An Open Letter to the Next School Shooter
From someone who's been in your shoes.
While we’re still processing what happened in Uvalde, Texas, I know there is someone out there planning the next shooting. Or maybe you’re not planning it, you’re just thinking about it. In any case, I hope you’re reading this because I want to talk to you.
My years in public school were a living hell. From day one I was singled out by teachers, humiliated in front of my classmates, and accused of things I didn’t do. And of course, the children took the adults’ lead. I grew up as a pariah. I wasn’t entirely friendless. I eventually fell in with the other outcasts, some of whom I’m still friends with today, and that was probably all that saved me.
I never understood it. My mom didn’t either. I wasn’t that bad of a kid. But I had a few things working against me. I was clumsy, chubby, and unathletic. I talked funny. Speech therapy helped, but I still kind of talk funny, even for a southerner. And while I’ve never been officially diagnosed, I strongly suspect I’m on the far end of the autism spectrum. At least that’s what every online test tells me.
The problem is once you get branded as an outcast, it sticks, and worse than that, you internalize it. You don’t expect people to like you. You automatically assume everyone will hate you or think you’re a weirdo and you act accordingly.
My dad fell over dead when I was 16. He was the sole breadwinner and despite all his faults, the glue holding our little family together. And as I discovered, he was also who kept the wolves at bay. We suddenly had all these new people in our lives trying to take advantage of us.
Then just months later, Columbine happened, and suddenly anyone on the outskirts was assumed to be the next mass murderer. It didn’t help that I shared the killers’ penchant for trenchcoats — they were trendy for a time in the 1990s thanks to the X-Files and The Matrix.
Suddenly, I was getting into more trouble than before. My life had been turned upside down, I was deeply depressed, and now every move I made was examined through a magnifying glass. I was regularly interrogated, sent to therapists, and named a threat. And once people start telling you you’re a bad guy, you start to internalize that.
I grew angry. Defensive. I felt like it was literally me vs. the world and all I wanted was to be left alone, and I was willing to hurt people to do that if it came to it. And if death was what it took to finally have peace, so be it.
All of this is to say: if this is the boat you’re in, I’ve been there too. I know what it’s like to feel rejected by the whole world, to feel trapped in an awful system, to feel like there’s no point to any of it, and I know how angry you are. And I know deep down, that what you want is peace. Deeper down, what you really want is love. Acceptance. And if you can’t have that, you’ll settle for the peace of death.
If you die young, you might leave a pretty corpse (doubtful, especially if it’s riddled with gunshot wounds), but you’re cheating yourself of seeing where it all goes. End things now and you’re cheating yourself of possibility. And if you take anyone else with you, you’re cheating them too, many of whom haven’t done anything to wrong you. And whether you realize it or not, the ones you hate are probably struggling too. When you get older you realize that we’re all having a tough time.
The truth is there won’t be anything unique or special about your bloody revenge. You won’t die a hero or even a villain but as a tool for people more powerful than you.
There Won’t Be Anything Special About Your Shooting
When Columbine happened, it was big news. The killers’ names and faces were plastered all over the news. The media turned them into rock stars and inspired countless copycats in doing so.
But that was over two decades ago. These days, mass shootings are a dime a dozen. There won’t be anything special about yours. You’re not going to top the “high score” of the Las Vegas shooting. You’ll be a blip in the news before the next thing, and then forever forgotten.
And what if you somehow survive your rampage of revenge? And then you’re stuck your entire life in a dungeon. The little fish in a little pond, never to see the outside world again. What then?
Don’t Be a Tool
The only path to peace seems to be death, and why not hurt the world on your way out as much as the world has hurt you?
I’ll tell you why. Because the minute your atrocity hits the news, people will start calculating how your atrocity can benefit them:
Politicians mulling how this can get them elected, re-elected, or push legislation.
Gun control activists thinking about how they can use this to raise money or get new laws passed.
Weapon makers meeting to decide how to respond to the fallout and lawsuits.
Law enforcement organizations angling for funding.
I’ve watched how these things play out for years. As soon as it happens, maybe even while it’s happening, people take to cable news or social media, talking points in hand, figuring out how to use your atrocity to get their way. We’ve had to deal with enough of these shootings that there is a well-established playbook for spinning them.
You won’t be any sort of rock star. You won’t change the world. At least, not in the way you would like. What you will be is what they call a useful idiot. Just a pawn in a game well beyond your understanding.
After you’re gone, you want people to think, “I wish I had treated him better. I’m sorry I was so awful.” But that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re going to wish they had killed you while they had the chance.
The world will forget about all the damage done, but you’ll leave an impression. People will grow even more angry and cruel. Things will get harder for people like you because they’ll be the next suspects.
Perhaps you’re an accelerationist. You want things to get worse so they can reach their natural and awful conclusion and maybe finally get better. But you won’t be here to see it, and there’s no guarantee things get better if they fall apart.
Destroying things is easy. Literally, anyone could aim a rifle at an unarmed person and pull the trigger. There’s nothing impressive about that, nor is it even novel anymore.
The “great men” of history — the emperors, the conquerors — aren’t remembered for the death and destruction they wrought. They’re remembered for what they built. We remember the ancient Egyptians for the pyramids. We remember the Romans for their roads, aqueducts, and the Colosseum. Oh, they killed a lot of people, but that’s not why we remember them. Destroying things is easy, building things is hard. Especially things that last.
The anger may never go away. The question is: what will you do with that anger? Will you waste it on a single, unmemorable act that destroys countless lives and is used for Machiavellian ends? Or will you use it to transform yourself into someone who overcomes?
If you want revenge, there’s a better way.
Somehow, I made it through high school. Just barely. I’d been booted out of all of the honors programs, my GPA was just barely above sufficient, and if I had been suspended one more time that would have been the end of my high school career.
To be honest, I was shocked that I was even alive and didn’t know what to do with my life. No respectable university would have me, so I attended community college. And you know what I found there? People who saw me through a fresh lens, who respected my intelligence and unique personality. I was still very much a funny talking weirdo, and I guess I always will be, but things did get better.
Better, but not perfect. I still struggle socially. I’m pushing 40 and I still get bullied! But I did find a woman willing to put up with me enough to marry me and bear children. And those children love me, even when nobody else seems to.
My revenge? I’m still here. Standing tall against a world that often seems like it doesn’t want me. When I became Twitter’s main character, I had hundreds of people wishing death for me and my family. The press attacked me. Yet, I’m still here unthwarted. And that drives my haters absolutely nuts.
And the reality is, if you do anything of significance, there are people who are going to hate you. Every business mogul, celebrity, and politician deals with it. The question is how you deal with it.
We homeschool our kids, in part because I don’t want them to suffer the same cruel system I did. I see in my oldest son a vigor and confidence I never had because he hasn’t been beaten down by a bureaucracy that ultimately sees him as a product.
The other revenge is time. Time really does come for us all. Some of the people who bullied me are either in prison or dead. They never learned to quit while they were ahead. Yet, here I am, with all my hair, in as good shape as I ever was, with a farm, and a wife and children that love me. In many ways, I am a rich man.
Your Summer Challenge
Part of my problem was the cycle of self-hatred I found myself trapped in. What I eventually realized is that looking to others for self-esteem is a fool’s errand. If you don’t like yourself, how can anyone else be expected to like you? You are ultimately your greatest ally and if you sell yourself short, you can’t expect anyone else to do you better.
The school year is over. Summer is here. I want you to try some things. I’m not saying these will fix what’s ailing you…but I just want you to try, okay? And if you’re brushing me off because I’m corny, I want you to look up what it looks like when someone survives a shotgun blast to the face. Eyes gone, face gone, flaps of skin hanging loose, but still breathing, gurgling through the blood, doomed to a short and even more miserable existence. There is a better way.
First of all, make it a point to take a shower every day. When you’re depressed, you stop caring about things like that, and then people treat you worse because you stink. Start breaking that cycle by forcing yourself to shower every day. You’ll feel better too.
If you play video games, I want you to take a break. Just a couple of weeks. And right here, people are going to get mad at me, because gamers are very sensitive about video games being linked to mass murder.
I am about as OG of a gamer as you will find. I was a toddler when I cut my teeth on Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. I was all about Doom when it was new, and I will still kick your ass at Quake. I wasted hundreds of hours in World of Warcraft. I’ve been at this a long time, so I know what I’m talking about.
There is the stereotype of the angry gamer for a reason. Be honest, have you ever yelled at your TV when playing a game? Have you ever thrown a controller? I sure have.
Video games make you angry because they are designed to frustrate you. But deeper than that, while you’re playing them, in the back of your mind you know you are wasting precious time. And you’re getting nothing in return.
I’m not anti-videogame. I play stuff with my sons all the time. I’m just saying… take a break. Remove that extra frustration from your life, do something constructive with your time, and see what sort of difference that makes.
And while you’re at it: quit browsing 4chan. That entire site is a pool of negativity. In fact, stay away from screens as much as you possibly can.
I want you to build something. I don’t care what it is. It can be a box, a birdhouse kit, an electronics project, or whatever. Maybe volunteer with Habitat for Humanity or get a summer job in a trade — they’ll take anyone right now.
Two reasons for this: one, building things with your hands is incredibly satisfying and gives you a sense of accomplishment. The second reason is that building things is hard, and I think once you see how hard it is, you’re much less excited about destroying things.
Another thing I want you to do is foster life. I didn’t truly appreciate the value of life until I started having kids and witnessing how hard that process can be. But having kids right now is probably a bad idea for you. The easiest thing to do would be to start some plants from seed. Or if you’re more ambitious, incubate some chicken eggs or breed rabbits. And if you do the latter two things, you’ll be forced to build something, so there’s a double win.
The reason I tell you to foster life is because once you nurse little seedlings into healthy plants or manage to get rabbits to make babies without them killing themselves, you gain an appreciation for how precious and fragile life is.
Three more things: sleep, sun, and steel. If you’re going to sleep at sunrise and staying up all night, put an end to that. I did that for years and it made me feel like depressed garbage. It’ll take some effort to get your circadian rhythm back to normal. Cutting screens and taking melatonin at night can help with that.
Get up in the morning and spend time in the sun, which is proven to boost your mental health. I spent years almost never seeing the sun and it was terrible for my mind.
And finally: get in the gym and lift heavy things. I have so many days where I’m angry and/or sad and I walk out of the gym feeling like a whole other person. Put that anger into each rep. You’d be surprised at how cathartic it is. It won’t be easy at first, but over time you’ll get stronger. And when you’re stronger, you feel less weak, and when you feel less weak you start to like yourself more, and then you’ll probably find other people start liking you more too.
“It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable.” — Socrates
As I said, I don’t promise that these things are magic cures. But as someone who has been in your shoes, they are things that have helped me and have helped many other people make positive changes to their lives.
You have nothing to lose, so why not try?