The goth subculture is filled with many stereotypes. Some of them, such as wearing black clothes and listening to certain genres of music, are relatively harmless and for the most part, true.
It's the other stereotypes, such as a penchant for violence and an affinity for Satanism, that often bring the goth world scrutiny.
The three Winslow Township High School students who authorities said planned to systematically execute classmates and teachers during a lunch period have been described by their peers as goths. According to classmates at Winslow, the three fit the usual stereotypes -- they wore long, black trench coats and makeup, and had chains dangling from their pants. They had multiple piercings and often dyed their hair in a variety of colors.
The group's alleged ringleader is, in his own words, a "gothic teenager." The teen's MySpace Web page, with a large satanic pentagram emblazoned across it, feeds into the negative stereotype, however.
"My one and only hero is Satan," the teen wrote on the page.
Nancy Kilpatrick, author of The Goth Bible, said young, troubled teens may gravitate toward the goth culture because it is accepting of everyone.
"Violence is not really what goths are all about. They're not particularly out for trouble," she said. "Anybody who plans to kill other people is troubled. I don't think the focus should be on what category they fall into."
According to the Web site www.gothnet.com, the term goth first surfaced in the 1980s and was coined by the manager of the band Joy Division to describe the band's anti-mainstream following. The Web site describes being "goth" as a subculture of individuals who are comfortable with one another and live by with a "rejection of society" attitude.
"Most goths become goths because they have been spurned by "normal' society because the way they want to live their lives does not fit in with how most people are told to live theirs," the site says.
The Web site and Kilpatrick pointed out that although goths may often dress in black and listen to darker, edgier music, there's no official checklist to belong.
"There is no national goth organization. You don't go and get your membership card," Kilpatrick said.
She explained that goths draw influence from literature and architecture that emanated from the 18th-century Gothic era in Europe. On his Web site, the Winslow teen says he reads occasionally, focusing on "vampiric, satanic, and witchcraft" literature. The teen said one person he would like to meet is Sagrath, the lead singer of Dimmu Borgir, a "black metal" band out of Norway.
Nothing on the teen's Web site mentions the alleged plot or makes any specific threats toward students or teachers.
If parents believe their children are interested in goth culture, Kilpatrick said they should talk to them about why they are interested and avoid assumptions.
"Communication is always better than noncommunication. There's kids who wear all black and get straight A's," she said. "It's so not much looking at the exterior."