What’s the motive for museum thefts?



What’s the motive for museum thefts?

James Ratcliffe – May 30, 2018
Gold reliquary containing Anne of Brittany’s heart. Photo: Guillaume Souvant/AFP/Getty Images

Two recent museum thefts can be taken to illustrate the thinking behind such crimes. One, in Nantes, saw thieves snatch a 16th-century solid gold reliquary containing the preserved heart of a French queen from the Thomas-Dobrée museum. The other, in Bath, involved the theft of Chinese jade and gold from the Museum of East Asian Art.

The Nantes theft was carried out in the night between 13 and 14 April, with the thieves breaking in through a window. Although the loss of the heart of Anne of Brittany, which had only gone back on display on the Tuesday of the preceding week, attracted the majority of attention, the thieves also took a range of gold coins and medals and a gilt sculpture of a Hindu deity – the latter presumably in the mistaken belief that it too was gold. This theft appears to be a prime example of opportunism. The return to display of the reliquary presumably drew the attention of the thieves and they then took the first available opportunity to take it, and other items that appeared valuable to them at the same time. Little planning was presumably carried out if amongst their haul of gold was a gilt sculpture of far lower financial value. The fact that the reliquary was subsequently buried just outside Saint Nazaire (a nearby town), from where it was recovered after police were led to it following two arrests, indicates that it is unlikely that the thieves had thought beyond the initial ‘smash and grab’ element of their crime and had not considered how to dispose of their haul.

In contrast – although superficially similar in that the thieves broke in through a window during the early hours of the morning – the theft from the Museum of East Asian Art in Bath on 17 April appears to have been highly targeted. The pieces taken seem to have been selected based on their quality and cultural significance, rather than simply their material, which ranged from jade to soapstone to zitan wood, or obvious financial value. The thieves made their selection of objects rapidly and fled the scene in under five minutes before the police could arrive, indicating that significant planning must have gone into the robbery. Again in contrast to the Nantes theft, as yet it appears that none of the material stolen has been recovered, nor have any arrests been made.

This is not the first time that a European museum has suffered from what appears to be a targeted theft of Chinese material. Similar thefts have taken place over the last decade in Durham, at the Fitzwilliam in Cambridge, and at the Château de Fontainebleau. This kind of crime appears to be carried out with a specific view to then selling the pieces stolen to the Chinese market where it is relatively easy to find a buyer, and the chances of a piece being identified are far lower than if it were offered to the Western art market.

Sadly, museums are particularly vulnerable to targeted thefts such as this. Their very nature, with publicly listed catalogues of their collections (the full collection of the Museum of East Asian Art is available online), and outreach programs to ensure that people are aware of their existence and holdings, means that for those who are seeking particular types of item and are prepared to secure them through illicit means they are almost a shop window for criminals. It is essential that museums resist the temptation to keep their collections private, but their public nature does mean that it is also essential to factor in security when planning exhibitions, building works, and storage.

Equally, museums remain vulnerable to opportunistic theft of pieces on display such as appears to have been the case in Nantes. It is rare, but criminals see the pieces within museums as valuable, and thus worth stealing if an opportunity to do so arises. As in this case though, they rarely have a plan for how to turn that value into cash, and thus end up hiding the items when it becomes clear that they are not as easy to fence as they might have hoped.

Ultimately, for the general public, historians, and museums themselves, the outcomes of these thefts are often sadly indistinguishable: the loss of items integral to their collections. Tackling museum theft is dependent upon financial resources for security and policing, but for museums, especially those with lower budgets, an increased awareness of the types of items likely to be liable to targeted theft, and of the risks of opportunistic theft prompted by publicity, is well worth keeping in mind.

James Ratcliffe is director of recoveries & general counsel at the Art Loss Register, London.

Girl, 17, plotted grenade attack on British Museum, court told



Girl, 17, plotted grenade attack on British Museum, court told

Safaa Boular allegedly began to plan terrorist attack after her Isis militant fiance was killed in Syria


A teenage girl plotted to launch a gun and grenade attack on the British Museum after her attempts to become a jihadi bride were thwarted, a court heard.

Safaa Boular was 17 when she allegedly decided to become a “martyr” after her fiance, an Islamic State militant was killed in Syria.

She was so determined to attack London that she enlisted the help of her older sister after she was charged with planning to go to Syria, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday.

Rizlaine Boular, 21, had already admitted planning an attack in Westminster, that was allegedly to involve knives, with the alleged help of their mother, Mina Dich, 43, the jury was told.

Duncan Atkinson QC, prosecuting, told how Safaa Boular’s alleged plotting followed a failed attempt to marry the Isis member Naweed Hussain.

The couple declared their love for each other in August 2016, after three months of chatting on social media, the court heard.

Atkinson told jurors Boular wanted to join Hussain in Syria where they would carry out an attack. He said: “Their plan then was that together they would, as Hussain put it, depart the world holding hands and taking others with them in an act of terrorism.”

The court heard Rizlaine Boular had also tried to go to Syria two years before.

After Safaa Boular’s plan was uncovered, she allegedly switched her attention to Britain, keeping contact with Hussain through the encrypted messaging service Telegram.

The security services deployed specially trained officers to engage in online communication with them, jurors heard.

Atkinson said: “It was clear that Hussain had been planning an act of terrorism with Safaa Boular in which she could engage if she remained in this country. Both Hussain and Safaa Boular talked of a planned ambush involving grenades and/or firearms.”

She also told an officer posing as an Isis militant that all she needed was a “car and a knife to get what I want to achieve”, the court heard.

Atkinson said: “Based on her preparation and discussion, it appears she planned to launch an attack against members of the public selected largely at random in the environs of that cultural jewel and most popular of tourist attractions, the British Museum in central London.”

An attack would have caused at least widespread panic and was intended to cause injury and death, the court was told.

When she learned Hussain had been killed in April 2017, Boular’s determination was strengthened, the court heard. She was allegedly encouraged by her mother and sister to become a “martyr”.

But within days, she was charged with planning to go to Syria and was unable to carry out her “chilling intentions”, Atkinson told the court.

He said: “However, that those intentions were not just chilling but sincere and determined is demonstrated by the fact that she did not abandon them even when she was unable to put them into effect herself. Rather, she sought to encourage her sister Rizlaine to carry the torch forward in her stead.”

Atkinson told jurors that Rizlaine Boular, of Clerkenwell, central London, had admitted preparing acts of terrorism, which was apparently to be a knife attack in Westminster.

Safaa Boular, now 18, who lived at home with her mother in Vauxhall, south-west London, denies two counts of preparing acts of terrorism.

The trial continues.

WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds



WA Art Gallery’s $300m collection at risk of damage, damning auditor-general report finds

The WA Art Gallery lacks space to store its works appropriately, the report found. (ABC News: Louise Merrillees)

Western Australia’s $300 million state art collection is at risk of damage or loss thanks to a lack of storage space and appropriate conservation, an auditor-general’s report has found.

The report, released today by acting auditor-general Sandra Labuschange, said the collection was at risk because of “storage, conservation, and monitoring issues”.

It found the Art Gallery of Western Australia (AGWA), which manages the collection, does not know where all its works are stored nor what condition they are in.

This is because its database is poorly documented, key records are incomplete and there has been no stocktake since 2010.

But AGWA director and chief executive Dr. Stefano Carboni said there were only 10 items out of the near-18,000 works that did not have a location recorded in the database.

The report also noted problems with storage.

“AGWA struggles to balance its responsibilities to grow and also preserve the state’s $300 million art collection,” the report stated.

“A significant shortage of appropriate storage space places artworks at risk of damage from not being stored in line with industry standards, and limits access to the collection for conservation work and public engagement.”

Auditors observed full storage shelves and artworks stored in almost every aisle and walkway. (Supplied: Office of the Auditor-General WA)

The report found many examples of overcrowded storage areas and art being stored in aisles and walkways.

“AGWA does not have a plan to ensure all artworks are conserved, with conservation almost entirely focused on the small part of the collection going on display each year.”

Ms. Labuschange said the findings were a serious concern.

“We have a $300 million asset of the state which isn’t being properly conserved and looked after,” she said.

“Generally, people tend to down play this type of asset because it’s art, but if we had a public building in that same condition we would not be happy.”

She said the report did not consider any works that may have been damaged as a result of storage management.

No artworks damaged, the director says

Dr. Carboni said he accepted the findings in a “general way”, especially the issue of storage, which he said he had been reporting for years to the board and the State Government.

“This is not new,” Dr. Carboni said.

“I am not aware of any museum that doesn’t have storage issues, the database is always a difficult beast.

“We are trying to contain, as much as possible, the risk that’s associated with having crammed spaces in storage.”

Dr. Carboni said no artworks had been damaged or were “at risk” currently because only specialized people could access the storage areas.

“We do the best to minimize the risk and I certainly don’t have to report any damage to the works that has happened in recent times.”

Dr. Carboni said the audit was a good opportunity to push for improvements, especially with the storage issue.

‘Fixing the issues will not be easy’

The collection is kept almost entirely at the AGWA building at the Perth Cultural Centre.

It is home to almost 18,000 works from WA, Australia, and international artists.

The audit report identified 99 artworks that needed treatment more than seven years ago.

It is unclear whether these works have been treated.

“Establishing a plan is particularly important given the limited resources AGWA has available to carry out this work,” the report found.

The report praised the way the gallery had attracted visitors over the years but said more needed to be done to reach a regional WA audience.

A number of recommendations were made, including fixing the lack of storage space, making artwork more accessible and steps to better manage and maintain the location and condition of the collection.

“While fixing the issues will not be easy in a time of restrained government spending, the AGWA staff we met showed a dedication and passion to finding ways to address the issues,” Ms. Labuschange said.

Art Gallery of WA
The Art Gallery has admitted it has some “critical” issues to address. (Matthew Perkins: ABC Local Radio)

Gallery recognizes ‘critical’ problems

In its reply, AGWA accepted the findings on the need to improve the care and management of the collection, and the need to broaden its access.

It said it recognized the “critical” need for additional storage and was working with the Government to find a “speedy” offsite solution.

AGWA said there was scope to improve its recordkeeping and it was working to implement improvements to its system.

It said it was working to develop an improved stocktake system and “control” of artworks by June 2019.

“AGWA will also develop a multi-year project as part of its conservation program to implement a safe tagging and external tracking system,” a spokesman said

AGWA said it was working on a three-year pilot program to tour “more high-quality visual arts exhibitions” to regional communities.

Crew conserving art



Crew conserving art



Helen Robertson speaking at the Art at Sea Symposium


It will come as no surprise that priceless pieces of art, from sculptures to paintings, feature in many yacht’s collections. Are owners aware that their precious works on board – in some cases, collections that out value the vessel they are placed on – may be depreciating rapidly due to improper care? At last month’s Art at Sea Symposium, much of the conversation centered on the fact that many crews may not be equipped with the knowledge to properly care for the art on board.

There are many elements that can impact an artwork’s condition; the layout of a yacht (the artwork’s proximity to a window with excessive light levels, for example), the temperature, the levels of humidity, vibration and the possibility of encountering water or pollutants. Helen Robertson, senior object and preventive conservator at the National Maritime Museum, spoke to SuperyachtNews to discuss the importance of educating crew about conservation techniques. Robertson, who worked as a chief stewardess for over a decade, first became interested in conservation when she felt obligated to speak to the yacht’s owner after noticing a piece of art deteriorating. “I knew that something was wrong, that the designer didn’t want to change the look and nobody else was going to step in and do anything about it. The last resort was going to the owner and try to explain what was happening.”

Robertson explains that these works of art are often (evidently) aesthetically appreciated by the owners, but also monetarily valued. This, she recalls, was the most effective way to ensure that the piece of art was correctly cared for and repositioned. “The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

“The realization that the artwork was effectively being destroyed was enough to make him move it. He didn’t think about it until it was pointed out from a realistic, financial investment point of view that he actually did something. He loved the work, but he didn’t understand necessarily what was happening to it and the damage being done.”

The thought-process behind the placement and care of artwork varies between each project. Some owners (and their designers) begin a yacht’s design with the pieces at the forefront of their minds, whereas others do not consider it so carefully. Robertson’s experience on one vessel – where the art was being compromised – encouraged her to do some of her own research on best practices. “Early in my stewardessing days, I worked on one boat that had a sizeable collection but its care was an afterthought. So, that led me to discover the National Trust Manual of Housekeeping to learn more,” she remarks.

The interior crew of a superyacht is trained to an incredibly high level, but the care of art is not often something that is known on board. “I realized that, from a housekeeping point of view, we were trained to clean and to be well-presented, but not necessarily trained to care and conserve. Therefore, finding that manual really helped me understand a bit more, of what was going on, especially with elements that I couldn’t see, and to introduce different practices.”

An appreciation of art and an understanding of the artist’s intent is also important. She recalls an incident where a junior stewardess attempted to pick off original painted cornflakes from a Basquiat painting, potentially ruining it. Another story involved a captain removing the ‘packaging’ from a priceless Christo, where the wrapping was a core part of the artwork itself.

The prevalence of discretion is an issue that is often encountered in the yachting industry, as many owners do not wish – for personal and security reasons – the world to know which artworks are on board. However, this can raise concerns when it comes to artworks that occupy a significance in cultural heritage. Conservators or art experts are often called in at late notice, or when the damage has already been inflicted on a certain piece. If damage does occur, the crew can be reticent to report any harm caused to the piece for fear of repercussions. Further, owners could also fear that damage reported could negatively impact any value of the artwork.

Robertson recommends that yacht has a comprehensive, central management system that details all the artworks on board, their current condition, ownership, and customs status and best methods to care for them. Another method to reduce any potential damage is for each yacht to have an ‘art officer’; a nominated crew member who understands the importance of using the correct materials on board. However, Robertson cites high crew turnover as an issue that yachts could encounter, suggesting that the management company take on this role or external specialist support is sought. “To place that role on an individual on board is hard, especially considering the specialist knowledge required… I know from my time as a stewardess, being crew is a full-time job and adding an extra layer of high-risk responsibility on that is not necessarily fair. Also, you don’t know how long they are going to be on board for… Where does that information go? Is it passed on?”

To combat the issues faced, and to encourage more in the industry to understand how vital it is to understand conservation of pieces on board, Robertson will be working with Pandora Mather-Lees (founder of Pandora Art Services and co-organizer of the Art at Sea Symposium) to develop training courses for the crew. Conservation of artwork and its impact on yacht’s designs and systems will be discussed in detail in the next issue of The Crew Report.

Former Sedalian confesses to museum theft of Civil War antiques


Former Sedalian confesses to museum theft of Civil War antiques

Nuria Martinez-Keel – Apr 4, 2018

Terry J. Cockrell

On March 24, museum co-curator Charles Wise reported several Civil War era items were missing, including a cap and ball musket rifle, a sword, a surgical kit, and a brass-barrel Blunderbuss firearm. The items have a value of several thousand dollars, meaning Cockrell’s charge could reach felony status.

After an internet search, Wise found a Tennessee Civil War collector, Rafael Eledge, had the missing items displayed on his website. Eledge provided documents from his purchase of the antiques that tied Cockrell to the theft, according to the press release.

Cockrell reportedly told Green he stole the items and sold them to the collector. Eledge, who had no knowledge the items were stolen, purchased the antiques in June and has since resold them to buyers across the country.

Artwork in Baylor’s Old Main removed after thefts


Artwork in Baylor’s Old Main removed after thefts



Adrienne Harris, a Baylor University associate professor of Russian, holds “Bogatyrs,” an art print that was stolen from Old Main, then returned.

Three incidents of artwork theft from a Baylor University academic building prompted the department of modern languages and cultures to remove more than 90 replica paintings from its walls.

Although two of the three pieces were anonymously returned this weekend, Baylor officials are unlikely to reset the aesthetic in the historic Old Main without heightened security.

The first painting was reported missing in January 2017, and another went missing in December, university spokeswoman Tonya Hudson said. A third was reported missing March 28.

Hudson said the second and third stolen paintings were left propped up against an exterior door to Old Main on Sunday, but Baylor police do not know who took or returned them. The stolen property is worth less than $1,000, and police are still searching for the first piece.

The crimes would likely be Class B misdemeanor theft of property.

A sign in Old Main at Baylor University notifies students the artwork has been taken down because of a third theft in the last 14 months. Two of the stolen pieces have been returned, and officials are considering new security measures before returning the art to the walls.

The department’s interim chair, Michael Long, said each piece in the building corresponded with faculty members’ areas of study. The artwork is now stored in an undisclosed location.

“It’s very dramatic to walk in and suddenly see bare wall when there was always something that would catch your eye,” Long said. “It’s a very striking contrast.”

Long said he has discussed security enhancements with Baylor police. By the fall semester, the school may install cameras and anchor the prints to the wall, he said.

Officials also said news reports about the thefts, including a Baylor Lariat article published on Thursday, may have motivated someone to return the prints.

A replica of the 1898 painting, “Bogatyrs,” by Viktor Vasnetsov, was taken from Old Main at Baylor University but returned on Sunday.

One of the stolen pictures returned Sunday was a print of “Bogatyrs,” a depiction of three knights by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov created in 1898. Adrienne Harris, an associate professor of Russian, said her students were upset to learn the piece had been taken. The thief or thieves were probably unaware of its cultural significance, she said.

“The painting itself is part of the national revival of the 19th century when Russian artists and authors were very much interested in folklore,” Harris said.

Four artworks vanish from French parliament



Four artworks vanish from French parliament

April 4, 2018

Four works of art have vanished from the walls of France’s national assembly, parliamentary officials said Wednesday, prompting a police investigation to track them down.

Confirming a report by the Canard Enchaine investigative newspaper, the speaker’s office said the four artworks had been discovered missing after an annual inventory at the end of last year.

“Searches up until now have not allowed us to locate them,” the office said, adding the artworks had been “hanging on the walls of offices” in the lower house of parliament on the southern bank of the River Seine in Paris.

They include a piece by the Greek artist Takis which belongs to France’s National Contemporary Art Fund, paintings by French modern artists Herve Telemaque and Richard Texier, and an engraving by an unknown artist.

A legal complaint has been filed and a police source told AFP that investigators from the Banditry Repression Brigade in Paris, which handles art theft, have taken up the case.

Data Analysis Reveals Some Shocking Art Theft Truths



Data Analysis Reveals Some Shocking Art Theft Truths

Art theft is a major problem all around the world. With an estimated total loss of up to $6 billion, the crime is second only in dollar value to arms dealing, drug trafficking and money laundering.

A recent analysis of the INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) art theft database performed by Element Paints has revealed some interesting details about what these art thieves are up to.

Which Countries Are Most Affected by Art Theft?


Four countries in the Middle East earn the top spots for art theft. With Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya by far the largest targets for art thieves. It seems the chaos that exists in these war-torn countries makes them an ideal target. Unfortunately, few stolen items from this region are ever recovered.

France, Austria, Germany, Ukraine, Romania, and Belarus round out the top ten, but generally, these countries recover most of their stolen art. Unfortunately, Middle Eastern countries do not, and the majority of their stolen pieces are never recovered.

What Kind of Art Is Stolen?


Both sculptures and paintings make up the largest proportion of stolen items. The reason for this is unknown, it could be because these types of pieces are very common, or perhaps they are highly sought after on the black market.

Ceramic, gold and silverware, weapons, icons, and coins are also popular among thieves. Weapons, such as shields and swords, were surprisingly in the top 10 categories of stolen items but are obviously quite sought after. Religious items, furniture, and glassware also make the list, but these are not nearly as popular as the other art objects. Furniture is obviously difficult to steal and conceal, and glassware would likely have transportation issues.

Where is the Stolen Art Going?


Perhaps the most shocking revelation from this data analysis is where the stolen art ends up. It’s abundantly clear that most pieces will end up in Europe.

Virtually all the art stolen from Europe stays in Europe, although a small portion finds its way to Asia and the Americas. Almost all the art stolen from Asia and Africa ends up in Europe. Even the majority of art stolen from America ends up in Europe.

This fact is further highlighted by the fact that Paris is the number one city for recovered pieces for stolen art. Interestingly, Arandelovac, a small town in central Serbia, also recovers a lot of stolen art. This is likely a stop on the corridor from the Middle East to Europe.


All the data for this report was pulled from the public INTERPOL art theft database, and the graphs above are just a few highlights from the report. If you’re interested in learning more about international art theft then you can read the full art theft report on the Element Paints website.

Spanish Police Arrest Two in Barcelona on Suspicion of Selling Stolen Art to Finance IS



Spanish Police Arrest Two in Barcelona on Suspicion of Selling Stolen Art to Finance IS

 28 March 2018

Police in Barcelona said on March 28 that a network that traded in stolen Libyan artworks to fund groups affiliated with the Islamic State had been dismantled.

Two Spaniards aged 31 were arrested for their alleged involvement in the operation.

According to the Department of National Security, this was the first police operation in the world to take place “against the theft of art in territories besieged by terrorist groups.” Credit: Policia Nacional via Storyful

A Theoretical Explanation for the Increase in School Shootings



Relevant insights by the experts from American Military University


A Theoretical Explanation for the Increase in School Shootings

By Dr. Michael Pittaro, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice at American Military University

On February 14, Nikolas Cruz, a former student of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, walked onto school grounds and proceeded to randomly gun down students and teachers in one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history. Sadly, this story is a familiar one. It has once again ignited a series of national debates, particularly in reference to gun control and mental illness, and rightfully so. Why has there been such a surge in mass school shootings since Columbine in 1999?

There is no single answer to the cause of mass school shootings, but it goes much deeper and further than issues of gun control and mental illness. As a criminologist, I have several theoretical explanations that may shed some light on the topic by focusing on the shooters themselves.

Ever since the mass school shooting at Columbine High School, we can safely surmise that the typical American school shooter is likely to be a Caucasian adolescent male from a middle-class community who attends or attended a suburban high school. Further, the shooter is likely to be a loner, an outcast, and is described by teachers and peers as being socially awkward with a limited number of friends.

Reports also indicate that the majority of school shooters were victims of bullying. Bullying continues to be a pervasive social problem among adolescents and includes both verbal and physical provocation in schools, as well as cyberbullying. Many of the shooters were ridiculed, belittled, demeaned, or even ostracized to the point where it might be assumed revenge or retaliation became a strong motivating force for their actions.

Based on this information, Hirschi’s (1969) Social Control Theory can be used as a reliable and valid psychosocial explanation for school shootings, specifically in understanding the risk factors associated with someone who might resort to such violence.

Applying Social Control Theory to School Shootings

Unlike most criminological theories that explain why people engage in mass shootings and other crimes, Hirschi’s theory explains why people obey rules and remain law-abiding. Social control theories primarily focus on how external environmental and institutional factors influence how we conform to society’s rules and expectations.

Hirschi’s theory consists of four main “social bonds”. When one or more of the following social bonds are weakened, or severed altogether, individuals are more susceptible to crime and deviance.


Attachment is expressed as compassion and empathy toward friends, family, coworkers, and even acquaintances like classmates. School shooters lack attachment. They harbor and internalize anger, frustration, and disappointment that can stem from being bullied by their peers, whether real or perceived. These antagonistic emotions grow in the days, weeks, or months leading up to the attack. While some school shooters have targeted specific people, many of them, like Cruz, have fired indiscriminately. The random direction of these shooters’ aim suggests that they have no regard for human life and have rationalized their actions. This is very similar to the cognitive restructuring process that terrorists use to justify the killing of innocent lives.



Commitment pertains to the time and energy an individual spends pursuing a specific social goal or activity, such as obtaining a college degree or pursuing a particular position within their desired profession. Most people know that engaging in crime will likely jeopardize their career ambitions and educational goals; therefore, they conform to society’s norms and expectations. However, many school shooters adopt a mindset where they do not foresee a future beyond a shooting event. That is why many of them display a kill or be-killed attitude and are willing to take their own life by suicide or suicide by cop.


Individuals who are engrossed in conventional and fulfilling social activities often do not have the time or interest in engaging in unlawful activities. One of the main reasons parents want their children involved in athletics, extra- curricular activities, or any other socially appropriate activity is that it keeps them out of trouble and gives them a sense of belonging to a team, club, or social organization. Individuals who commit school shootings are often described as loners or outcasts, meaning they do not feel like a meaningful part of any group or community.


The fourth and final bond is when an individual believes in the social rules, expectations, and laws of society as taught to them by parents, family members, and friends as well as educational and religious institutions. The stronger one’s moral beliefs in the social norms, the less likely they are to participate in delinquent or criminal activities. Criminal offenders either disregard society’s shared beliefs or rationalize their own deviant behavior. For example, the belief that killing is wrong is reinforced by parents, education and religion; however, a shooter will disregard what he/she has been taught or rationalize their behavior so they can go through with the mass shooting.

Weak Social Bonds Lead to School Shootings

In order to fully understand and appreciate the paradigm and applicability of Hirschi’s theory, it is important to recognize the historical context from which he wrote Causes of Delinquency (1969). In the 1960s, Hirschi observed a loss of social control over individuals and an accompanying rise in crime, particularly among adolescents. Social institutions such as organized religion, the family, educational institutions, and political institutions were not as prominent in the life of adolescents. As a result, these individuals started to challenge conventional social norms and expectations. Hirschi blamed this on the breakdown of the aforementioned social institutions, particularly the breakdown of the family due to increasing rates of divorce and single-parent households.

Fast forward to present day and this shift in family structure has continued. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, 34 percent of children today are living with an unmarried parent—up from just 9 percent in 1960, and 19 percent in 1980. In most cases, these unmarried parents are single. I feel strongly that individuals who carry out school shootings can lack both resiliency and coping skills due to the breakdown of family structures, as well as reduced value placed on religious and educational institutions. These social institutions are important for molding and shaping individuals and instilling compassion, empathy, and respect for the law and those in authoritative positions.

More importantly, family members, friends, religious leaders, and teachers provide guidance to young people about how to adapt to—and cope with—rejection, disappointment, and frustration. Learning how to be resilient is important for adolescents. The American Psychological Association defines resilience as the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, and other significant sources of stress and how we “learn” to “bounce back” from difficult experiences.

Being resilient does not suggest that an individual does not experience challenges or distress. Rather, it emphasizes how one processes thoughts, behaviors, and actions when confronted with stress. One of the primary ways to build resilience is having a support system of family and friends. This support system is built on compassion and trust, and it provides individuals with unconditional encouragement and reassurance. People need to have a strong foundation of positive self-image and self-confidence to overcome low and challenging moments. While there are many factors that lead to school shootings, all children need to be taught how to manage stress in a healthy way to control their negative impulsive behaviors that often lead to self-destructive outcomes.

Ten Strategies to Build Resilience

The American Psychological Association outlined 10 strategies to build resilience:

  1. Make connections. Individuals need to build positive relationships with family members, friends and others whom can provide support. Being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support. It can also be beneficial to help others in their times of need.
  2. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable. Highly stressful events happen to everyone, but what counts is how one interprets and responds to them. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations. These are your coping mechanisms and can be consciously applied when you face future challenges.
  3. Accept that change is a part of living. As you get older, certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. When you accept that some circumstances cannot be changed, it allows you to focus on other circumstances that you can influence.
  4. Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward those goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
  5. Take decisive actions. Rather than detach completely from problems and stresses or wish they would just go away, take decisive actions to improve the situation as best you can. Avoidance is not the answer.
  6. Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and grow in some respect as a result of struggling with loss, rejection, or disappointment. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship report later they have stronger relationships, a greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, an increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and a heightened appreciation for life. As you’re going through a hardship, remember that there may be benefits in the long run.
  7. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Have confidence in your ability to solve problems and trust in your instincts. Believing in yourself in a positive way helps build your overall resilience.
  8. Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
  9. Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  10. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Teaching children and adolescents how to apply these strategies can help them build their resiliency so that when stressful situations happen—which they inevitably will—they have the ability to get through it in the most positive and beneficial way possible. The more equipped people are to cope with stress and adversity, the less chance they will turn to dangerous and impulsive actions, including school shootings.

school shootingsAbout the Author: Dr. Michael Pittaro is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice with American Military University and an Adjunct Professor at East Stroudsburg University. Dr. Pittaro is a criminal justice veteran, highly experienced in working with criminal offenders in a variety of institutional and non-institutional settings. Before pursuing a career in higher education, Dr. Pittaro worked in corrections administration; has served as the Executive Director of an outpatient drug and alcohol facility and as Executive Director of a drug and alcohol prevention agency. Dr. Pittaro has been teaching at the university level (online and on-campus) for the past 15 years while also serving internationally as an author, editor, presenter, and subject matter expert. Dr. Pittaro holds a BS in Criminal Justice; an MPA in Public Administration; and a Ph.D. in criminal justice.