Littleton, Colorado. Pearl, Mississippi. Springfield, Oregon.
The common thread of violence ties these far-flung places together. They’re perhaps best known for the mass murders and the teen killers who put their towns the map.
In the wake of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Connecticut -- during which a 20-year-old murdered 26 people before killing himself -- Kens5.com felt it was time to take a deeper look at why kids kill.
It turns out the answer doesn’t come in one neat and tidy package.
"A lot of these juveniles, they don't think of the consequences. They don't think past what's happening to them right now," said Phil Chalmers, a nationally renowned teen activist. "These people are nobodies, most of the time, and they want fame. And so, they know, if they kill several people, they'll get national fame."
Gritty and raw
Chalmers strives to keep it real when he delivers presentations to audiences nationwide. Many years, he's on the road for more than 200 days, talking to groups like the hundreds of students and educators who gathered at the Omni Colonnade in San Antonio this month to hear him speak.
"If you're a bully, you're doing something very deadly. Because all the guys I've talked to come to kill you," Chalmers warned the audience.
If anyone ought to know about young killers, it's Chalmers. For 25 years, he's been talking about this issue. He bills himself as "The World's Leading Expert on Why Teens Kill," and even wrote a book called "Inside the Mind of Teen Killer."
He bases a good deal of his content on the more than 200 teen murderers he has interviewed personally.
“We think we know what killers look like, but we don’t. Killers don’t look like killers,” Chalmers stressed to the audience at the Texas Crime Stoppers Convention.
Chalmers told his audiences that harmless-looking, meek and quiet kids do kill. And statistics show roughly five teens murder every day.
"Don’t look at these kids. Don’t look at their faces. Don’t look how small they are. Because these kids, most of them, don’t look dangerous at all. You have to look at what they’re doing and listen to what they’re saying," he said.
Behavior, not faces
“I’m looking for a direct threat. I’m looking for a kid who’s obsessed with violence in his Facebook, his video games. His poetry. His drawings. Looking for a kid who’s wetting his bed. Starting fires. Hurting animals. Looking for a kid who’s obsessed with Columbine, everything about Eric Harris and Dylan Kliebold. They’re obsessed with movies like "Elephant," "Zero Day," "Natural Born Killers."
Chalmers explained that an obsession with violent media alone does not breed a teen killer. Instead, the causes stack on top of each other.
“The top three causes of teen murder are these kids. They come from unstable environments. They either come from unstable homes or they’re bullied at school. They’re obsessed with violent media. Obsessed. Hours. Six hours a day. And number three: They’re suicidal. These kids want to die. They’ve really got nothing to lose.”
Chalmers likened the mind of a teen killer to a pot of simmering, hot water. Just one trigger turns the pot into a boil.
“Luke Woodham -- his girlfriend dumps him, he opens fire at Pearl, (Mississippi). Moses Lakes -- [Barry Loukaitis] being bullied, he comes back and kills the bully,” Chalmers offered as exampled.
Time to act
Chalmers also pointed out that the 9/11 attacks killed roughly 3,000 people. Since then, during the same span that a wealth of resources have been dedicated to thwart another terrorist strike, teens have killed more than 12,000 Americans.
Teen violence, Chalmers argues, is a cause worth fighting.
"I’m seeing positive things come from my work," he said. "If all of us can help one kid, we can make a difference."
"It really got to me." said Blanc Garcia, a sophomore in the crowd from Plainview, Texas. "Honestly, I never opened my eyes to that."
Michael Fisher, a resource officer with the Medina Valley Independent School District, came to the Chalmers presentation on a fact-finding mission.
"After listening to this presentation, I think I see precursors to some of those kinds of behaviors,” he said. "One of the first things I told the teachers and staff and the school district was, 'Don't think it can't happen to you.' When you say it can't happen in Medina County, you're fooling yourself."
Chalmers said education is the key to stopping teens before they kill. And the same goes for intervention.
"The real solutions are to get people help who are mentally ill. Banning guns will not solve this problem," he said. "If you ban assault weapons, they will use .22s. If you ban .22s, they will use shotguns, handguns. They'll use baseball bats, crow bars, knives."