With the rise of black school shooters, St. Louis is now facing a situation that very few predominantly Black cities have had to face in the last fifty years - an African American youth bringing violence into a school building. Having been in, out and around public school classrooms for decades, my experience has been no matter how rough and tumble the students were, the school was respected as a relatively safe space. Orlando Harris shattered that reality on October 24, 2022.
Harris was a 2021 graduate of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and had no criminal record. The troubled teen broke a window to gain access to the locked building, armed with an AR-15. He killed one student and one teacher, injured seven more and traumatized hundreds of other students, before being killed by police.
The community is still reeling from the tragedy. It’s still too early in the investigation to fully comprehend what happened and why. What we can unequivocally concede is that students will need cultural-sensitive counseling, and lots of understanding. They haven’t fully recovered from three years of COVID-19 and remote learning.
Along with 600 rounds of ammo, the troubled Orlando left a note behind that gives us some insight into his psyche. The trigger that sent him on the rampage remains unknown.“
I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been an isolated loner my entire life. This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.” These are words of a teen turned killer. It is a sad commentary on the life of a Black kid in 2022 who couldn’t see a future for himself.
This kind of isolation, compounded by documented bullying, is the common theme of most school shooters. Most school shooters are males. Most school shooters are white. We’ve seen their tragic lives played out on the television screen since the Columbine High School shooting that first projected the phenomena of the lone, white misfits of society.
There have been a handful of Black youth who have taken up the gun against classmates since 1979. In a compilation by Peter Langman, Ph.D. titled, School Shooters Who Were Not White Males, I could only identify three Black teens who fit the category of bonafide school shooters. These are armed, young people who go into the school building with the sole intent of doing harm to classmates and school employees.
Thirteen-year-old Floyd Warmsley was in Portland, Connecticut. Nicholas Elliott, 16 years old, attended Atlantic Shores Christian School in Virginia Beach, VA. Toby Sincino, also 16 years old, went to Blackville-Hilda High School in Blackville, SC. What these three have in common is that they attended schools in non-urban areas where Black students are a minority. They were bullied, pushed up against the wall by a racist society and an unsupportive school environment.
Toby was on Zoloft for his mental and emotional issues. He killed himself at the school site. Mental health issues and anti-depressant prescriptions seem to plague these shooters. Floyd and Nicholas were convicted of their crimes and are serving time.
There is an extensive body of study on white, male shooters. There has been a coloring of mass shooters over time - a Latino here, an Asian there. For years, Black folks would claim serial killers were a white thang. Until it wasn’t. We were almost boastful that our kids could never be mass murderers. Now, it’s at our school steps, and our communities must brace for the other Orlandos that the capitalist system is creating.
Orlando Harris shared with us what were the forces of a “perfect storm.” No doubt, he cried out for help, for love, long before he went on his kamikaze mission. It’s up to us to commit to recreating a just and safe world that nurtures human life and hope.