports stated that Lane had family problems, was being constantly teased by many of the kids in school (e.g., about his hair, clothes, quiet demeanor), often had a sad look in his eyes, was upset about a girl in school, was quiet, very guarded, and a loner who did not belong to any particular group.  Some students assumed he was normal but admitted they did not know much about him. One student stated he got into the Goth phase in the 8th grade. He lived with his grandparents, his older brother was in prison, and he attended an alternative school, which indicates he had a history of academic and/or social emotional difficulties requiring alternative school placement. He may have had a split with a girlfriend on Valentine’s Day and may have been upset that she was dating a former friend. In fact, on 2/17/12, he posted a song on his Facebook page entitled “Blood on the Dancefloor” that centered around an angry male figure with a demonic Gothic appearance trying to break the spell of a female lover. This included lyrics such as “Now is the time, now is the hour. To take back my heart, to take back my power. This is the moment to break your spell. I see right through you... Burn in hell witch.”

Review of Lane’s Facebook page showed that he claimed to work for a non-profit organization called “Free the Slaves,” which claims to liberate slaves around the world and attack the systems that allow slavery to exist. Note the phrase “attack the systems” which generally refers to governmental systems (which includes school). He could have taken this phrase literally in carrying out an attack against “the system.” This may sound like wild speculation, but consider the following. He clearly seems to have felt alienated from the educational system as indicated by the fact that under “College” he listed “We don’t need no education.”  Even more troubling was that under High School, he wrote “We don’t need no thought control.” Thus, he seems to have believed that his school was controlling his thoughts, all of which sounds eerily similar to the video of Jared Loughner walking through Pima County College, ranting about mind control, loss of freedom of speech, the school’s control of the grammar, and his “genocide school” before he shot, injured, and killed several people at a governmental event.

The phrases “We don’t need no education” and “We don’t need no thought control” come from the famous Pink Floyd Song, “Another Brick in the Wall” which partly has to do with a protest against rigid schooling. Incidentally, Pink Floyd is listed as one of his favorite music groups. The music video for the song portrays a teacher reprimanding a young student (who bears some resemblance to Lane) for writing poems in class, which Lane liked to do (see end of this blog entry). The child then engages in fantasies of destroying the school and killing his teacher.

This begins to suggest the possibility of a psychotic disorder in which one is detached from reality. This is again speculation, but further suggestive of this was that he listed one of his favorite philosophers as David Icke, who has described himself as being the most controversial speaker in the world based on his belief that a secret group of reptilian humanoids called the Babylonian Brotherhood is controlling the world. Icke’s worldview is replete with conspiracy theories, which is common among people with paranoid belief systems.

Lane also listed Credo Mutwa as a favorite philopher. Credo Mutwa is a Zulu sangoma (spiritual healer) who is know for his writings against the African government in his pursuit to see the “truth.” In Mutwa’s own words, “I am one of the scums of this earth, a creature dejected and ridiculed by university professors” and “I have been scorned; demonise lied about by conspirators…” This is another reference to alienation and anger towards educational systems. Interestingly, Credo Mutwa writes about listening to David Icke. One of Lane’s favorite books listed was David Icke’s “Guide to the Global Conspiracy and How to End It.”

Another book Lane listed as a favorite was “Alice in the Country of Hearts.” The book centers on an insecure main character (who Lane likely identified with) in a strange world named Wonderland and is forced to interact with the inhabitants. Everyone in Wonderland is reckless as to who lives or dies, everyone distrusts each other, and has an instinct to kill. Sound familiar? Continuing with Lane’s seeming immersion into a bizarre fantasy life was that another favorite book listed was the “Death Note” series, which centers around a high school student who finds a book called the Death Note that allows the reader the ability to kill anyone whose name and face they know by writing the name in the book and picturing their face. To date, several students across the country have been caught and disciplined for possessing Death Note books containing the names of other students. I will not be surprised at all if Lane had one as well.

In terms of movies, Lane listed the movie “Let Me In,” which tells the story of an adolescent boy who is continuously harassed by bullies, neglected by his parents, and develops a relationship with a vampire child (re: Gothic association).  He also liked “Fight Club,” which is a violent movie that was designed to serve as metaphor for the conflict between the younger generation and the traditional values of society. Lane’s sense of disconnection from society is emphasized by him writing that one of his interests and activities is “wandering aimlessly.”

Lane’s Facebook page also contained dark poetry that he wrote in class and posted on 12/30/11: "In a quaint lonely town, sits a man with a frown. No job. No family. No crown. His luck had run out. Lost and alone. His thoughts would solely consist of “why do we exist?” His only company to confide in was the vermin in the street. He longed for only one thing, the world to bow at his feet. They too should feel his secret fear. The dismal drear. His pain had made him sincere. He was better than the rest, all those ones he detests, within their castles, so vain. Selfish and conceited.” He goes to discuss how the castle kept the peasants at bay and did not keep the enemies away and how he castle’s every story “was just another chamber in Lucifer’s laboratory.” The story continued to attack society and desires for the castle to fall. He wrote about going through the castle, past guards, and making others beg for mercy and ending with "Feel death, not just mocking you. Not just stalking you but inside of you. Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might. Seizure in the Pestilence that is my scythe. Die, all of you."

This story is clearly the writings of an angry and insecure individual who has strong revenge fantasies. The castle was likely a metaphor for his school and he was foreshadowing events to come. Unfortunately, as in many similar cases, no one put the pieces together before hand. In fact, four of his Facebook friends liked the story and 49 shared it with other friends. No one wrote a public comment of concern or disapproval. For a follow-up to this blog entry on TJ Lane, click here.

Suggested Reading: Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us
Related blog entries:
A Psychological Profile of Wade Michael Page: The Sikh Shooter
A Psychological Profile of James Holmes: The Joker Killer
Cannibal Icepick Killer Luka Magnotta was Not Born Evil.


  1. Your essay is an excellent insight into what was probably the thinking of a disturbed and troubled mind. It's so difficult for us to fathom how someone could do such a thing. Your analysis helps to process this tragedy, so that we may recognize clues and symptoms in others, and hopefully strive to create a society where things like this wont happen again.
    --Bob E.

    1. These things will always happen. Except it. <3

  2. I have to disagree and call personal bias on you comment about black and white photography. In art photography the trend recently is to try and convey depressive screens wit this medium, but over the cours of photography history, since color photography, it has been used more often to attempt to convey a feeling of nostalgia, of happy times passed, or to remove presuppositions.

  3. Demzon: I hear what you are saying and if all we were dealing with was a black and white photo, I would not make a big deal of it. But in combination with everything else, it very well could be a sign of a more depressive state. However, maybe he was also feeling more nostalgic (that's a good point) or both. Sometimes, people feel nostalgic in a depressive sort of way, longing for the past. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Yes, hindsight does always seem so 20/20...is it really so difficult to 'fathom' such a thing? Maybe we choose not to fathom such things in the hustle of our daily lives...but black and white photographs, black jackets and Pink Floyd are not the primary ingredients of this boy's profile. I fathom that he cried out much louder than that...and unfortunately we do hear him now. What's the real 'trend' here? No one is ignoring TJ now.

  5. No, they are not the primary parts of the profile, just parts of it. His whole Facebook page shows the entirety of it.

  6. Yes, my ultimate cliche wisdom says that hindsight does always seem so 20/20. Why is this so hard to 'fathom?' Perhaps we simply choose not to fathom things like this in the hustle of our daily lives. I can fathom that there are those is hindsight that can recall more vivid indicators than B&W photo graphs, black jackets and Pink Floyd lyrics from the 70's. The true trend here is that unfortunately, we all can hear TJ now can't we...? We are all listening, writing about it, talking about it...and will all forget about it until the next time it happens...like walking past the homeless on the street, we feel for just a minute. Outcry and then silence. That's the profile of our society.

  7. Yes I read his profile page, too....you believe his FB page shows the entirety of it?

  8. No, not the entirety of it, but it is extremely revealing as noted in the profile. By the way, no need for people to post things twice. The comments are moderated and need to be approved before they show up.

  9. Here is the profile of these kinds of shooters:

    --Friends may notice abrupt changes in mood in the days and weeks before the shooting. He may have complained that lately he has experienced strange and vivid dreams of a violent nature.

    --He will be dressed in all black and/or camoflage, oftentimes with a black trenchcoat.

    --Eyewitnesses at the scene will say the shooter was 'like a robot,' or that there were a totally blank expression on his face.

    --The media will paint him as a loner, but he will in fact have a circle of friends or be part of a clique.

    --Extra ammo/guns/bombs will be found at his home and in his auto(this to 'close the circle' of guilt in the public's mind). The guns will have been legally acquired by the shooter or a close relative/neighbor. He will have brought an excessive quantity of ammunition to the scene. (This is so that, if he has 200rounds of ammo, people will think "Wow, he must have wanted to kill 200 people. What a nut!")

    --Literature and/or videos about Adolph Hitler, Charles Manson(infamous American cult leader), or the Columbine killers will be found amongst his possessions.

    --He will be computer-savvy, and likely left an online presence. He may have left some kind of manifesto, though it will be incomprehensible/nonsensical for the most part. He will have hinted at what he had planned, but the name of the target itself will not be mentioned.

    --He will probably have been a player of violent video games, and will have been a fan of violence-themed movies. He will have produced his own videos in which he is seen with his weapons or expressing his hatred and/or violence.

    --He will have a strong interest in weapons--guns, knives, swords, bombs--or the military.

    --He will have had contact with a military recruiter or he will have spent some time in the military before being seperated under murky circumstances.

    --There is a good chance he will have been active in "Live Action Role Playing"(LARP) games.

    --He will have been mentally "treated" at some point by a counselor, psychologist, or a psychiatrist.

    --He will have a history of taking SSRIs(selective seritonin reuptake inhibitors), often in combination with Ritalin(methylphenidate).

    --There is some likelihood that he was institutionalized or hospitalized at some point before the attack. At any rate there will gaps in the timeline where police cannot account for his whereabouts.

    --He probably had some contact with the police/law enforcement before the shooting.

    --He might have been involved with Satanism or other strange occultic-type religions.

    --If he survived the assault, he will be unable to explain why he did what he did. He may claim that 'voices' in his head told him to do it. Or he may not even remember the act at all. But whether the shooter lives or dies, motive will always remain a mystery.

    --He will NOT have acted alone. There is a good possibility others were shooting also; or at the very least others will have encouraged him and helped plan the attack and get weapons.

    --Afterwards, the politicians will call for increased laws against gun ownership, more armed security personnel everywhere, and metal detectors at the school/mall.

  10. He also seemed to like cats a lot.

    I love cats.

  11. Anonymous2:58 PM

    Just a clarification - the "Death Note" series is a manga (graphic novel) from Japan. The story centers around the person in possession of the death note book, and the detective determined to stop him. The American Library Association even put the first three volumes in their top 10 "Great Graphic Novels for Teens" in 2007. The "death note" was supposedly dropped on Earth by a shinigami (death god - kind of like our grim reaper) and it fell into the wrong hands. Please don't take things like this at face value, it's a wonderful series and quite popular among manga readers (the anime based on the series is also quite popular) If we analyzed ANYBODY'S tastes and interests I'm sure we could come up with all kinds of things to say about them. Black and white photography, black jackets, Pink Floyd, and posting angry songs after a breakup don't exactly point to a kid who's going to take a gun to school. And where does goth come in? That song certainly isn't (and look again - the band is named Blood on the Dancefloor. The song is called Bewitched)

    To tell you the truth, it is judgments like these, not all from peers, but from even adults (why are you strange? why can't you be like everyone else? why are you reading and quoting philosophers while everyone else is reading Twilight? why do you enjoy artsy thoughtful films like Let Me In while everyone else wants to see Transformers?) that makes the loneliness and the sense of disconnect and alienation even worse. I'm not defending his actions. Not in the slightest. But being an oddball myself, I know what it feels like. I just I could tell of them, all the teenagers like this - it gets better. You get out of high school, you find other people like you. Or even not like you. But once you find your place in the world, it all comes together. I wish more would see that there is hope instead of resorting to violence against others and/or themselves.

  12. I feel that in a post-Columbine era people are very quick to point fingers at the "Goth kids" if you will and force an association where there isn't one. Well he liked an emo band and owned a black jacket....yeah he must be goth. I think the more appropriate connection to make would be an idolization of past criminals...serial killers et al. as more of a red flag. It is likely he made a demonic reference that his Facebook friends "liked" because he was trying to impress his peer group...a normal behavior of adolescents. Unfortunately I feel the failure of the system in this regard was that he fell through the cracks and received no interventions by the school when it was clear he was in need.
    I feel that is a tragedy not only for the victims...but for a mixed up kid....not some demonic goth monster...whose life now is over

  13. Cymbaline: I appreciate the respectful critique but I want to be very clear that people need to read my post more carefully. The posting clearly states that one of these things in isolation does not make a school shooter. Of course, there are plenty of people who read the Death Note books, play violent video games, get involved in the Goth subculture, etc who will not turn into a school shooters and are productive members of society. As stated in my post, it is when these factors are combined with other serious problems in the person's life (e.g., family dysfunction, bullying, abuse history, etc) that people can become more prone to violence. For some people in those situations, they get too over-involved in fantasy life and can over-identify with violent and anti-social characters and themes, to the degree that it negatively influences behavior. Lastly, I am more than willing to post critiques of my comments here, but if people are going to send me rude, patronizing, disrespectful comments, they will not be published here.

  14. Rain: Again, you need to read the entire context of what I am saying and not zero in one one thing. I am not sure how much more explicit I need to be that being a Goth does not turn you into a serial killer. But it is not a characteristic I would ignore when so many of the other factors are present. Again, you have to look at the big picture. Out of all of the text I wrote, zeroing in on Goths and black jackets is significantly distorting the overall analysis provided in the blog post.

  15. While I feel like you over-emphasized the inference in a post-columbine analysis, and the rash of copycats that ensued in the years following. I am in agreement with you in the SSRI/ritalin use, and despite the 2007 revision of the FDA "Black Box" warning label I am extremely shocked at the numbers of adolescents and college age students that are still prescribed these medications and in a broken healthcare system especially in this economy with jobs and benefits being transient- (most certainly in the case with this student who was no longer in the custody of his parents) There is often little to no follow-up counseling with these patients, but seemingly an abundance of refills or free packs of meds. I also feel that a lot of similarities in adolescents who become violent through gangs or school shootings indeed are intelllectually smart- or tech savvy or weapons savy if you will at a spiritual and developmental stage where they are re-evaluating and/or rejecting religion (which would bring about an interest in the occult or a religion outside of the one a child was raised in) and suffer from severe impulsivity with little regard for consequence, possibly brought about by transient living situations (being raised by babysitters, family members, step parents etc) in a situation where the rules and consequences are inconsistent for some time, leading to little regard for consequence or authority. This is not a situation where abject neglect is alerted to the authorities, as the child appears fed, dressed appropriately and the parents might even explain away their poor grades rather than confront the situation. Beyond generating a profile, what is your opinion in designing tools intended for school or psychological identification and appropriate treatment of these individuals before they harm themselves or others?

  16. Rain: Just to be clear, it was a another reader of this blog (starviego) who you are referring to and who commented on Ritalin/SSRI. I will led that person reply to your post.

  17. I don't want to start conflict, but please, the Blood On The Dance Floor reference is getting the band a ton of hate mail. I know both of the vocalists of the band, and they are not angry people. They are kind, caring, and positive individuals. They are not goth or angry. They wrote the song Bewitched after one was engaged and the relationship got called off, and the other was about to propose and found out the girl was cheating on him. The song is about a man being put under a charm by a beautiful girl, and him trying to break it and realize that she is using him. And here is a snipit from one of their new songs. "Love is love, it lives through it all. Hate is alone, it makes you very small. We are one, and one for everyone. So, take my hand, and open your heart to love. Love is kind, so put aside your hate. Love is meek, a closed mind will only make you weak." The song is about love for everyone. If he was a fan of the band, he obviously does not understand their message of optimism. They have helped many kids from social and other problems. They give advice to bullied kids and have talked kids out of suicide and self harm. They have already had to release a statement on this. If you would like to contact them though, her is their email: itsbotdf@gmail.com May God Bless you and have a nice night! :")


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