Exclusive: How Does the Mind of a Shooter Cause Mass Murder Tragedies?

by DEBORAH SCHURMAN-KAUFLIN, PHD April 6, 2009
In the last few months, there have been several cases of mass murders on U.S. soil. On April 3, 2009, Jiverly Wong went into an American Civic Association and murdered 13 people. Wong wounded over 20 others and allegedly held hostages for hours before killing himself. The forty-one year old had been going to the Civic Association to attend language lessons, and was angered over losing his job. He was teased due to his lack of English language skill as well.
 
These massacres follow a predictable pattern, and it is certain that there will be more attacks as the U.S. struggles with a tumbling economy and marginalization of citizens. Such murders take place when one or two individuals with mental instability let their anger and depression drive them to get even with the world. They want to feel something one last time before they die. So, to elicit emotion, grab headlines, and exact revenge, they kill.
 
Mass killers believe society has been unfair to them and that others receive special treatment. Paranoia takes over their minds. They look around and see vultures everywhere. Everyone is out to get them, and nothing seems to go right in their lives. Everywhere they look, things are bad. They take hit after hit in their lives with no reprieve. They get fired. They get dumped. There are deaths in the family. There is no silver lining that they can see. Everything is negative, and often, they are in some kind of physical discomfort. Whether they suffer physically or emotionally, they blame others for their plights. With their negative attitudes, they drive people away, leaving them with no one.
 
This creates tremendous rage.
 
With isolation and no appropriate outlet, future mass killers ‘circle the wagons’ and turn further inward. Instead of being proactive, they are reactive. They wait for things to change instead of trying to change their own lives. This is a recipe for disaster because it assures another letdown in life. Living becomes unbearable as all seems lost. Offenders see no way out and are convinced their lives are over. In their despondence, they watch others who seemingly have the things that they want. Whether it is a happy family or a good job, mass killers just cannot hang on to anything that matters to them. They are critical, sarcastic, hurt, and continually discussing how much they dislike people. They quit in life when things get tough. They are edgy and prone to live in a fantasy world. As time goes on, they become emotionally flat. The only thing they feel is shock and pain at how their lives have turned out. They feel as if they have been tossed aside, and this makes them even angrier. This is a dangerous state of mind.
 
 “No one helped.” That is what the mass murderers in prison told me when I interviewed them about what they did right before they killed. It is common for such offenders to actually ask for help prior to committing a mass killing. Whether it is a parent, a spouse, or a friend, mass killers will talk about their suffering and their desire to act out. However, the pleas fall on deaf ears. No one seems to care about offenders who commit these crimes. They are life’s throwaways. People find it easier to look away than deal with them. And when this happens, plans for violence go into motion. This is when the killers get their weapons and conceptualize the attacks. They rigorously think through how they can kill the highest number of victims in an attempt to get attention and show the world how sad and meaningless their lives have become. They want to cause destruction because they have been destroyed. In their minds, it is only fair that other suffer too.
 
I have had many people tell me that they do not care about a killer’s pain and mindset, but if you do not understand your adversary, you have already lost the fight. One must examine the motivation in order to look for signs of an imminent attack. The more one learns about killers’ mindsets and behaviors, the easier it is to predict them.
 
Most often, these killers stalk areas that they know. A school. A workplace. They tend to gravitate toward areas with which they are familiar. It is also common for offenders to do a ‘walk through’ prior to the incident. They will have no official reason to be at the location, but because they have been there before, their presence does not raise suspicion. Usually during these reconnaissance missions, they linger for long periods of time so they can fantasize about killing. They tend to make others uncomfortable if they make eye contact because of their propensity to stare.
 
After visiting the future murder site, the killers write extensive diaries or tape themselves ranting about all of the terrible things that others have done to them. They want everyone to know why they had to kill. And they speak of the murders in that way. By life being so cruel, it forced them to kill. This takes their responsibility away. If they were forced, they are not to blame. This is how they justify murder in their minds.
 
As they spend more time alone, their paranoia skyrockets, and they visit websites that feed their paranoid thoughts. They will even post on chat boards about their perceived enemies and how those enemies should be destroyed. Others online may notice that the posts are a bit odd and not reply. Even online they become outcasts. This fuels them further. Since they are cut off, they have nothing better to do than spend time bubbling with hatred. Easily, their thoughts grow more deviant, and they work hard to figure out just what victims will create the most buzz in the media. These killers know their attacks will receive attention, and in delivering death (to others and themselves), they become immortal. Their names will live in infamy as people will finally have to look at them. “They’ll be sorry.” “Someone else will suffer.” These are more quotes from the offenders.
 
Key things to look for include:
 
Recently laid off
Moody and sense of entitlement
Excessive time alone
Anger at ‘enemies’
Paranoid
Fascination with weapons
Asking for help because of fear of hurting someone
Speaking of plans to kill
Role playing as assassin
Stalking former worksites/education sites
 
Though these factors in and of themselves do not indicate a threat, if taken as a whole, they point to potential trouble. Keep in mind that if you notice these key factors and hear someone talking about a plan to kill, notify someone. Tell a teacher. Notify law enforcement. The best weapon we have against such attacks is someone noticing these things and speaking out. Too many times, families and friends are in denial when they see such behavior. They tell themselves that the problem will go away on its own. But that does not happen. If someone is displaying these warning signs, it is imperative to get help. Offenders on their way to commit mass violence are in a downward spiral. They cannot pull out on their own. Do not ignore them. Believe someone when he says he wants to kill someone specific. And remember, taking guns away will not stop such attacks. That would only change the method of murder. One pair of mass murderers I interviewed used a gun, a knife, fire, and a car to inflict their rampage. Look at the mindsets and behaviors, and you have a much better chance at survival because those two things will tell you what an offender will do.
 
Copyright Violent Crimes Institute, LLC 2009
 
FamilySecurityMatters.orgContributing Editor Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., heads the Violent Crimes Institute, and is author of The New Predator, Vulture and the soon-to be published Disturbed: Terrorist Behavioral Profiles.
 

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