Killer teenagers are an anomaly but their heinous crimes are rarely forgotten.
Killer teenagers are an anomaly but their heinous crimes are rarely forgotten.

KILLER TEENS: Why young offenders impact more

SHOCKWAVES ripple through the community when someone takes another person's life in a cold, brutal and senseless way.

When that killer is a teenager, those ripples are amplified and the horrified reactions increased ten-fold.

Why?

Because it's rare and violates an unspoken but firmly held perception of what a young person should be doing at that time in their life.

University of Southern Queensland criminologist Dr Suzanne Reich has worked extensively with at-risk young people in the community as well as in the adult prison system, both in Australia and in England.

Statistically, young offenders aged 10 to 17 who commit homicide are rare, responsible for just 27 of the 679 murders across Australia in 2017 to 2018.

By contrast, people aged 25 to 29 are more likely to take another's life, with the average age of all people who commit homicide is 33.

"Explanations for why offending rates peak during the late adolescent and early adulthood years are grounded in life-course development theories," Dr Reich, the Program Director of Criminology and Criminal Justice, says.

"The presence or absence of a range of social factors over the life course is attributed to why offending peaks during adolescence and early adulthood and then sharply decreases afterwards."

University of Southern Queensland Program Director of Criminology and Criminal Justice criminologist Dr Suzanne Reich.
University of Southern Queensland Program Director of Criminology and Criminal Justice criminologist Dr Suzanne Reich. USQ

Those social factors include a job or familial responsibility, but also a sense of control over life choices - things which generally "do not feature in their day to day lives until long after adolescent years are over".

In the coming days, The Chronicle will delve into eight cases linked by the fact the convicted killers in each instance were teenagers.

The perpetrators come from varied backgrounds - loving homes but influenced by a racial cult outside the family unit, another affiliated with a violent, blood-thirsty gang, to a runaway teen mixing with the wrong crowd.

"Whether or not we can explain away youth offending with theories that seem feasible is somewhat beside the point as public reactions towards young people who commit murder remain strong," Dr Reich says.

"Arguably one of the most problematic issues is that regardless of actual crime trends that show rates of youth offending has steadily decreased over the past 10 years, the public (mis)perception is that youth offending is on the rise.

"Often crime stories involving young people are reported in ways that demonise young people.

"The reason these stories make it into the headlines is because they are rare and bizarre, not because they are commonplace, which becomes the broad misconception."

HISTORIC: Tyson Wilson, murdered May 31, 2005.
HISTORIC: Tyson Wilson, murdered May 31, 2005. Photo Contributed

The disturbing reality of Toowoomba's history is that some of the most horrific and inexplicable murders have been committed by teenagers - the nature of those crimes compounded by the age of the perpetrators.

"There is an expectation within the community about how young people should behave and what they should be doing," Dr Reich says.

"When young people violate society's expectations of how they should behave, the reaction of the public is one of shock and horror."

The concept of control, or losing it, is the closest various psychiatrists have been able to come in determining why a 16-year-old from a caring family would shoot his brother - twice - then dispose of his body and laugh at detectives' efforts to solve the case.

Anthony David Rowlingson's cold-blooded and cowardly execution of his brother at their Pittsworth family home will be the first case examined in the Killer Teen series.