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Florida shooting and the cult of individuality

  • 16 February 2018


Shootings in the United States — the spectacular ones, that is — tend to follow a pattern now etched in social response.

The culprit, estranged and ill, plots revenge over a grievance, actual or perceived. A lethal arsenal is accumulated, assisted by carefree regulations, poor background checks, and rudimentary efforts made to plan an attack. When inflicted, the damage is often catastrophic.

Shootings in US schools, however, demonstrate an inner disturbance that is even more profound than standard mass killings. Criminology, that most imperfect of social sciences, struggles to peer into such minds, and finds, as the authors of a work on mass shootings in the US surmised on Cho Seung-Hui of Virginia Tech, a 'history of mental illness and a skein of red flags popping up since he was a child'. They often feature former students, disgruntled and corroded. They are dormant psychotics, primed for triggering.

The teenager accused of the shootings in Parkland, Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was one such figure. Before the court, the accused, Nikolas Cruz, had the arm of his attorney around him.

The shooting was the 17th school shooting incident this year, involving the wounding and death of students. With the infliction of 17 deaths, it had the dubious honour of being the deadliest since 26 people lost their lives at Connecticut's Sandy Hook school in 2012.

Cruz had been active, noisily so, on social media. Word got around that he was intent on becoming a professional school shooter. That alert came from a YouTube post from user Ben Bennight, who contacted the FBI for some 20 minutes.

Cruz's digital footprint, his presence, had landed the FBI in some hot water. 'Our investigators,' according to Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, 'are dissecting social media. Some of the things that come to mind are very, very disturbing.' All in all, investigative bureaucracy had lagged. Note was made, for instance, of Cruz's behaviour among teaching staff. 'We were told last year,' explained maths teacher Jim Gard to the Miami Herald, 'that he wasn't allowed on campus with a backpack on him.'


"Focus in responding to such killings involves two tracks. Rather than being seen as intertwined, critics prefer to segregate the issues. One is the character of the killer. The other is the character of the society that fosters him."


The Miami Herald went on to elaborate, 'He preened with guns and knives on social media, bragged about shooting rats with a BB gun and