Headlines are referring to a school shooter as lovesick
Jaelynn Willey in an undated photo from her YouCaring page.
- On Tuesday, officials say that 17-year-old Austin Rollins in St. Mary's County, Maryland.
- One of the victims, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey, was reportedly his ex-girlfriend.
- Willey was taken off life support late Thursday night.
- Police officers said that Rollins and Willey had recently ended a relationship, and referred to Rollins as being "lovesick."
- People on social media pushed back against characterizing Rollins as "lovesick," saying that this normalizes abusive relationships.
On Tuesday, officials say that 17-year-old Austin Rollins entered Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County, Maryland, with a handgun and shot two students. He was killed while being apprehended by an officer, according to Business Insider. One of the shooting victims, a 14-year-old boy, was treated for his injuries and released on the same day. The other victim, 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey, died late Thursday night after she was taken off life support.
On Wednesday, police officers in St. Mary's County revealed more details about the shooting, saying that Willey and Rollins had been in a relationship that "recently ended," according to the Baltimore Sun.
After this announcement, some news outlets, such as TIME and ABC News, began circulating a story from the Associated Press that said the motive for the attack was due to the fact that Rollins was "lovesick."
People on social media immediately began pushing back against this characterization, saying that it normalizes intimate partner violence.
Anthony Moll, a Baltimore-based writer and adjunct professor of writing, said that characterizing a killer as "lovesick" is more insidious than many people realize.
"Whether we like it or not, the news media set the agenda for the issues the public talks about and the way in which we talk about them," Moll told INSIDER. "For many, 'lovesick' may draw up images like that of Romeo and Juliet, and that not only unnecessarily editorializes the subject, but it does so in a way that may give a toxic and counterproductive perception of the matter to readers. Intimate partner violence is not a matter of lovesickness."
Abuse in teen relationships is more common than many think.
Teen dating violence is more common than many people realize. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 12% of high school females had experienced physical violence and nearly 16% had experienced sexual violence from a partner in the year before they were surveyed. The CDC also reports that those who experience dating violence in high school are more likely to experience it in college, too.
Willey was a competitive swimmer.
Characterizing abusive behavior as being "lovesick" trivializes abusive behavior.
Christine Gutierrez, a psychotherapist who specializes in relationship trauma, said that the relationship may have been abusive for some time, but friends and family wouldn't have known how to look for the signs.
"Abusive and toxic relationships escalate really quickly," Gutierrez told INSIDER. "And many people don't recognize the signs because so much of it is normalized in our culture. Verbal abuse will often transfer into physical abuse, and when you try to walk away, that's actually one of the most dangerous times for the person who is being abused."
This is not to say that anyone in an abusive relationship is solely responsible for anything that happens to them in the relationship. What it does mean, however, is that more people need to be aware of the many ways abuse in a relationship can be manifested.
"My guess is that this couple had some sort of history of emotional and verbal abuse, at the very least," Gutierrez told INSIDER. "For me, this 'lovesick' phrasing points to abusive relationships and the lack of information people have on them. This [abuse] is happening earlier and earlier on, and people aren't equipped with tools for dealing with it."
Much of this has to do with the stories that get represented in the media, and how, exactly, they are represented — especially in the media.
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