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Copycat Effect

  The Copycat Effect
How The Media and Popular Culture Trigger The Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines

by Loren Coleman

Paraview Pocket Books - Simon and Schuster, 2004, 308 pages

MEDIA CONTACT: (207) 772-0245
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Updated Friday September 29, 2006
Predicted: More Copycat School Shootings
by Loren Coleman, MSW

I am a suicide prevention and school violence researcher and consultant, as well the author of Suicide Cluster (1987) and The Copycat Effect (2004). Unfortunately, it has been a busy two weeks for me, as besides workshops that have touched on this matter, I have been interviewed by CTV and CBC, appearing on Canadian television. Of course, television is one way to present this material, but it does not allow for the fuller extension of insights through the written word of the online and print media.

Therefore, I want to share what I am seeing, what I project as forthcoming in the next month, October 2006. I've been saying most of this on radio interviews and in suicide trainings for weeks. No one seems to be listening. Nevertheless, readers may wish to know about the patterns that are so obviously developing.

In talking about the copycat effect in media interviews, I've been noting a developing and coming wave of events for this autumn of 2006, due to the following facts...based on the trends and analyses I've written about in The Copycat Effect (NY: Simon and Schuster, 2004).

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.
One of the silliest things I have heard from cable news in the last several days during mid-September 2006, is that "these school shootings aren't like the other school shootings." This is short-sighted, and factually untrue.

Before the current model (post-1996) in which a member of the student body would go into their own school and kill fellow students, the pattern was one of outsiders - often adults - going into schools and killing students. In my book, I discuss some of the more infamous cases (on pages 166-167, and in a long list in my appendix, following page 263).

Every year is different, and a fresh view must be considered based upon observations that are right in front of our eyes. What I do at the beginning of a new school year is to see if there is an emerging pattern that will be the re-worked "copycat" model for the new school year. To me, it was and is obvious where we were going this year.

Here's what I see...a mix of outsiders invading school and students making plans too:

Thursday, August 24, 2006 - Essex, Vermont - two dead (two teachers) - three wounded (two teachers, plus the shooter who turned the gun on himself) - the shooter was a male, all victims were female. Christopher Williams, 26, of Essex, attempted to kill his former girlfriend, first-grade schoolteacher Andrea Lambesis. The dead was Lambesis' mother, Linda, 57, the first victim, and veteran Essex Elementary School second-grade teacher Alicia Shanks, 56, of Essex, slain in her classroom at the school at about 2 p.m.

Wednesday, August 29, 2006 - Hillsborough, NC - one dead (father of teenage shooter) - two wounded (two students) - shooter showed up in a trench coat, with guns, pipe bombs, in a copycat of Columbine - Asked by police why he went to Orange High School, Alvaro Rafael Castillo, 19, responded: "Columbine. Remember Columbine."

Thursday, September 7, 2006 - Paris, France - A 19-year-old man was detained after opening fire with a shot-pistol at a school in Paris. There were no injuries. No other details available.

Friday, September 8, 2006 - Paris, France - A 16-year-old boy fired a shotgun inside a school in the southern outskirts of Paris, lightly injuring a teacher and a student, said police. No other details available.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - Montreal, Quebec - Based on the pattern I see behind this shooting, Quebec was a logical next location (near Vermont and French-linked). Kimveer Gill, the 25-year-old shooter, a self-described atheist Goth with an Indian Sikh heritage, wearing a trenchcoat, dark clothing, and a Mohawk haircut, came to Dawson College, fully armed. He appeared to target what students call the "Jew Caf" and opened fire, killing Anastasia de Sousa, 18, and wounded 19 other students. Police fired upon him, and then Gill turned the gun on himself. Gill was obsessed by the Columbine massacre. He mentioned online being a fan of several computer games (e.g. Super Columbine Massacre) and movies (e.g. Natural Born Killers, Matrix) with violent themes that have been played out in several school shootings.

Thursday, September 14, 2006 - Green Bay, Wisconsin - Matt Atkinson, a 17-year-old senior, told an associate principal at Green Bay East High School on the day after the Montreal college shooting that a Columbine-like plot was being planned by two teens. It was said to be a "suicide-by-cop" plot. Police arrested the boys and then found sawed-off shotguns, automatic weapons, pistols, ammunition, several bombs, bomb-making materials, camouflage clothing, helmets, gas masks, and suicide notes. Brown County District Attorney John Zakowski said: "This was a Columbine waiting to happen."

Thursday, September 21, 2006 - Montgomery, Alabama - Former student Willie Beamon, 18, told a female student his plans to go Robert E. Lee High school to start shooting. The girl notified the police of what she had been told. Beamon was arrested at the Second Chance School he was attending after he had been expelled from Robert E Lee High School.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006 - Bailey, Colorado (39 miles from Columbine) - Duane R. Morrison, 54, (DOB 7-23-1953) walked into an English classroom at Platte Canyon High School, and took six young female students hostage. After releasing four hostages, one at a time, the students told the police that sexual assaults were occurring. As the situation neared a 4 pm deadline and discussions broke down, a police SWAT team blew open the door to Room 206 with explosives. Morrison fired a handgun at entering SWAT officers, and then at 16-year old Emily Keyes, fatally wounding her. The gunman then killed himself. The last hostage was saved. (A suicide note from the shooter was found on September 28th.)

Friday, September 29, 2006 - Cazenovia, Wisconsin - A recently expelled student Eric Hainstock, 15, arrived at school at 8 am with a shotgun. A custodian, teacher, and students wrestled the shotgun away, but the student broke away and pulled out a revolver. Principal John Klang, 49, was then shot with a handgun, three times, once in the head. Klang later died at the hospital. The shooter is taken into custody.

Updated: Monday, October 2, 2006 - Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania - Charles Carl Roberts, a 32-year-old milkman, entered a one-room Amish school (usually attended by 27 students) early at the beginning of the school day. He brought into the school three guns, a stun gun, two knives and 600 rounds of ammunition - as well as restraints, boards, and other items to molest or sexually abuse the children. He told the boys and adult females (some with infants) to leave; one girl apparently escaped with the boys. He took ten hostages, all young females. Then, after the police arrived, he began shooting all of the girls, killing five. Roberts is said to have died by suicide when he shot himself. He left behind suicide notes for his wife and children; he told his wife this was self-hate because he had molested two extremely young female relatives 20 years ago (when he was 12 years old).


Please note that the lone male "outsider shooter" is a common denominator here, as well as most of the victims being females. Also, there exists a clear and concentrated repeating pattern of Wednesdays and/or Thursdays, since August 24th.

I would watch Wednesday, October 11 (four weeks exactly) through Friday, October 13 (the month-by-date) anniversary period, a "month" from the Dawson College shootings, as a dangerous "hot window" for a next wave of school shootings. A month from the Colorado-Wisconsin events of September 27-29, at the end of October, should also be a time in which people must keep their guard up and on high alert.

In general, of course, we seem to now be in an unfortunate high copycat effect pattern, and it could be a deadly time for students in North America, as well as internationally, for several weeks, no matter what the day or date.

As the US Secret Service found in their study of school shootings, the vast majority, 80% of these shooters, are suicidal. Frankly, I think all of them are suicidal. Homicide, as Freud said, is suicide turned outward, and that's exactly the model that is being followed. Suicide is also homicide turned inward.

Expect more school shootings, unfortunately.

Press Release - July 26, 2005
Spread of Transit Bombings Across Europe Expected by Copycat Effect Researcher

What The Reviewers are Saying
Review of The Copycat Effect, Fall 2005, Paranoia

Copycat Effect Researcher Predicts Red Lake School Shooting
Author/Researcher Loren Coleman predicted the Red Lake School shooting using the principles noted in his book, THE COPYCAT EFFECT (ISBN: 0743482239)

(PRWEB) March 30, 2005 -- Does sensational coverage of extreme real-life violence affect the safety of American schools, workplaces, and communities? Does media exposure of crime inspire copycat offenders?

On March 13, 2005 Terry Ratzmann, 44, shot dead seven churchgoers in Brookfield, Wisconsin, before turning the gun on himself. Two days prior, on March 11, a judge, a court reporter and a deputy were killed at Atlanta's Fulton County Courthouse. And most recently, on March 21st, nine people were killed in a Red Lake, Minnesota school-shooting before the teenage shooter
killed himself.

As a growing number of shocking violent events seem to be “inspired” by media attention on film, television, the Internet or musical recordings, Loren Coleman, author of THE COPYCAT EFFECT: How The Media and Popular Culture Trigger The Mayhem in Tomorrow's Headlines (ISBN: 0743482239) examines the alarming connections between major “hot death” news stories in mass media and the “inspired” copycat epidemics of violence.   (read entire article)

Press Release Newswire
March 30, 2005

Now, more than ever, ours is a world fraught with danger. Violence is everywhere. Ah, if we could only recapture an earlier time when life was simpler and, yes, innocent. Well, keep wishing. The world of Leave It to Beaver was a myth then, and remains one today. It's just that things indeed have escalated, though through whose fault? One can hope and pray that Sept. 11 was an isolated incident. Maybe, maybe not. But there is one thing that is certain in these nerve-wracking times of ours. That is that the media is the salt that is rubbed into our collective wounds.

This fact is at the heart of The Copycat Effect (Paraview Pocket Books - $14), an eye-opener of a book by Loren Coleman. His thesis is that the media exacerbates violence by dwelling on it in gleeful detail. And not just tabloid rags, but the "mainstream" as well.

This volume catalogues any number of tragedies by category, and reaches back into the depths of history. There have never been any "Good Old Days," and yet Coleman believes that things can improve, if only the media turned its back on the focus of news being "If it bleeds it leads." And oh, how this book bleeds.

From mass suicides in ancient times and across many cultures to the day to day tragedies of the new millennium, Coleman offers a litany of death, with an emphasis on how one senseless murder or suicide sparks others. Beginning with a rash of suicides "inspired" by Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther, the subtext here is that suicide is something Romantic to those who off themselves. "Good-bye, cruel world" becomes a refrain for young people who are too sensitive to cope with life.

However, in no uncertain terms, Coleman shows these self-annihilators as anything but Romantic. Rather, they are mentally ill weaklings. Moving on through ancient suicides that find victims killing themselves rather than surrendering to an overwhelming foe, on through to the "noble" act of self-immolation à la the Buddhist monks during the Vietnam conflagration, Coleman touches on all manner of chaos, with its lingering poison infecting weak-minded individuals who need to move on to the next world, like the suicides of UFO cultists. In keeping with the literary roots of Young Werther one of the most striking accounts describe the many suicides inspired by the Oscar-winning film, The Deer Hunter.

Coleman even acknowledges the fact that this has been so engrained into our collective psyches that a film was made featuring a suicide inspired by The Deer Hunter.

Coleman makes a compelling case in a straightforward style that is eminently readable. There is nothing academic about this book, nor is it in any way sensationalized.

Coleman's even keel account is all the more chilling for its "Just the facts" verisimilitude. Indeed, this book would make a helluva a documentary film that would do a lot to heal broken souls who might end up a statistic. Yet Coleman does not find anyone in his role call of the doomed a statistic. Rather he humanizes the people he writes about, even those despicable folks who kill others before themselves. More importantly, this book is nothing less than a lifesaver.

However, though Coleman indeed makes a compelling case and offers a number of solutions to stem the problem of both the copycat effect specifically and suicide in general, there is an unspoken subtext. The author - and thus the reader - is not going to hold his or her breath and wait for positive results.

This is not so much cynicism as the vagaries of the marketplace. Also, there will always be unstable individuals roaming the world, and for all that Coleman proves, he cannot guarantee a safer world. Still, The Copycat Effect is a volume that needs to be read and disseminated into the hands of folks who just might take up arms against themselves and, worse, others.

Haddon Herald - Haddonfield, NJ, USA
November 4, 2004
Book Sense
By R.B. Strauss 11/04/2004

[Loren] Coleman is convinced--and his book is disturbingly convincing that he is right--that media coverage of every act of bloody violence is 'triggering vulnerable and angry people to take their own lives and that of others.'

- Tom Keene, Face Magazine, October 2004


According to Coleman, the media's attitude is "death sells... if it bleeds, it leads." The author, who has written and lectured extensively on the impact of media, mounts a convincing case against newspapers, TV and books that sensationalize murders and suicides, thus encouraging others to imitate destructive crimes. He traces the problem's roots to Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774), which spotlighted a fellow who shot himself over a failed romance and inspired many young men to do the same. The novel encouraged widespread use of the term "the Werther Effect" when referring to copycat catastrophes. Coleman addresses Marilyn Monroe's 1962 death, pointing out that thanks to extensive coverage of the star's passing, "the suicide rate in the United States increased briefly by 12%." Other subjects include the 2002 Washington-area snipers John Muhammad and John Lee Malvo, whose actions spawned numerous sniper killings; suicide clusters among fourth-century Greeks; cult leaders [Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite and David Koresh], who attained gruesome glamour through melodramatic press perusal; Jack the Ripper—who created copycat killers from the late 1800s into the 20th century—and today's suicide bombers. Although readers may feel there's little they can do to muzzle media destructiveness, Coleman presents his advice to with enough punch to intrigue the public and possibly exert a minor influence on the press.

--Publishers Weekly June 21, 2004

In this startling new work, Loren Coleman translates the academic research on copycat effects into a very readable and accessible book.  He brings imitation of violence to life through many detailed case studies and person-centered examples, such as on the sensationalized reporting of suicide, sniper attacks, and suicide bombers. The media are still largely in a state of denial on how its coverage of death contributes to the violence and destructiveness in our society - but Coleman's book should wake them up!

--Dr. Steven Stack, Sociologist, Center for Suicide Research

Drawing from a wide variety of examples - from Natural Born Killers imitators to the Columbine massacre, from the Golden Gate bridge jumpers to the Heaven's Gate cult suicides – Loren Coleman raises troubling questions about the media's hidden role in perpetuating the very crimes and tragedies they sensationalize. An interesting look at a rarely discussed topic.

--Benjamin Radford, Author, Media Mythmakers: How Journalists, Activists, and Advertisers Mislead Us

The Copycat Effect is a fascinating and frightening look at the bizarre outer limits of human behavior.

--Tess Gerritsen, M.D., Author, The Sinner

In this new book from a master of connections, Loren Coleman's The Copycat Effect examines major news events, encouraged and promoted by the mass media, which get repeated in lesser-known incidents covered primarily by the local news. Coleman calls the mass media reports “hot death” stories. They will jolt readers at their familiarity once Coleman jogs them from collective memory and fits them into a pattern recognizable in their daily lives. If The Copycat Effect doesn't change the mass media it will certainly change the way people think about it and the violent world it creates. This is urgent reading.

--Kenn Thomas, Author, Popular Alienation

"Devoting separate chapters to disparate events like sniper sprees, suicide via airplane, suicidal cults, post-office killings, and teenage suicide, Coleman finds that, in each case, frequently overlooked event repetitions over time likely influenced the most shocking, current iterations, such as the Muhammed/Malvo sniper attacks and 9/11. By carefully cataloguing long strings of traumatic events, the author offers persuasive and sometimes chilling evidence that murders and suicides often inspire imitation, as in the 'suicide clusters' among seemingly normal teenagers that occurred in affluent and blue-collar towns alike during the 1980s and '90s."

 -- Kirkus Reviews

Interview with Loren Coleman in Maine Sunday Telegram, September 12, 2004
Sinister form of flattery -- Interview on The Copycat Effect

September 9, 2004 - Wireless News
Researcher Expects More 9/11 Copycats -- Media Savvy
News for the Media Savvy
April 19, 2005

Media Culture
** The Copycat Effect

Does sensational news coverage of events like the Red Lake or Columbine shootings cause copycat behavior? Loren Coleman's new book, "The Copycat Effect," seems to prove that it does, writes Michael Hammerschlag. (HammerNews) (link)

Also see:
** Clear & Present Danger
Table of Contents
Preface: Window to the World
Chapter 1: Beyond The Sorrows of Young Werther
Chapter 2: Death Sells
Chapter 3: Snipers Fall
Chapter 4: Planes into Buildings
Chapter 5: In Search of Ancient Clusters
Chapter 6: Fiery Copycats
Chapter 7: Cultic Copycats
Chapter 8: Teen Clusters
Chapter 9: Murders and Murder-Suicides
Chapter 10: Going Postal
Chapter 11: School Shootings
Chapter 12: The Message in the Music and the Musicians
Chapter 13: Cobain Copycats
Chapter 14: Suicide Squeeze
Chapter 15: Celebrity Deaths and Motion Picture Madness
Chapter 16: The Magnetism of Milieu and Moment
Chapter 17: Coming to Grips
Appendix: A Comparative List of Events
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About the Author

Subjects covered
: copycat effect, copycat killers, violence in media, copycat crimes, suicide cluster, rampage shooting, Golden Gate Bridge, cults, bridge jumpers, suicide bombers, media, media criticism, suicide prevention, going postal, self-immolations, Donnie Moore, baseball suicides, snipers, 9/11, Kurt Cobain, Sirhan Sirhan, Abu Sayyaf, Ramzi Yousef, Munich Olympics, Art Bell, Hale-Bopp, comets, celebrities, Heaven's Gate, Stephen King, Rage, school shootings, St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Oklahoma City bombing, twilight language


Loren Coleman, MSW
International Consultant on the Copycat Effect

Loren Coleman of Portland, Maine, has dealt with the copycat effect through his university research, books, and media consultations for over three decades. Coleman first began working in the mental health field in 1967, and was later a senior researcher at the Muskie School of Public Policy from 1983 through 1996. Concurrently, Coleman was an adjunct associate/assistant professor at the University of Southern Maine, teaching a popular course on the social impact of documentary films year-round from 1990-2003, and producing eleven award-winning documentaries. He has worked with Hollywood talent, such as L. A. Law star Richard Dysart and Stephen King's Graveyard Shift's Minor Rootes. Additionally, Coleman has taught courses in seven other New England universities since 1980.

Loren Coleman is the author, coauthor, or editor of over 25 books, including Suicide Clusters (Faber and Faber, 1987) and The Copycat Effect (Simon and Schuster, 2004). Suicide Clusters was a Psychotherapy and Social Science Book Club selection, and Coleman appeared on many programs, including "The Larry King Show" discussing it. His work on the suicides of baseball players, specifically Angels pitcher Donnie Moore, was covered in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, and The Sporting News, plus on television programs such as ESPN¹s SportsCenter (in 1989) and ESPN Classics (in 2001). Regarding The Copycat Effect, he has appeared on Coast to Coast AM, National Public Radio, NBC-TV, CBC-TV, and other media forums discussing Heaven¹s Gate, Waco, Hemingway, Columbine, Dawson College, and other school shootings and celebrity suicides. Coleman has trained and consulted around the USA and Canada on suicide clusters and school violence, since the 1980s. For example, he has trained 11,000 professionals and paraprofessionals in the State of Maine in the last nine years.

Coleman has an undergraduate degree from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where he majored in anthropology. He received a graduate degree in psychiatric social work from Simmons College School of Work in Boston in 1978. Coleman was admitted to doctoral programs in social anthropology at Brandeis University, and in sociology at the University of New Hampshire's Family Research Laboratory. He did not finish his doctorate work due to family commitments, which today remain his first priority.

Loren Coleman can be reached at PO Box 360, Portland, Maine, 04112, USA, or emailed here.




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