Did the Uvalde, Texas Shooter Suffer from Childhood Trauma?

A teenager in jeans and canvas shoes standing on asphalt road with # ENOUGH word cloud. Concept of social movement to protest gun violence and mass school shootings in the United States.

Once again, our headlines are filled with the story of the tragic shooting and multiple deaths in Uvalde, TX. For days the news headlines have reported on the horrific details of this tragedy. Podcasts, newscasts, journals and social media speak of the ways to make such tragedies something that never happens again. Yet here we go again with the same rhetoric we have heard before and with nothing actually preventing future attacks on schools. Each innocent child and adult killed, each wounded person, each who witnessed the massacre, each parent, sibling, classmate whose lives have been changed forever sends us into a despair that is all too familiar.

Sadly many of us are not really surprised and even expect that another massacre is around the corner. We want to see change, we want to help promote that change but feel impotent because nothing significant has happened – after all the shootings over the last several years – to prevent future attacks.

Many of us can recall one of the first massacres of 12 students and a teacher that happened at the Columbine High School in Columbine, Colorado on April 20, 1999. Twenty-one additional people were injured by gunshots, and gunfire was also exchanged with the police. Another three people were injured trying to escape. As a nation we were shocked and horrified! We had no frame of reference for such a tragedy! Unfortunately now we do. When a shooting happens we can have the response, “Here we go again.” While we still are horrified we just are not as shocked. It’s become too familiar.

Wikipedia also provides an extensive detailed list of the multitude of other school shootings. It is powerful, sad and overwhelming to see the graphics that provide the details of all these shootings. The bottom line: school shootings in which ten or more people are killed have drastically increased in the last decade or so.

From an analysis of CDC data published in the New England Journal of Medicine and a report on 2020 gun deaths from the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions they shared “In the two decades prior to 2020, motor vehicle traffic was the leading cause of death among U.S. children and teens. Nationwide death certificate data compiled by the CDC show that firearms were the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1-19 years old in 2020. “

Many of us are both skeptical that there is a viable solution and cynical with regard to how determined our various politicians are to take some kind of meaningful action and still preserve the right for citizens to bear arms. 

Consider this: a May 18, 2022 article by Jane Stevens from the website ACES Too High has the headline: “To Prevent Mass Shootings, Don’t Bother with Motive; Do a Forensic ACEs Investigation.” [ACEs refers to Adverse Childhood Experiences research conducted in the late 1990s. Stevens states: “Because 18-year-old Payton Gendron provided in his 180-page diatribe a motive for shooting 10 people in Buffalo, NY, on Saturday night, police didn’t need to search for one, as they often have in other mass shootings. But using motive to prevent mass shootings will just get you a useless answer to the wrong question. The right question is: What happened to this person? What happened to a beautiful baby boy to turn him into an 18-year-old killer spouting racist screed?

Photo courtesy The New York Times

Stevens noted that in a 2019 Los Angeles Times article, ‘We have studied every mass shooting since 1966. Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters’, Jillian Peterson and James Delaney wrote: ‘First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.’

Is there anything we as individuals and we collectively can do?

  • We can be advocates for meaningful parenting education which is one way to reduce the number of ACEs children experience.
  • We can educate ourselves to be thoughtful consumers and critical thinkers of the information that is available to us.
  • We can contact our local state representatives as well as senators and congressmen to ask that they put their full attention to coming up with solutions.
  • We can educate ourselves about gun laws and the various weapons that those involved in school shootings gravitate towards.
  • We also can learn more about serious mental illness: I highly recommend the book Healing: Our Path from Mental Illness to Mental Health. I also highly recommend the PBS special called Bedlam which offers an amazing overview of how our country handles the hundreds of thousands of people who need mental health services. Spoiler alert: it’s not good!
  • We can learn ways to talk to children about mass murders in schools. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has an excellent tip sheet to help adults with these conversations.
  • We can pray for the families and the school communities that have experienced school shootings
  • We can take action to educate ourselves and to put effort into influencing those who can change laws, policies and practices.

It is important that we don’t just accept this as a new norm for this country. Individually and collectively we have a responsibility to get involved in solutions.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. What have been your thoughts and feelings as you learn about each of the shootings in recent years? How have you dealt with these? Have you gotten the support you need to address the pain, frustration and grief you have experienced?
  2. How have those around you, especially children in your life, reacted to these shootings? How prepared have you felt to engage with them in important conversations?
  3. What of the things mentioned in this blog can you do to actively work to bring the necessary changes we as a country need to make?

Diane Wagenhals, Director, Lakeside Global Institute