First published in 2004, Shooter is a young adult novel by Walter Dean Myers about a school shooting. It delves into the perpetrator’s psychological profile as well as the cultural forces behind the violence. The story examines US gun culture, bullying, drug abuse, and dysfunctional family dynamics as causal factors. Myers tells the story through official interviews, police reports, newspaper clippings, and a diary.
Myers has written more than 70 books for children and young adults, including The New York Times bestseller Monster, which won the first-ever Michael L. Prinz award. Myers has also won six Coretta Scott King awards and two Newbery honors.
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Content Warning: Shooter contains descriptions of gun violence, domestic abuse, racist incidents, and suicide. It also contains anti-gay language and discussions of sexual assault.
The SuperSummary difference
The story takes place months after a fatal April school shooting. A picture of the incident is formed by three incident analysis reports—filed by a psychologist, an FBI agent, and a threat assessment specialist—as well as a sheriff’s report and the deceased killer’s diary.
The story opens with Dr. Richard Ewings, a senior county psychologist, interviewing Cameron Porter, a 17-year-old former student at Madison High School. Cameron was a friend of Leonard (“Len”) Gray, the shooter who killed one student and himself. Cameron comes from a wealthy, two-parent family, but he says that he and his parents don’t talk much. When they do talk, he says his parents mostly talk about their jobs, and that they are gone a lot, traveling for business. Cameron tells the doctor how his father frequently bullies him for not measuring up to his expectations.
Cameron describes how Len Gray introduced him to gun culture. Cameron accompanied Len to a shooting range at a private camp where Len’s father was a member. During the outing, Cameron, who is African American, watched as men shot at a target with a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on it.
Despite the racist incident, Cameron continued to hang out with Len. In fact, he went along with Len’s idea to vandalize a church. Cameron’s interview with FBI Special Agent Victoria Lash reveals that Len wrote “GOD DOESN’T LIVE HERE” on the church and also the number “88” (27). Lash points out that the number 88 is a white supremacist code for “Heil, Hitler” (“H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet).
Cameron tells Ewings about how bullies, especially a jock name Brad Williams, targeted them and called them anti-gay names. He says that neither he nor Len was gay. Cameron recalls that after one bullying incident, Len was upset and obtained a prescription drug, probably Prozac, from a student he knew. This is one of several incidents where Len turned to drugs when things went wrong.
Cameron describes how Len wore black clothing and a black hat. He also mentions that Carla Evans, who was friends with both him and Len, “went dark.” Cameron explains that going dark basically means dropping out of mainstream culture and becoming an outsider. All three main characters are outsiders, although Len embraces more of an extreme cultlike identity.
Len and Carla hung out for a while, although Cameron says they didn’t really date. Carla broke it off with Len after she attended an illegal shooting with him in the woods. Len set up bags as targets, and, unbeknown to Carla and Cameron, put live turtles in the bags. Carla was outraged when she learned of this.
Cameron tells Ewings how Len cyberbullied Carla after their breakup. Len found out that Carla’s stepbrother molested her and revealed that information on the school’s email chain. Carla was devastated.
During her interview with Cameron, Lash asks where Len got the guns used in the shooting. Cameron tells her that Len bought an AR-18 from a guy at a gun show. Lash points out that police also recovered a Kalashnikov.
Despite the emotional pain he inflicted, Carla accepted Len’s apology and agreed to help him with his plan to write “Stop the Violence” on the walls of the school in his own blood (114). She planned to persuade him to use paint instead of blood. Cameron initially refused to participate in Len’s scheme, but after talking to Carla, he changed his mind. When Len asked him to buy paint, Cameron was convinced that nothing very serious would happen.
Cameron’s interview with Sheriff William Beach Mosley provides the most detailed account of what happened on the morning of April 22nd. Len was already in the library of the school when Carla and Cameron arrived. Cameron describes how Len followed through on his plan to paint “Stop the Violence” on the wall in blood (114). He also painted “Amos 8:3,” a biblical reference. Cameron says he didn’t know what it meant at the time and that after he told Len he didn’t want any part of a plan involving guns, Len chased and shot at him and Carla, knocking out a glass display case. Cameron pulled the fire alarm, but before it was all over, Len had fired from a third-floor window, killing Brad Williams and wounding other students before killing himself. Len’s body was found on the third floor with a Ruger pistol and a Kalashnikov rifle by his side.
Len’s diary, which he calls a “die-ary” (170), reveals a deeply disordered mind, bent by drugs and thoughts of suicide and homicide. He refers to his own thoughts as “scurrying little rats” (169).
He obsesses over Brad Williams bullying him. He describes his father repeatedly beating and bullying his mother. He writes about his drug abuse right after a bullying incident, and muses about becoming a killing machine.
Len shows no love or affection for anyone or anything except his guns. He refers to one gun as “a secret lover” and another as a “deadly maiden” (192, 186).
By Walter Dean Myers