Radford social work professor shares insight into school shootings with Virginia juvenile justice professionals
Philip Mongan, assistant professor of social work, is seeking clues before the crime.
Mongan shared his extensive research into the phenomena of mass school shootings with regional professionals in Portsmouth at the 2016 Virginia Juvenile Justice Association (VJJA) annual meeting.
As the plenary keynote speaker for the two-day gathering of more than 250 representatives of regional schools, departments of social service and juvenile justice, community service boards and police departments, Mongan presented a three-hour talk titled, "Kids Who Kill."
Mass killers aren’t born, according to Mongan, who is examining extreme school violence from a current and historical perspective.
"There is a multi-stage process through which these children move from seemingly normal to mass killer," said Mongan. "It is a phenomena in which we have to put many pieces together to find the story."
Mongan presented research based on a variety of sources related to incidents across the country. He has studied police transcripts, individual videos and the journals and writings of shooters to understand “a process that leads a kid to perpetrate a school shooting.”
According to Mongan, the kids’ writings are reflective of the process through which they go and that writing and schoolwork changes can be indicative of danger.
“Early recognition will help us rehabilitate vulnerable young people. My goal is to prevent these incidents, so we can then help the kids through treatment,” he said.
Mongan said the Virginia Juvenile Justice Association membership was eager to challenge any misperceptions and learn how to assess potential threats. He added that they offered valuable feedback to him as a researcher as well.
“They represent the entire spectrum of those who handle kids in the juvenile justice system from case workers to deputy directors,” Mongan said. “It is exciting to work with the folks who are at the forefront.”
Committed to child advocacy, the VJJA is divided into six district chapters and is comprised of professionals from court services, the Department of Juvenile Justice, indigent defense, the judiciary, secure detention, juvenile correctional facilities, halfway houses, group homes, social services, private providers and others with an interest in youth and family services.
"I am heartened by the statewide juvenile justice system. It is capable, enthusiastic and treatment-oriented," Mongan said. "They really want to help this population."
Internationally, Mongan has presented three times at the International Symposium on Children and Youth. Domestically, he has presented at the Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference and at the American Society of Criminology.
Author of a book moving toward production and a U.S. Army veteran, Mongan is interested in the parallel between learning to kill and the transitioning process of combat veterans back into civilian life.
Mongan coordinates the Radford School of Social Work’s longstanding field experience program with the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salem to place Masters of Social Work candidates there for clinical experiences.