American Culture

Chardon, Ohio: from victim to perpetrator in five rounds

by Anonymous

The situation is Chardon is all too familiar: a bullied outcast with a troubled home life snaps. If TJ Lane had broken in the usual manner, he might have committed suicide. But TJ snapped differently and took a gun to his tormenters. In an instant, any sympathy for his situation is gone and he’s just a thug, maybe a psycho, and the words “Columbine,” “Goth,” and “Dark Side” start getting thrown around.

Bullying has always been a fact of life in the US–now it’s commercialized and glorified as entertainment. A lot of people turn in to American Idol and other reality shows not for the great performances, but for the truly dreadful ones and the cruelty that follows. The losers tuck their tails between their legs, cry for the camera and their supporters and go home to face down the humiliation.

That’s what the victims of bullying are supposed to do: suck it up.

But victims fall into three categories: the A Victims, those who put up with it until they can get away from it; the B Victims, those who break and turn on themselves; and the C Victims, those who go all Carrie on the world.

Most victims of bullying are A Victims. Some A Victims can let the experience roll off of themselves, but many of them carry the experience with them in some way, a little extra insecurity, awareness, or caution. I’m in the A category. I developed a very thick skin, a callous on my sensitivity. Ten years teaching freshmen in an all-girls school? Piece of cake. Of course that callous works both ways–it can make me a bit insensitive at times (but I try to be aware of that).

The B Victims? We’re all more aware of them now after the Phoebe Prince suicide in Massachusetts, and far too many others. We’ve been on a mission at my school this year to address bullying through the Olweus program out of Norway. Is it helping? I don’t know. We’ve named the elephant in the room. But the elephant is still there. One of the teachers got up last year and addressed the slur “retarded” with the students. The one we haven’t addressed here, except in one sign with a quote from Eminem that has disappeared, is “gay.” If I were a betting person, I’d put money on that being one of the words thrown at TJ. Some people out there defend bullying of LGBT teens as justified because fear might keep them straight. But not everyone can let the abuse go, some people believe it or just can’t take it.

The C Victims turn on their tormenters. The movie Carrie came out when I was in high school and I went out and bought the book (I still don’t do blood and guts movies). It was the first Stephen King book I ever read. By the end of the book, I was cheering Carrie on. I don’t know whether Stephen King intended that reaction or whether he meant it as a cautionary tale for the bullies in the audience. Or maybe he only meant to scare the crap out of people. It has been reported that TJ tweeted his intent to bring a gun to school and posted information on his Facebook page that should have warned people. It’ll probably come out that some people knew or suspected what was going to happen (a number of students who were out “sick” showed up around town as word was breaking).

I never would have taken a gun to school–I’m opposed to violence and it’s not in my nature. But if I had been given supernatural powers, might I have pulled a less fatal version of Carrie or at least a Harry Potter (and dissolved the glass window to the snake enclosure), I don’t know. I’m just glad I didn’t have the option.

The teacher/coach who chased TJ from the school is being hailed as a hero. I’m glad he did what he did. But what does he do on a daily basis when cruelty happens in front of him? Does he act with equal valor? Do any of us? Or do we turn a blind eye? I’ve got to admit to doing that sometimes. I had a student in my advisory who was bullied and she reacted by becoming a bully herself. She verbally trampled on everyone in her path. Yeah, I called her on it. But eventually I was exhausted by it–nothing that I said or tried to do changed her behavior or got though to her. Two years later, she finally seems to be on a different path. But what will she take from the experience?

Some people will conclude that we’ve learned nothing since Columbine. I think we’ve learned a few things, at least in some places. We still haven’t figured out how to help everyone (not that such a goal is realistic). We certainly haven’t figured out how to deal with the readily available arsenal in this country. At least we now have widespread recognition of the possibility of this happening and people looking for warning signs. I’d like to think that there is more that can be done, but I don’t have a better solution.

I do know, however, that it’s a fine line between victim and perpetrator.

11 replies »

  1. Great insight, and I hope people are paying attention. After Columbine, I was a little surprised to find that I had friends who unapologetically sympathized with Harris and Klebold. Not on a personal level – they didn’t know them and all the facts weren’t yet available. But in principle, they strongly identified with the experience of being bullied and a part of them seemed to exult in the idea that the bullies got what they had coming.

    By now we know enough about Harris and Klebold to realize this isn’t exactly how it went down, and most of the victims (if not all) were hardly bullies. But the sentiment is there and it’s stronger than I think we sometimes understand.

  2. The effects on the bullied should never be under-estimated. It’s a sure path to post-traumatic stress syndrome.

  3. Please stop assuming that this troubled young boy was bullied. Until the investigation concludes, we won’t know the reason that this tragedy occurred. There are just as many, if not more, sources that say TJ Lane was not bullied, and in fact had friends and was liked in the school.

    • Kelly: I agree that all the data isn’t in and that at this point we do not know for sure what happened. I would merely observe that, as we try and make sense of this and other shootings, “TJ Lane was not bullied, and in fact had friends and was liked in the school” isn’t a profile that lines up with what he did.

      I’ll be interested in knowing more as the evidence rolls in.

  4. As usual we jump to an assumption that the shooter was bullied by his victims and he himself is a “victim” when in fact if you read reports from the prosecutor’s office the shooter did not attend the school, did not know his victims and they were choosen at random. I agree this is a troubled person from a very troubled family who snapped and chose to be the coward that he is and take it out on innocent victms who were in no position to help themselves. Also since Columbine was mentioned, read the updated reports. There is no evidence that Harris and Klebold were bullied. In fact to this day officials can’t figure out why..

    • Oh, I think we’ve more than figured Harris and Klebold out. Harris was a sociopath.

      But it’s also clear that they were, to one degree or another, “outcasts.” Out group, whatever. And it’s hard to know how they filtered what went on. In any case, if your definition of bullying is “stuffed in a locker every day” then maybe not. But I think that’s a definition that doesn’t serve us well as we try to correct a larger problem.

      Was this kid bullied? As more evidence emerges we’ll be better able to answer that question in context. But as I noted up-thread, the idea that a well-adjusted, well-liked kid with lots of friends goes postal for no apparent reason is a little implausible. As for the “didn’t know his victims” thing, that seems accurate, but I’m not sure it rebuts the bullied argument. There is no evidence that when victims snap they always go after their persecutors. That seems more likely with adults, I think, but when kids snap it seems a lot less focused.

      So good questions, and like I say, I’m looking forward to learning more.

  5. Lane was not a student at the school where the shooting took place, but he did come to the school every day to catch a bus to his school. He was not a stranger to the environment.

    So far not much has been said about his experiences at his other school–that information might prove important.

  6. Sam Smith said
    “There is no evidence that when victims snap they always go after their persecutors. That seems more likely with adults, I think, but when kids snap it seems a lot less focused.”

    That is correct. I’d add, “and unfortunate” both because the reprisal victims didn’t have anything coming, and because the real bullies are so often never punished or even recognized.

    I see much of my psychology in that of the anonymous author of the main post … “many [bullying victims] carry the experience with them in some way, a little extra insecurity, awareness, or caution.” Damn, ain’t that the truth. And yeah, I rooted for Carrie.

  7. These; being randomly selected victims is a statistical improbability of staggering porportions…

  8. In reading the article, I realize that the students of Chardon HS and their parents will always speak of TJ Lane unkindly. TJ Lane might have been buillied by these students and that seemed to be ok for months – no teacher, no student, no parent felt any remorse for him as he was being bullied. No one would stand up to the bullies. No, TJ has no right to pick up a gun and do the unthinkable. He is 100% guilty. And so are the teachers, students, parents that ever witnessed his torment if that is actually what caused this very sad event.