We like to think of schools as safe places for our kids. But a school shooting in Brazil this morning has struck home just how long the battle scars of childhood stay with us. The shooter at the Tasso da Oliveira Municipal School in Rio de Janeiro wasn't a kid but a former student.
It seems Wellington Menezes de Oliveira (listed as 23 in some reports, 24 or 25 in others) returned to the place where he whiled away his childhood with guns in hand, intent on taking out as many kids as he could before committing suicide. Again reports vary, but anywhere from 10 to 13 kids, mostly young teens, were killed and 20 wounded before police arrived to shoot Oliveira in the leg ... prompting him to shoot himself.
The question, of course, is why. He allegedly was suffering from AIDS and wanted to end his life, but why kill children? And why end his life at his old school?
School shooters all have their own reasons. But the bulk of them talk about problems at school, problems they felt no one addressed. In a thorough take-down of the myths about school shooters four years ago (the same year that a Virginia Tech student massacred 32 students and faculty), MSNBC noted:
"Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack," and said they had tried without success to get someone to intervene. Administrators and teachers were targeted in more than half the incidents.
These kids don't feel safe in a school building. Think of Columbine. In opening fire in a school building, they essentially give other (innocent, helpless) people a taste of how they themselves felt. It's not an excuse, but an explanation.
And this case in Brazil is a reminder of just how deep the wounds go. We may have forgotten the pertinent details about day-to-day high school, but some things remain. We all remember the bully who just wouldn't leave us alone in high school, the teacher who made learning miserable. The teen years are difficult because we're a mess of roiling hormones, but they're equally difficult because we are stuck in a school building and have no control over our lives. We are old enough and smart enough to understand that there's life out there beyond the horrors of high school, but we can't get to it.
We all like to joke about how much we would have to be paid to go back to high school, but this sad, sad story reminds us that pain is no laughing matter. Does thinking about high school make you shudder?
Image via shinealight/Flickr