The Cossey family event came to the national attention last Thursday. I read about it on Friday, but figured the ‘fog of war’ would not clear for a few more days. At the start of it all, I collected 18 reports. Yesterday morning I added more. Without intending to diminish any horror that I imagine CNN would have heralded with French horns and swooping graphics, that is a lot of commotion for something that didn’t happen. I am glad, of course, that I am writing about the unhappiness of a family instead of murders.
Despite the relief that the new reports are of a non-event, we can examine the way the reporters portrayed the non-event, and how authorities and news audiences reacted to it.
The first impression was the emphasis on homeschooled. Dillon Cossey was a “home schooler.”
- ‘Bullied’ Home Schooler Arrested After Cops Find Weapons Cache in Pennsylvania, 11 October 2007, Fox News
That headline writer does not appear to think that either bullying is a problem, or that other kids bullied Dillon.
Other mentions were:
- “The teen previously attended middle school in the district but had been taught at home for more than a year after voluntarily leaving school.” (the Associated Press story picked up by many news outlets)
International Herald Tribune
Press & Sun Bulletin
ABC News in Toledo
- “Michele Cossey bought her home-schooled son a .22-caliber handgun …” (WTVG, Toledo, Ohio)
- “Michele Cossey bought her home-schooled son, Dillon, a .22-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber rifle and a 9 mm semiautomatic rifle, authorities said.” (MSNBC)
- “The home-schooled 14-year-old accused in the alleged plot against Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School — a school he doesn’t attend — was handcuffed Friday as sheriff’s deputies lead him to see a judge.” (NBC10)
- Police: Home-schooled teen had weapons, talked of school attack (Examiner.com)
Any time a child learns at home or parents continue living with a child after the age of five, just as they did before the age of five, the family or others attach a variant of the identifier ‘homeschooler’ either to the child or the family. Using that description can be useful, but it is not all-inclusive any more than skier, or baker. News reports titled with ‘homeschooling’ (or a variant) cue readers to read the article as if there is an intrinsic connection of the boy’s behavior to ‘homeschooling.’
From the indicators in news reports since then, Dillon apparently attended elementary school and then middle school until he was about 12. Schoolmates bullied him, apparently because he was fat, but perhaps for other reasons as well. His parents withdrew him from school, apparently to homeschool him.
Dillon and his family live in Pennsylvania, so I expect there is some kind of school oversight of the homeschooling.
The type of homeschooling Dillon received may have been homeschooling, or it may have been schooling through a virtual charter. Another Fox news report says that Mrs. Cossey, “… let him get his lessons off the Web.” If Dillon’s education was under the supervision of a virtual school through a Pennsylvania charter, then it is possible that the oversight would have been closer than with homeschooling.
In the time since Dillon was in middle school, he and his former classmates have aged, so that they are all now old enough to attend high school. If Dillon was serious about the attack on the high school, I am guessing the answer to the riddle of why a homeschooled teen would ask a friend to help him attack a nearby high school is that his former tormentors go to school there. It is easier to find people grouped at a regular meeting place than it is to track them down by trekking around neighborhoods day and night.
Whether Dillon’s time at home addled him to the point of madness, we will not know until someone in authority tells us about his mental state, that is if anyone tells. His time at home does not seem to have helped him, but his time in school appears — at this point — to have been the catalyst that started him on the path to media infamy.
Dillon Cossey lauded the Columbine shooters on his MySpace page. He also uploaded videos (made by other people) at YouTube (language warning in comments).
But was he alone in this?
- Google search for “Harris Klebold MySpace”
Results 1 – 10 of about 31,300 for Harris Klebold MySpace
- Google search for “Columbine MySpace”
Results 1 – 10 of about 797,000 for Columbine MySpace
- Google search for “YouTube Harris Klebold”
Results 1 – 10 of about 34,400 for YouTube Harris Klebold.
- Google search for “YouTube Columbine”
Results 1 – 10 of about 879,000 for YouTube Columbine
First off, how many items constitute a “cache” of weapons? Or an “arsenal?” Do the items have to be of a specific style, or have a certain firepower? I only ask because people who know more about weapons than I do (I don’t even like balloons, because they go ‘bang!’) have pointed out that what the photograph at the web site shows, would not necessarily translate to a terrorist’s stash.
Some news reports called the weapons “air guns” which, according to the same reports, are legal in Pennsylvania. The 22-caliber weapons were not in the house. The family owned no ammunition for the alleged “assault weapon” (see comment about “assault weapons” at the article, a Wikipedia explanation, comments from folks at Glock Talk, and another Wikipedia article).
Like Chris (the BB gun comment above), I do not think that amassing a “cache of weapons” is a suitable hobby for a 14-year old (I nixed Wolfenstein for one of my then-14-year-olds — yeah, yeah, “old fashioned fuddy duddy”), but when does a collection turn into a “cache?”
Then there is the question of the hand grenades. Apparently Airsoft makes plastic grenades that are filled with BBs, and at least one website commenter referred to them as “plastic pellet loaders.” YouTube users have uploaded instructions for making paper versions with a firecracker as the powder charge. Firecrackers are often made of the “black powder.”
Prosecutor: Mom bought weapons for boy, 12 October 2007, CNN
A woman bought guns and bomb-making material to indulge her socially outcast 14-year-old son, a prosecutor said Friday.
Michele Cossey, 46, faces charges in connection with her son’s alleged plan for a Columbine-like attack on a school. She is accused of buying him a .22-caliber handgun, a .22-caliber rifle, a 9 mm semiautomatic rifle and black powder used to make grenades.
The searches I’ve made lead me to think that Dillon Cossey is an angry firecracker-wielding, BB-gun fanatic whose mom bought him a real rifle, and two other weapons, but no bullets. He had knives as well, but I can’t get too shirty about that because one of my daughters has a mace and a small sword. The kids also had Swiss Army knives, my husband has some daggers, and I’ve got a mean set of J.A. Henkels kitchen knives. And fyi, I’ve got a baseball bat by the door. I had a quarterstaff (easier to stay away from whoever is storming your door), but we cut that down for our grandson’s karate lessons.
I do not know if my opinion is close to ‘the truth’ about Dillon because I am reading the same reports everyone else is reprinting, and we are all reading it in the wake of the Cleveland high school shootings. It’s hard to tell. Still, I’m not the only one wondering about the inconsistencies of the reports. No one wants any sort of tragedy, but blowing the episode up into the kind of story that is picked up internationally (Denmark, Ecuador, Holland, Korea, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Turkey) seems to be an over-reaction.
The ‘fog of war’ is clearing, but not quickly enough. How much of our news do the media package in the same way?
posted by Valerie