In just two minutes, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer killed nine former classmates and three teachers and injured seven people before fleeing the school he'd once attended.
He went on to murder three more bystanders before turning his gun on himself. Most of the victims were female. What an appalling waste of young people who hadn't even started on the great adventure of adult life. There has been much debate about whether remarks Tim allegedly posted on an internet chatroom the night before were a hoax, but it doesn't matter – their sentiments are horribly accurate. He complained "I'm sick of this life ... everyone laughs at me."
Lack of self-respect and poor self-esteem lie at the heart of this tragedy. Tim was failed on every level – by his middle-class parents, his unfriendly fellow pupils and by the psychiatrists he visited only last year. A lot of the deep-seated loneliness this boy so clearly felt is very common at his age. Young men are deeply adrift – and when there are knives and weapons available, there are bound to be innocent victims.
Teenage boys have an image problem – a survey by Women in Journalism (WiJ) showed that time and time again young men only get written about in the media in negative terms. Over half the stories WiJ found linked teenage boys to crime, and the terms consistently used to describe them were yobs, thugs, sick, scum and feral. The only time they got written up positively was generally when they'd died, and only one in 10 stories about young men included their point of view.
We know that some young men are under-achieving, and now it's got to the point where this negative reporting of a small number is affecting how they view themselves. The survey found that many now fear their peers, and avoid places where they hang out. It doesn't take much to see that one of the reasons many young people started carrying knives is rooted in anxieties like these.
Emphasis on image and appearance rules teenage life here, and it was no different for Tim growing up in a small town in Germany. Having the right clothes, the right music and the right friends is paramount, and when you fail to fit in then the internet and computer games can be used to try and fill the void. But online friends, as I've said so many times, are no substitute for the real thing.
Tim had a tough time at school – he looked nerdy, wore glasses, and found it hard to make friends. It's said he was taunted by other students and one teacher told him he was a failure who would end up as a dustbin man if he didn't work harder. He'd had feelings for one girl, but they weren't reciprocated. He'd left to study at a private college, and his periods of depression had become so marked he'd paid five visits to a psychiatric clinic in 2008. If Tim didn't fit in at school, then things don't seem to have been a whole lot cosier at home. Three weeks ago he wrote a letter to his parents about how unhappy he felt.
As a teenager, I wore thick National Health specs, had sticky-out teeth and horrible beige hair. The other girls had bigger tits, and my legs were like matchsticks. There were no chatrooms then, but I channelled all my differentness into a feeling of superiority – if they didn't want to be friends with me, it was their loss. I became a swot. But how many kids are that thick-skinned?
Tim's father has a lot to answer for – keeping 15 guns at home and allowing his unhappy son to practise target shooting with them for hours in the basement seems poor judgement to say the least. But guns aren't what drove Tim over the edge – he was lonely and had zero self-esteem. The lessons to be learned from these sad killings aren't about gun control. They are about helping young men to have pride and dignity and a sense of worth. Once they retreat into a fantasy world online, or the violent world of computer games, it is harder for them to function in the real world of work and relationships. Young men need urgent help at school to develop their emotional intelligence, otherwise there will be more killings.
Glamour politics I see you're still avoiding celebs, Gordon
Two years is a lifetime in politics. We know Gordon Brown might not be ready to say the "sorry" word, but he's man enough to realise that his philosophy about celebrity culture needs to be dumped if he wants to get on the front pages of the newspapers in stories that don't focus on the financial crisis. In April 2007 he said: "I think we're moving from this period when ... celebrity matters, when people have become famous for being famous." Can this be the same Gordon Brown that sent Jade Goody his best wishes and "applauded her determination" last month, and cosied up to Cheryl Cole and Kimberley Walsh outside Downing Street to "celebrate" their climb up Kilimanjaro accompanied by 120 porters, 32 production staff, a team of doctors and two film crews? Did our starstruck PM raise the embarrassing point that Gary Barlow chartered a private jet to fly the celebrity climbers home, blowing £50,000 which could have gone to charity without adding to global warming?
Baby Palin won't hurt grandma
Her mum thinks the best form of birth control is abstinence – but Bristol Palin, right, disagreed, claiming it "wasn't realistic". Republicans were astounded when their vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin paraded her large family on the convention platform last September – including a pregnant teenage daughter and the father of her child, (her high-school lover). Now, keeping with the Palin family tradition, Bristol's baby has been given a wacky name – Tripp. Sadly, the teenage lovebirds have split. Sarah Palin has been plagued by bad press – she spent thousands of party funds on swanky clothes for her family and it was proved she used state funds for their personal holidays. Nevertheless, pundits feel an unmarried daughter with a baby will do her political ambitions for the election in 2012 no harm – it just makes her fans relate to her even more. God help us.
We need a minister for Cool, too
Australia's minister for the environment, Peter Garrett, was a successful rock star before he entered politics – fronting the controversial band Midnight Oil. Now the band is reuniting and he's performing a series of fundraising concerts for the victims of last month's bush fires, starting this weekend. What an inspiring gesture.
Back in the UK we have the hapless Secretary of State for Children, Ed Balls, waffling on all fronts about learning lessons after Lord Laming's scathing report into the state of child protection in England, which ended with the chilling words JUST DO IT!
Ed Balls can't even run one career, let alone put on a night in my local pub to raise funds for our battered and beaten kids. Political office is proving a very difficult job for this lacklustre individual. Coco the Clown would probably achieve more.