School Shooters: Patterns of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Bullying, and Social Media

NEW YORK, July 7, 2022 – School shootings directly impact students and can shatter entire communities. While there is no conclusive profile of a school shooter, research suggests that there are factors associated with this violence for which professionals can screen. A recent article published in the Journal of Pediatric Health Care performed a critical review of national and local media news reports of 25 American male school shooter cases during the 2013 to 2019 timeframe to determine if asking about social media monitoring can help to better identify and intervene with vulnerable or at-risk youth.

While school shooters vary in age, gender, race, grade level and other aspects, it is essential to remember that every student who attends school brings their collective life experience, including positive and negative occurrences, with them. School shooters act similarly to their peers in sharing their experiences and behaviors online through posting on popular social media sites.

“We found that the majority of school shooters (76%) had social media posts that contained disturbing content, 44% posted at least one photo of a gun and 40% posted a threatening message on more than one social media platform. If a shooter utilized social media, they were highly likely to post an alarming or threatening message on it,” said Meredith MacKenzie Greenle, PhD, RN, CRNP, CNE, coauthor of the article.

This study found that many shooters had at least one adverse childhood event while more than half of the shooters reported experiences of in-person or online bullying. Most school shooters were reported to have at least one social media account where alarming or threatening messages were posted prior to the event.  Professionals who work with adolescents can screen for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), experiences of bullying, or ask about social media use to help better identify and intervene with vulnerable or at-risk youth.

The findings from this study are from a small, violent subset of adolescents and do not represent the majority of students in any given school. However, they provide insight into the role social media can play in these situations. In the future, individuals working with children and adolescents that are considered vulnerable or at risk should work to incorporate questions regarding social media into interactions when attempting to intervene.

“Nurses, practitioners, providers, and professionals who work with adolescents should routinely screen for violence, trauma, ACEs and experiences of bullying. The screening and identification of those individuals who are vulnerable or at-risk before they become aggressive or violent is critical. Not every adolescent who is at-risk will commit an act of aggression as a school shooter however, there is the need to be comprehensive in screening, especially when there is a concern,” added coauthor Elizabeth Burgess Dowdell, PhD, RN, FAAN.

The article, “School Shooters: Patterns of Adverse Childhood Experiences, Bullying, and Social Media,” was published in the July/August edition of the Journal of Pediatric Health Care and can be accessed here.

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