Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

I was pretty shocked to see the headline on right now: Gunman kills 21 on Virginia Tech campus. As someone who spends the majority of my day on a college campus, this really rattled me. Should I start worrying that this could happen at Univ. of Michigan, too?

The shootings mark the deadliest school shooting incident in U.S. history, topping attacks at Columbine High School in 1999 and at the University of Texas in 1966.

The Associated Press quoted officials saying more than 20 people were wounded. A hospital spokeswoman told AP that 17 Virginia Tech students were being treated for gunshot wounds and other injuries.



  1. #1 AgnosticOracle
    April 16, 2007

    While this can shake one out of the belief that colleges are “safe” I don’t think you need to start worrying in any serious way. For context try to remember every year 66 people on average are killed by lightening. This doesn’t make it any less of a tragedy if you happen to be the family or friends of one of those forty some odd killed or wounded in Virginia today. But walking across campus on average morning shouldn’t inspire more fear than walking in a thunderstorm.

  2. #2 Lubos Motl
    April 16, 2007

    First substantial rumors who is the gunman.

  3. #3 Boosterz
    April 16, 2007

    I just saw this on the tv in the break room. How screwed up and/or selfish does a person have to be to think, “well, my girlfriend just broke up with me so I guess I’ll go shoot a bunch of people then kill myself”?

  4. #4 John C. Welch
    April 16, 2007

    *Could* it happen in Michigan? Well, yes. Yes it could. The question isn’t about possibilities, but rather probabilities, and for those, it’s kinda binary. It might, it might not.

    But, considering the example set by Whitman, there’s not a lot of point in walking in a circle about it. If someone has the skill, they can kill people from a half-mile away or more. I’m not about to stay inside behind bullet-proof walls for the rest of my life.

  5. #5 femalesci
    April 16, 2007

    I am really, really worried this is going to be about violence about women and/or women in tech fields.

  6. #6 Shelley
    April 16, 2007

    Yes, I know that it *could* happen in Michigan, but I think its just sensitization. Ie, now that I’m thinking about it and its happened somewhere else its only *seems* more likely.

    And I seriously hope it isn’t pointed towards women in tech fields….

  7. #7 femalesci
    April 16, 2007

    There is good evidence for the idea that large incidents frequently result in copycat incidents within 2 weeks, esp when these involve politics, gender, etc.

    Consider the recent case of the CO school incident followed by the horrific Amish school incident.

    Lubos’ rumor posting above adds fuel to the fire that this is at best a domestic violence incident, at worst a larger female in science issue.

    I would say everyone needs to be a little bit more careful for the next while.

  8. #8 Oldtech
    April 16, 2007

    Another circumstance where no one is permitted to protect themself…”gun-free zone” my a$$. Once all this started, what was the police response? Sounds like ”stand way back and look angry”. Hope I’m wrong.

  9. #9 hans
    April 16, 2007


    I think Lubos Motl is your secret admirer. Otherwise, why would such a hardcore conservative and global warming denialist as Motl is, ever come near here? 😉

  10. #10 Shelley
    April 16, 2007

    Hehe. 😀 Well, I dunno know who Mr. Motl is, guess he wanted to drop by to plug his rumor on the shooting, which is fine by me. But global warming denialist you say?? Does he hate the manatee too?

  11. #11 Brian
    April 16, 2007

    The police all had guns and body armor (according to eyewitness reports), Oldtech. I’m not sure I understand how gun-ownership would have prevented this situation… perhaps the students in the class should have had concealed weapons?

    In any case, I doubt anyone would disagree that this is a terrible tragedy. Maybe we can leave politics out of it for 24 hours or something.

  12. #12 grnmach
    April 16, 2007

    I could not agree more with femalesci. We are definitly going to hear about this on the news for a long time to come and then BAM! Another copycat situation with flood our TV sets and airways. Millions of people are watching this unfold in front of their eyes and the small % of crazies who have ever had any thoughts of doing this kind of act will now be convinced to follow… here we go!

  13. #13 Shelley
    April 16, 2007

    Yeah, I was wondering about OldTech’s comment too. Was he suggesting that the college kids should have been able to take guns to school to ‘protect themselves?’

    That would be a SAD DAY if it was even considered.

  14. #14 femalesci
    April 16, 2007

    Found it: a really great discussion about the copycat ‘meme’ that was on BoingBoing previously:

    It’s a must-read.

  15. #15 Shelley
    April 16, 2007

    Thanks femalesci, I’ll check it out.

  16. #16 Hans
    April 16, 2007

    Shel, I’m not sure about Motl’s affection for manatees, but he is fun to read:


  17. #17 grnmach
    April 16, 2007

    I’m sure this is sad day for everyone watching this. BUT think about how HAPPY DON IMUS is right now!!! (sorry, had to say it)

  18. #18 Tyler DiPietro
    April 16, 2007

    Interestingly enough, we’ve been going through a nor’easter up here in Maine. So when I heard the special report on the news I had just assumed it was another accident, road shutdown, flood, etc. Turns out it was a huge shooting at Virginia Tech. I was like, “Holy shit…”

    And it kind of shakes you up. My own university went through a string of bomb threats (most of them probably copycats) not long ago this year.

  19. #19 grnmach
    April 16, 2007

    That was a great article about CopCats femalesci. So, is the MEDIA at least 50% responsible for all the copycat stuff?

    “The Copycat Effect”
    The copycat effect is what happens when the media makes an event into a “hot death story” and then via behavior contagion, more deaths, suicides, murders, and more occur in a regularly predictive cycle, as per the book The Copycat Effect (Paraview Pocket – Simon and Schuster).

  20. #20 lauren
    April 16, 2007

    when i was in school chewing gum was a big deal- how i long for the good old days!! i live in the columbine state and sad to say here we go again and almost to the day of that last tragedy- will this be the last of these sick bastards
    deeds? sad to say, we all know the answer to that!!

  21. #21 Tyler DiPietro
    April 16, 2007

    Yeah, that is pretty coincidental. This thing happened four days before 4/20, the day of the Columbine massacre.


  22. #22 Lubos Motl
    April 16, 2007

    Dear Shelley, I didn’t know what a manatee was, but according to the picture I am looking at, they’re cute – although my admiration has a certain amount of compassion in it. 😉

  23. #23 harpreet
    April 16, 2007

    this is very sad and i wish all the familys the best for them. and may the shooters die 1000 deaths.

  24. #24 femalesci
    April 16, 2007

    anyone who thinks school shooting are just ‘random’ should read this:

  25. #25 femalesci
    April 16, 2007

    oops! apologies for the double posting, i was cross-posting and put it in the wrong window…

    i did want to point out a few things to anyone who didn’t have a chance to read that link, it’s the excerpt from Coleman’s “Copycat Effect” book:

    * 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.

  26. #26 Shelley
    April 16, 2007
  27. #27 jb
    April 16, 2007

    Tyler DiPietro:

    This thing happened four days before 4/20, the day of the Columbine massacre.

    The Oklahoma City bombing was 4/19. As was the Waco massacre. 4/20 is when you’re supposed to be taking a toke break…

  28. #28 Tyler DiPietro
    April 16, 2007

    Jesus Chris, what is it about mid-April?

    Just kidding, I know it’s pulling patterns out of an ocean of background noise. But still, the parallel was worth noting IMO.

  29. #29 jb
    April 16, 2007

    I think it’s the wind. Really – it makes things very crazy. My hubby’s place of work demolished in 90+mph winds this morning, he got home just as we were hearing about VaTech. Couldn’t follow too closely because half the roof came off, the kitchen window blew out and there’s flying debris and trees.

    Last April a big maple tree twisted itself off at the base and flew down the hill. I’ve noticed it’s usually exceptionally windy when weird things happen in the world. FWIW.

  30. #30 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 16, 2007

    I think Lubos Motl is your secret admirer. Otherwise, why would such a hardcore conservative and global warming denialist as Motl is, ever come near here? 😉

    Hell, I come over here and I’m not Shelley’s secret admirer.

  31. #31 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 16, 2007

    (Shelley. Call me. *snif*)

  32. #32 Charlie (Colorado)
    April 16, 2007

    By the way, this is a record shooting, but not the worst school killing ever.

  33. #33 Rob Knop
    April 16, 2007

    Yes, I know that it *could* happen in Michigan, but I think its just sensitization. Ie, now that I’m thinking about it and its happened somewhere else its only *seems* more likely.

    I remember several years ago when an astronomer was killed in a freak accident. He was sitting in Starbucks, and a car went out of control, crashing through the front of the shop, killing him.

    Obviously the fact that he was an astronomer had nothing to do with this, but nonetheless I found myself feeling a lot more mortal than usual after I heard about that.


  34. #34 Morgan
    April 17, 2007

    …but not the worst school killing ever.

    Well, I’m not sure this is the time for a debate on the matter, but

  35. #35 Dawn
    April 17, 2007

    Shelly…you’re too young to remember this, but something like the first 2 deaths DID occur at U of M, back in 1991, in Bursley dorm. I lived there at the time, and still remember the shock and horror. 2 young men were killed when a student started fires in the hallway then opened fire with a gun as the kids, in response to the fire alarms, poured out of their rooms.

    No place is perfectly safe. But having a child at VT has certainly brought back the memories of the deaths at UM.

  36. #36 corey
    October 8, 2007

    i think columbine was the worst and the other school shootings that followed were just tryin 2 make news by tryin 2 top columbine which is kinda sick

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