The Teen Who Shot His Ex-Girlfriend In The Head At School Is Not "Lovesick" — He's Abusive

Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images.
Thursday evening, the Associated Press reported that 16-year-old Jaelyn Willey would be taken off of life support, two days after she was shot in the head at Great Mills High School in Maryland. Willey reportedly had a prior relationship with the shooter, 17-year-old Austin Rollins, that had ended.
“On Tuesday ... our lives changed completely and totally forever. My daughter was hurt by a boy who shot her in the head and took everything from our lives," Willey's mother said.
It's devastating that a 16-year-old girl's life was brutally cut short by a young man who apparently could not handle rejection, who could not accept that their relationship was over. It's heartbreaking and terrifying that this happened in school — a little over a month after another horrific school shooting in this country.
What's even more infuriating about this senseless act of violence is that two male AP reporters chose to identify Willey's shooter as a "lovesick teenager" in an earlier piece about the shooting.
"Tuesday's school shooting in southern Maryland that left the shooter dead and two students injured increasingly appears to be the action of a lovesick teenager," the story, which was syndicated by other news outlets like ABC, Time, and MSN, read.
"Lovesick" is a word you use to describe a teenager nursing a breakup by listening to Dashboard Confessional and reblogging melodramatic poetry on Tumblr. It's not a word you would use to describe someone like my high school boyfriend, who manipulated me into not breaking up with him by saying he would kill himself if I left. It is certainly not a word you use to describe a man who walks into a school and shoots his ex-girlfriend and another person, all because the relationship ended.
You call that person abusive.
Using a word like lovesick to describe what is clearly an entitled, abusive, and controlling man is another instance of domestic abuse not only being normalized in our culture, but romanticized.
According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50% of the killings of women in the U.S. are related to intimate partner violence, with most of those women being killed by a current or former partner.
"Why do young men, men of all ages, think they have an entitlement to women in their lives that they can maintain through violence and threats?" Monica McLaughlin, deputy director of public policy at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Refinery29 in February following the school shooting in Parkland, FL, which was perpetrated by a teen who reportedly had a history of violence against women. "Until we fully push our culture and condemn violence at the highest levels, I think we’re going to be stuck in this pattern of toxic masculinity being supported."

Using a word like lovesick to describe what is clearly an entitled, abusive, and controlling man is another instance of domestic abuse not only being normalized in our culture, but romanticized.

Ashley Alese Edwards
These toxic views on masculinity and relationships, ones that wrongly equate possessiveness and control with love, are only reinforced when we use words like "lovesick" to describe men who commit acts of violence against women. It's making an excuse for a man who could not accept reality, and believed that if he couldn't have the object of his affection, no one could. Saying Rollins was lovesick when he shot Willey in the head is to imply that maybe if she hadn't rejected him, maybe if she just gave the relationship another shot, the whole thing would've never happened.
"A common thread across many cases of domestic violence is that our society tends to place blame on the victim; to believe there is something the victim should have done, or not done, to prevent the abuse," Cameka Crawford, Chief Communications Officer at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, previously told Refinery29.
There's no excuse for a reputable news organization like the Associated Press to run a headline and story describing a murderous teen as heartbroken and melancholy. There's no excuse for anyone to minimize domestic abuse and make excuses for an abuser.
Words have meaning. Words also have implications. Dismantling dangerous and unhealthy views on relationships and ending a culture that whitewashes intimate partner violence isn't only about changing the way we talk and the words we use. But it's a start.
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