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Thriller Thursday: T.J. Lane. Poster Child for New Generation of Killers?

On Tuesday, T.J. Lane, 18, was sentenced to three life sentences for shooting three students to death in an Ohio high school cafeteria after pleading guilty for the February 2012 shootings at Chardon High School.

Instead of showing any remorse–either real or a fake attempt for the chance of a lesser sentence–Lang wore a t-shirt with the word “killer” scrawled across the chest. As he he was sentenced, he cursed and gestured obscenely at the families of the victims.

Despite evidence Lane suffers from hallucinations, psychosis, and fantasies, a juvenile court judge ruled him competent to stand trial.

According to The Huffington Post, Lane was “defiant during the sentencing, smiling and smirking throughout, including while four relatives of victims spoke.

At one point, he swiveled around in his chair toward the gallery where his own family members and those of the slain teenagers were sitting and spoke suddenly, surprising even his lawyer.

“The hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory,” he said, then cursed at and raised his middle finger toward the victims’ relatives.”

In all the true crime I’ve studied, all the firsthand accounts of killer’s confessions I’ve read, this trumps them all. The coldblooded killer with dead eyes and a cocky attitude is so common in thriller novels that it’s nearly cliché, but Lang seems to have brought the stereotype to life.

My question is, why? Why is this young man so cruel?

According to records, Lang’s father was violent. Between ’95 and ’97, his parents were both charged with domestic violence against the other. Later, his father was charged with assaulting a police officer. He also served time in prison for trying to suffocate another woman he married some time after the birth of his son.

Clearly, Lang witnessed and suffered horrible abuse at an age when our personalities are defined. His lashing out is something that is seen time and time again with people who come from twisted backgrounds. Incomprehensible as the murders are, a psychologist could likely make sense of Lang with serious study.

But what of the final bout of pure cruelty and disrespect? His attitude reflects a disturbing trend in today’s youth. Lang is an extreme case of the self entitled, hateful attitude seen in more and more often in his generation. Why? Is it because we as a country are soft? Because our kids aren’t disciplined the way we were? Because their lives are so comparatively easy to what we experienced growing up?

Or is Lang’s show of utter disrespect merely a biproduct of his psychosis, or some sort of self defense mechanism?

What do you think? Is TJ Lane just another victim of abuse, or is he a reflection of a darker, more dangerous generation?

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To read more about T.J Lane’s crime and trial, read the full Huffington Post article.
To read more about T.J Lane’s background, visit here.

13 comments on… “Thriller Thursday: T.J. Lane. Poster Child for New Generation of Killers?”

  1. I definitely think he is a sociopath, and that has less to do with what he suffered as a child, and more to do with how his brain works. Cruelty and utter disrespect for morality — despite having very clear understanding of what is “right” and “wrong”, hence his competence to stand trial — are typical, textbook characteristics of a sociopath. I would refrain from using him as an example for a generation, since he clearly has a personality disorder that prevents him from empathizing with and adjusting to his environment & peers.

    • I think he is a sociopath as well, but I wonder, had he not been subjected to the nurture portion of the argument, if he would have committed these acts? It’s hard to say.

      You make a good point about not including him as an example for his generation, though. It just worries me because it seems as though we as a culture are getting more and more callous.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts!

  2. I think he stands alone in his act. Many an abuse child went on to achieve great things. But I agree there is something missing in this generation, there’s definitely a sense of entitlement. That show’s like snooky and other MTV ones are popular baffle me.

    • I agree. Scores of children survive abuse and while they certainly have their own demons, they don’t become killers.

      YES on the sense of entitlement in this generation. Much as I hate to say it, I think some of the blame lies with technology. Everything is so much easier, right at their fingertips.


      • The instant access to information and to a medium that adults cannot effectively supervise (the internet) gives kids a lot of freedom before they have a chance to learn responsibility. It’s to be expected that they cannot handle it, well, responsibly.

        The solution, IMO, is not to restrict their freedoms (the worms are out of the can on that one for good), but to teach them responsibility for their actions and their expressed opinions much earlier, and that falls mostly with the parents. But today’s parents prefer to place blame on institutions and the media. So I think it’s also the older generation’s fault for not adapting quickly enough to the challenges of raising kids in an electronic age. Sad but true.

  3. I see it as pure evil. I can’t even imagine how someone could be this way. Do we ask ourselves why this generation is so much worse? I have an idea, but my notions aren’t popular. Let’s just say it has a lot to do with the difference in the way kids are raised.

    • You have a great point, Lauralynn. Kids are not raised the way they used to be. I know I couldn’t get away with most of the stuff I see kids doing in public.


  4. Sociopath is a nice label. The boy wants to be famous. In his twisted brain the road to fame was paved with murder. Yep, we’re breeding a lot more of them. His parents weren’t any prizes but how many of us went through our childhood without a physical rebuke from our parents. In the dystopian society that is fodder in sci-fi stories his parents would’ve been sterilized. He would’ve been “reeducated”

    • I would say he definitely wants to be famous and his actions made him feel powerful, possibly even as though he were reliving that moment of control he had when killing. Very sad.

      Thanks, Tom!

  5. My opinion on this is not a popular one.

    First, yes, we have had an increase in these kinds of psychopaths. Full-blown antisocial personality disorder (the official diagnosis for this) is at least 3% in males and 1% in females. This is three times the percentage of 3 decades ago.

    Second, yes, this is caused by a combination of genes and very, very faulty home environment.

    But the overall societal environment is probably playing a role. Here’s the part that isn’t real popular. Violence on TV, in movies and especially in video games is teaching children that hurting others is normal, okay and a way to get what you want (a tremendous body of research has found this to be true). Some kids, most even, get that there is a difference between fantasy and reality. But some don’t and they then become a major hazard to our entire society.

    We need to rethink whether media for entertainment should be considered protected by the 1st amendment. Should corporations have the right to contaminate our kids’ minds in order to make a lot of money? That is not what the founding fathers meant by freedom of speech.

    • Kass, I was hoping you would weigh in on this. I am in complete agreement, actually. Most kids probably won’t be damaged in the long term from the violence and overall societal changes. But those with psychopathic tendencies are likely overstimulated and in serious danger.

      Your thoughts on the first amendment are really interesting. I am one who thinks it needs to be overhauled for a variety of reasons, but I hadn’t thought of it this way.

  6. He is damaged. Damaged by his home environment. Damaged by society that doesn’t care and didn’t step in.

    I see far to much of this in my work in Victim Impact.

    Yes, we have video games which have violent content, is this the fault of the manufacturer or the parent? Yes, we have movies with violent content, is this a parents responsibility or the movie maker?

    We also have failing schools.

    We also have in many cases, three generations of families in prison.

    We also have horrible poverty.

    We also have broken families. Lost homes. Lost dreams.

    There are far too many dysfunctions, we can’t blame one and not look at all of them.

    • I agree, to a point, Valentine. But as Kass, who is a psychologist, said, it’s hard not to think some of the external stimuli and sense of entitlement the younger generation has doesn’t factor into his overall attitude.

      I think it is a big mix of factors, and yes, we have to look at all of them.


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