What could possibly have been Philip Chism’s motive?

This is probably one of the more f’ed up stories of the year. You can read about all over the Internet, although the basic story is as follows: 14 year-old student murders 24 year-old teacher, presumably with a box cutter. He uses a recycling bin to move the body to woods behind the school. He goes and sees a Woody Allen movie (Blue Jasmine). He’s picked up by cops walking along the street around 11:30pm and has a bloody box cutter and her credit cards. He’s arraigned and indicted, showing no remorse (at least on surface). Now there are reports of leaving a note near her body that read “I hate you all.” 

Some strong coverage is here, here, here and here.

I suppose motive isn’t really important in this case — the crime itself is horrific enough, and the after-fact behavior definitely seems sociopathic. This article goes into some more detail on possible motives; the conventional logic is either (a) something to do with recently moving from Tennessee to Massachusetts — apparently Ritzer asked him about the state right before the murder or (b) something about unreturned feelings. Reddit speculates (likely inaccurately) on a possible relationship between the two. As always in these situations, Chism was characterized as “keeping to himself.”

I’m not sure why PopCrunch made a gallery like this, but they do have a list of ’20 young murderers.’ In terms of why someone at 14 would do something like this, here’s a good read. Anything is just speculation at this point, but likely something had to do with the move from TN to MA; at the very least, that appears to be the ‘trigger’ event that came immediately prior to the murder. Thankfully, the media hasn’t done a ton with the “black student/white teacher” angle, because this situation — or rather, the horror of it — should transcend race.

This article has a bit more info about his parents, Diane and Stacy Chism. Their roots are in Clarksville, TN.

The family history was rocky, and here’s a few more details (including legal documents). A LinkedIn page for his mom appears to indicate she’s a social worker in the Boston area. She has expressed immense regret over what happened.

If this part of the story is true, it’s heartbreaking:

No one really knows the motive in some of these situations, even in a Chism situation where the (alleged) killer remains alive; different ideas have been floated for Adam Lanza’s motive, for example. James Holmes’ motive has been similarly questioned. The motive may never actually be known, unless he’s willing to talk at some point — be it to a big outlet or just in a legal proceeding. Some of the more recent ‘teacher murders’ in America — Sherry Arnold, for example, or Melissa Jenkins — were committed by 20, 30, and 40-somethings. The 14 year-old aspect is probably the most chilling, as is the callous after-behavior. Maybe a motive doesn’t even matter, as I said at first. It might help the national consciousness aspect of this story come to some closure, but it’s unlikely to lead to any type of broader conclusion on how we can better deal with adolescents (aside from trying to provide them with a stable home life, which I think we knew already).

Ted Bauer