School Shootings in America | Violence and Prescription Drugs

School Shootings

At least 36 school shootings or acts of violence committed at schools have been committed by individuals who were taking or withdrawing from psychiatric medications. In these incidents, at least 250 people were killed or wounded.

While this school shooting statistic is startling, it is also a conservative figure; in numerous mass school shootings, information on medication usage has never been publicized, which means it cannot be confirmed or denied that the perpetrators were under the influence of prescription drugs.

This psychiatric medication link is not limited to school shooters—dozens of acts of senseless violence have been perpetrated by individuals either taking or withdrawing from psychiatric prescription drugs. These tragedies (outside of schools) have killed at least 270 people and wounded at least 164.

Prescription Medications Linked to Violent Behavior

A study conducted by the Institute for Safe Medication Practices found that 31 prescription medications are disproportionately linked to reports of violent behavior. The researchers developed risk ratios for each medication compared to others in the database whilst adjusting for relevant factors that could result in misleading comparisons.

Per the study, the medications below were the most associated with violence adverse events:

  1. Varenicline (Chantix)
  2. Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  3. Paroxetine (Paxil)
  4. Amphetamines (Various)
  5. Mefoquine (Lariam)
  6. Atomoxetine (Strattera)
  7. Triazolam (Halcion)
  8. Fluvoxamine (Luvox)
  9. Venlafaxine (Effexor)
  10. Desvenlafaxine (Pristiq)

List of School Shootings in America With School Shooters on Drugs

School shootings have become ever more commonplace around the world and many of the school shooters responsible for these heinous attacks have been on psychiatric medications, including antidepressants, antipsychotics, ADHD medications, and sedatives all of which have connections to medication-induced violence. The list of school shootings below covers only some of the many high profile incidents with school shooters on drugs.

Date: Feb. 14, 2018
School: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (Parkland, FL)
Perpetrator: Nikolas Cruz, 19
Victims: 34 (17 dead, 17 wounded)
Medications: Unknown (ADHD)

It is unclear what medications, if any, Nikolas Cruz was taking at the time he opened fire on students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14, 2018. However, Cruz had previously been diagnosed with depression, autism and attention deficit hyper-activity disorder (ADHD). The link to violence caused by ADHD medication has been documented in medical literature for years.

Cruz was previously identified by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) as a “vulnerable adult due to mental illness” in an investigation. At the time DCF came to this conclusion, Cruz was taking medication for ADHD, per the New York Times. What remains unclear is which ADHD medication he was taking, and whether or not he was taking any other psychiatric prescription medications. 

Date: Nov. 20, 2014
School: Florida State University (Tallahassee, FL)
Perpetrator: Myron May, 31
Victims: Three (wounded)
Medications: Wellbutrin (antidepressant), Vyvanse (ADHD), Hydroxyzine (antianxiety), Seroquel (antipsychotic)

A Florida State University alum, Mr. May opened fire in the school’s library, wounding three before he was shot and killed by law enforcement. In the wake of the shooting, media outlets found a half-filled prescription for Hydroxyzine in his apartment. According to May’s friends, he had seen a psychologist who prescribed Wellbutrin and Vyvanse.

May had previously checked himself into Mesilla Valley Hospital (mental health center) around September of 2014. Not long after he checked in, May’s friends discovered the antipsychotic, Seroquel, among his prescriptions.

Date: June 5, 2014
School: Seattle Pacific University (Seattle, WA)
Perpetrator: Aaron Ybarra, 26
Victims: Three (one dead, two wounded)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant), Risperdal (antipsychotic)

Mr. Ybarra fired a shotgun at Seattle Pacific University, killing one person and wounding two others. Ybarra’s plan was to kill as many people as possible before killing himself.

In 2012, Mr. Ybarra reported that he had been prescribed Prozac and Risperdal. A report from his counselor the following year said that he was still taking Prozac and planned to continue to meet with his psychiatrist and therapist as needed. His attorney confirmed that Mr. Ybarra had a long history of mental health issues and he was taking prescribed drugs at the time of the shooting.

Date: Oct. 21, 2013
School: Sparks Middle School (Sparks, NV)
Perpetrator: Jose Reyes, 12
Victims: Three (one dead and two wounded)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant)

Jose Reyes, 12, opened fire at Sparks Middle School, killing a teacher and wounding two students before committing suicide. Investigators said Reyes had been seeing a psychiatrist and was prescribed a generic version of Prozac (fluoxetine), which was in his system at the time of death.

Date: Feb. 14, 2008
School: Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, IL)
Perpetrator: Steven Kazmierczak, 27
Victims: 26 (five dead, 21 wounded)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant), Xanax (antianxiety) and Ambien (sedative)

Steven Kazmierczak entered an auditorium at Northern Illinois University, shot and killed five people and wounded 21 others before turning a gun on himself. According to his girlfriend, he had recently been taking prescribed drugs Prozac, Xanax and Ambien. She reported that he had stopped taking Prozac three weeks before the shooting. Toxicology results showed that he still had trace amount of Xanax in his system. He was seeing a psychiatrist.

Date: Oct. 10, 2007
School: SuccessTech Academy (Cleveland, OH)
Perpetrator: Asa Coon, 14
Victims: Four (wounded)
Medication: Trazodone (antidepressant and sedative)

Asa Coon stormed through SuccessTech Academy with a gun in each hand, shooting and wounding four people before he killed himself. Coon had been prescribed the antidepressant Trazodone.

Date: April 16, 2007
School: Virginia Tech University (Blacksburg, VA)
Perpetrator: Seung-Hui Cho, 23
Victims: 49 (32 dead, 17 wounded)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant and sedative)

Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed two people on at the West Ambler Johnston Hall dormitory before proceeding to Norris Hall, where he shot and killed 30 people. Seventeen others were wounded in the rampage. In his younger years, Cho was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, severe anxiety and selective mutism. He was prescribed Prozac, and although it is unclear how long he took the medication, or if he took the medication at all, antidepressants and school shootings or other violent events have a long documented history.

Date: August 30, 2006
School: Orange High School (Hillsborough, NC)
Perpetrator: Alvaro Rafael Castillo, 19
Victims: Three (one dead at home, two wounded at school)
Medication: Unknown (antidepressant and antipsychotic)

Alvaro Rafael Castillo, 19, shot and killed his father before driving to Orange High School. He pulled a gun and shot two students who sustained injuries. The shooting ended when school personnel tackled him. When Castillo was interviewed after the shooting he was on two medications for depression and one antipsychotic.

Date: March 21, 2005
School: Red Lake Senior High School (Red Lake, MN)
Perpetrator: Jeff Weise, 16
Victims: 16 (two dead at home, seven dead and seven wounded at school)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant)

Jeff Weise, 16, shot and killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend, then went to Red Lake Senior High School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation and shot dead five students, a security guard and a teacher. Seven others were wounded. The attack ended with Weise killing himself.

Weise reportedly began taking Prozac after a suicide attempt.

Date: Feb. 2, 2001
School: North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School (Red Lion, PA)
Perpetrator: William Michael Stankewicz, 56
Victims: 14 (wounded)
Medication: Unknown (antidepressant and antianxiety)

William Michael Stankewicz, 56, entered North Hopewell-Winterstown Elementary School with a machete, attacked 11 children and three adults. Stankewicz was taking four different drugs for depression and anxiety weeks before the attacks.

Date: March 22, 2001
School: Granite Hills High School (El Cajon, CA)
Perpetrator: Jason Hoffman, 18
Victims: Five (wounded)
Medication: Celexa (antidepressant) and Effexor (antidepressant)

Jason Hoffman opened fire on his classmates at Granite Hills High School, wounding three students and two teachers. He had been seeing a psychiatrist before the shooting and was on the antidepressants Celexa and Effexor.

Date: May 20, 1999
School: Heritage High School (Conyers, GA)
Perpetrator: T.J. Solomon, 15
Victims: Six (wounded)
Medication: Ritalin (ADHD)

Anthony Thomas “T.J.” Solomon was being treated with the stimulant Ritalin when he opened fire on and wounded six of his classmates at Heritage High School. He had been taking the medication since the fourth grade.

Date: April 20, 1999
School: Columbine High School (Columbine, CO)
Perpetrator: Dylan Klebold, 18, and Eric Harris, 18
Victims: 39 (13 dead, 26 wounded)
Medication: Luvox (antidepressant)

Eric Harris and his accomplice, Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students and a teacher. Twenty-six others were wounded. Harris and Klebold committed suicide after the attack. Harris was on the antidepressant Luvox and was seeing a psychiatrist prior to the shooting. Klebold’s medical records remain sealed. Both had been in anger-management classes and had undergone counseling.

Date: May 21, 1998
School: Springfield, OR
Perpetrator: Kip Kinkel, 15
Victims: 29 (two dead at home, two dead and 25 others wounded at school)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant)

On May 20, 1998, Kinkel murdered his parents. The next day, he went to Thurston High School where he opened fire on students in the cafeteria, killing two people and wounding 25 others. Kinkel had been taking the antidepressant Prozac and was attending “anger control classes.” He had previously been under the care of a psychologist.

Date: Oct. 12, 1995
School: Blackville-Hilda High School (Blackville, SC)
Perpetrator: Toby R. Sincino, 15
Victims: Two (one dead, one wounded)
Medication: Zoloft (antidepressant)

Toby Sincino entered Blackville-Hilda High School’s rear entrance and shot two teachers, killing one. Mr. Sincino killed himself moments later. His aunt said he had been undergoing counseling with the Department of Mental Health and was taking Zoloft for emotional problems.

Date: Dec. 16, 1993
School: Chelsea High School (Chelsea, MI)
Perpetrator: Stephen Leith, 39
Victims: Three (one dead, two wounded)
Medication: Prozac (antidepressant)

Chemistry teacher Stephen Leith was facing a disciplinary matter at Chelsea High School when he shot Superintendent Joseph Piasecki to death, then turned his gun and shot Principal Ron Mead and journalism teacher Phil Jones. Mead and Jones survived. Leith was reportedly taking Prozac and had been seeing a psychiatrist.

Date: May 20, 1988
School: Hubbard Woods School (Winnetka, IL)
Perpetrator: Laurie Wasserman Dann, 30
Victims: Seven (one dead, six wounded)
Medication: Anafranil (antidepressant)

Ms. Wasserman Dann walked into a second grade classroom at Hubbard Woods School carrying three guns and began shooting, killing an eight-year-old boy and wounding five others. She fled the scene and entered a nearby house where she shot and wounded a 20-year-old man before killing herself. Dann had been seeing a psychiatrist and subsequent blood tests revealed that at the time of the killings, she was taking the antidepressant Anafranil. This case is one of first of many where antidepressants and school shootings would become intertwined

International Mass School Shootings and Other School Violence Incidents

Date: May 1, 2017
School: University of Texas (Austin, TX)
Perpetrator: Kendrex J. White, 21
Victims: Four (one dead, three wounded)
Medication: Zoloft (antidepressant)

Mr. White stabbed four people with what was described as a machete-like hunting knife at the University of Texas. The attack occurred within a one-block area. White “calmly walked around the plaza,” according to the chief of police.

After he was apprehended by law enforcement, White told police he did not remember the incident. According to the police department, White had recently been involuntarily committed in another city. County records showed that he had recently been arrested and charged with a DWI (Driving While Intoxicated). White told the officer responding to the DWI that he had taken two “happy pills,” listed as the antidepressant Zoloft.

Date: Sept. 23, 2008
School: Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (Kauhajoki, Finland)
Perpetrator: Matti Saari, 22
Victims: 10 victims (10 dead, one wounded)
Medication: Xanax (antianxiety), unnamed SSRI (antidepressant)

Culinary student Matti Saari shot and killed nine students and a teacher and wounded another student in an attack at Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences. The incident ended with Saari killing himself. Saari was taking an SSRI and Xanax. He was also seeing a psychologist.

Date: Nov. 7, 2007
School: Jokela High School (Jokela, Finland)
Perpetrator: Pekka-Eric Auvinen, 18
Victims: Nine (eight dead and one wounded)
Medication: Unknown (antidepressant)

Finnish gunman Pekka-Eric Auvinen was taking antidepressants before he killed eight people and wounded a dozen more at Jokela High School in southern Finland. The attack ended in suicide.

Date: June 8, 2001
School: Ikeda, Japan
Perpetrator: Mamoru Takuma, 37
Victims: 23 (eight dead, 15 wounded)
Medication: Unknown (antidepressant)

Mamoru Takuma entered an elementary school with a knife and stabbed eight young students to death. At least 15 other pupils and teachers were wounded. He then turned the knife on himself but suffered only superficial wounds. He told investigators that before the attack he had taken over 10 times his normal dose of antidepressants. Police said he had been under the care of a psychiatrist.