by Merritt Clifton
MARYSVILLE, Washington––Jaylen Ray Fryberg, 14, a freshman at Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington, was by all accounts a popular young man who did well in school, admired pit bulls, and had become an accomplished hunter, recently bagging an elk and a deer.
A football player who on October 17, 2014 had been voted freshman homecoming king, Jaylen Fryberg was reportedly distraught over a recent break-up with a girl he had dated since the seventh grade. He allegedly got into a fight at football practice and was suspended from the team.
And then, on October 24, 2014, Jaylen Ray Fryberg opened fire on five fellow students at the lunch table they often shared, taking head shots at close range from behind. He killed two girls, critically wounding another girl and his 15-year-old cousin Andrew Fryberg.
Accosted by a female cafeteria staff member, Jaylen Fryberg then fatally shot himself in the neck.
As always after school shootings, the community struggled to find explanations. Despite Jaylen Fryberg’s recent difficulties, he did not fit the stereotype of school shooters: alienated loners, acting out video game scripts. But the stereotype has largely been discredited.
Indeed, Jaylen Fryberg closely fit the profile of school shooters advanced by Katherine S. Newman of the Princeton University Program in Law & Public Affairs, who argues that the perpetrators of school massacres are most often “joiners” whose attempts at social integration fail.
But Jaylen Fryberg also fit two other meaningful profiles: the pit bull advocate for whom fighting dogs may be surrogates for expressing hostility toward other people, and the hunter who turns to his guns when unable to resolve personal issues in a less violent manner.
Four percent or fewer of teens today have hunting background, but half or more of the perpetrators of multiple killings at schools in recent decades have either had known hunting background or have used hunting weapons.
In the six years preceding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, for instance, when security at public buildings including schools was markedly increased, 16 juveniles used hunting weapons, primarily, to kill 27 people and wound 50 in 14 massacres on school premises.
“This is not the first time that violence has erupted in a Snohomish County school,” noted Everett Herald staff writers Eric Stevick, Rikki King and Kari Bray. “Friday [the day of the Marysville shootings] was the third anniversary of an attack by a troubled 15-year-old female student who stabbed two Snohomish High School classmates. Earlier this year, a jury found that the high school failed to protect the girls,” who both survived life-threatening injuries, “and ordered it to pay $1.3 million to the victims. The attacker,” whose identity has not been disclosed, “is serving a 13-year sentence.”
Not everyone who wreaks havoc at a school is a hunter. There has been no indication that the young woman who stabbed her classmates hunted. Adam Lanza, 20, who on December 14, 2012 killed 20 children, six faculty, his mother, and himself in Newtown, Connecticut, was not only not a hunter but also, by some accounts, a vegan.
Yet hunting is much more common in the backgrounds of school shooters than among teens generally, or even teens involved in violent crime. Perhaps this is chiefly because teens who hunt are more likely than others to have access to guns in their homes. Or perhaps teens who hunt are more likely to have lowered inhibitions against killing.
Or perhaps both hunting and committing murder in response to perceived slights, including social rejection, bullying, and relationship failures, reflect the degree to which a social characteristic called dominionism prevails in a particular family or community.
Yale University professor Stephen Kellert, in a 1980 study commissioned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, defined dominionism as an attitude in which “primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery or control over animals,” a definition which other investigators later extended to include the exercise of “mastery or control” over women and children.
Kellert reported that the degree of dominionism in the American public as a whole rated just 2.0 on a scale of 18. Humane society members rated only 0.9. Recreational hunters, however, rated from 3.8 to 4.1, while trappers scored 8.5.
Hunting & crimes against children
Both the Marysville school shootings and the Newtown shootings in December 2012 occurred in locations familiar to me from previous news reporting jobs. Both incidents also recalled a three-year statistical research project I started in 1994, after noticing unusually high rates of both hunting participation and prosecuted sexual abuse of children in the upstate New York/Vermont border region where I worked at that time.
Comparing the rates of hunting participation and crimes against children in all 232 counties of New York, Ohio, and Michigan, I found that in 21 of 22 New York counties of almost identical population density, the county with the most hunters also had the most prosecuted sexual abuse of children.
Ohio counties with more than the median rate of hunting license sales had 51% more reported child abuse, including 33% more sexual abuse and 82% more neglect.
Michigan children were nearly three times as likely to be neglected and twice as likely to be physically abused or sexually assaulted if they lived in a county with above average hunting participation.
Michigan as of 1994 sold twice as many hunting licenses per capita as upstate New York, but had seven times the rate of convicted child abuse, and twice as high a rate of sexual assault on children.
Further, hunting participation in all three states tracked more closely parallel to crimes against children than other factors including income levels and educational attainment.
The data, in short, supported a hypothesis that both hunting and child abuse may be symptomatic of local cultural tendencies toward dominionism.
“Mastery or control”
Dominionism, in which “primary satisfactions [are] derived from mastery or control over animals,” may also be a factor in why pit bull admirers choose to acquire dogs who are more than 10 times as likely to kill or disfigure someone than the average dog––and frequently keep their pit bulls on heavy chains, while alleging that the victims of attacks are to blame for their injuries because they fail to control their attackers.
Also coming to my mind after any school massacre is the case of arch-dominionist Andrew Phillip Kehoe, of Bath, Michigan. The community took no meaningful action against Kehoe after he beat a horse to death. Instead, he was in 1924 elected school board treasurer. But despite winning elected office, Kehoe failed to get his way, both in politics and at home. On May 16, 1927, after months of planning and hiding bombs in the new Bath school building, Kehoe bludgeoned his wife to death, burned his barn with all his animals tied inside it, and detonated bombs that killed 38 elementary school children, two teachers, four other adults, and himself. He might have killed more, but not all of his hidden bombs exploded.
The victims in Bath, Newtown, and Marysville, the 304 humans killed by pit bulls in the U.S. since 1982, and the more than 2,100 humans disfigured by pit bulls each reflect comparable failures of society to recognize that violence against humans and animals are a continuum.
Celebrating either the achievements of sport hunters or the capabilities of fighting dogs amounts to celebrating the attitudes––and weapons––which at times find expression in murder and quasi-accidental mayhem.
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(See also “Killing the white deer & the Marysville Massacre,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-RD; “New York state statistics show link: hunters & molesters,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/new-york-state-statistics…/; Ohio data confirms hunting/child abuse link: stronger than link to rural poverty,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/ohio-data-confirms…/; and “Michigan stats confirm hunting/child abuse link,” http://www.animals24-7.org/…/michigan-stats-confirm…/.)