Why Mass Murderers Kill
This is Joan Jerkovich and welcome to my show. We are all very concerned about the bombing in Boston at the Boston Marathon. It got me into thinking about “why”. Some people were talking in the news reports that they were happy that suspect number two was captured alive. Maybe some of the people who were traumatized by this can hear some of the “why”. Why did these two young men decide to pull off this mass murder?
This blog is taken from “The Joan Jerkovich Show” radio transcript and edited for easier reading. Listen to the Podcast and post your COMMENTS at http://joanjerkovich.com/2013/04/30/why-mass-murderers-kill-telling-baby-mama-got-girl-pregnant-man-abused-by-girlfriend/
I'm titling this piece “Why Mass Murderers Kill”. The quick and easy answers that I found are usually revenge, envy, or rejection. Let's look a little bit deeper into that and, let me tell you, I've researched a number of scholarly research articles about this and pulled out some facts to share.
One of them came from Knoll, writing in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law titled “The Pseudo-Commando Mass Murderer – Part One – The Psychology of Revenge and Obliteration”. This author-researcher is calling this pseudo-commando type of mass murderer, the one who likes to kill in public during the daytime, the ones who do plan their carnage well in advance. They're the ones who show up with a powerful arsenal of weapons. These type of perpetrators have no escape planned and expect to be killed during the incident.
This isn't necessarily true of the bombers that we saw in Boston, but many of these mass murderers; the shooters at Columbine, at Newtown, and even in Aurora oftentimes not only commit the murders but then commit suicide.
So what are these murderers driven by? They're driven by really strong feelings of anger and resentment. Many of these perpetrators believe that they are being personally persecuted and that they're grossly mistreated in some way. They have this mass murder in mind in order to have their own personal agenda of payback.
Another researcher, Mullen, writes in “Behavioral Sciences in the Law” an article titled “The Autogenic (self generated) Massacre”. He was able to review five cases even though a lot of these do commit suicide, but in these 5 cases they happened to survive.
He found that most of them are almost stereotypical and had a lot of common traits. The perpetrators themselves had a common trait of social and psychological disabilities. They're often times very isolated loners who are bullied in childhood. They rarely establish themselves in effective work roles as adults. When you think about the personality traits, as the author says, what these people have in common is that they oftentimes are marked by suspicious personalities, they're very obsessional, and they have feelings of grandiosity. They also harbor feelings of being persecuted against and oftentimes might even become somewhat delusional (which is a true psychiatric disorder in my opinion). Here's their intent: their intention is to kill as many people as they can and then kill themselves. They don't expect there to be survivors. Mullen was lucky to find five survivors to actually study in depth.
There were several research articles that talked about looking at these perpetrators and maybe even doing a test for sociopathy. I'm not going to get into a lot about the criteria associated with sociopathy because I do want you to go back to my website, joanjerkovich.com. I did a complete video interview, a very in-depth study, with a counselor who was on Nancy Grace at one time.
The risk factors associated with sociopathy, or psychopathy, is someone who comes from a family with a history of abuse or ineffective parenting having a history and childhood of setting fires, hurting animals, being sadistic, self-centered, and most importantly they lack compassion and lack empathy.
Several of the authors mention this as if you could have taken these mass murderers and given them this sociopathy test and they would have scored high in this category. This would be one way of maybe predicting future behavior. Then again, as we can imagine, that would be quite a task to undertake and we have personal rights to be concerned about.
Let's go back to the researcher Knoll who wrote in the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, where he writes, that some of these mass murderers take special steps to send out one piece of final communication to the public or the news media. He's making a case that these really need to be scrutinized carefully.
Let me go back quickly and say that all of these pieces I'm quoting from were written before the Boston bombing. As we know, there has been some information coming out about what those two perpetrators either said or posted on Facebook…those are real clues to what might be their motivation, and their next steps in these areas of perpetrating these acts of violence against the public. Watching for any of these and having a heads-up alert for any of these types of communication might have helped us identify these violent offenders before their violent acts take place.
He talks to about these revenge fantasies that many of these pseudo-commandos have. They have this horrifically, mortally wounded self-esteem and ultimately that enables them to commit these mass murders and suicides.
I have to add this other piece of research here because of the debate over gun laws and especially over the background checks, mostly to kind of see if we can not only keep the criminals out but someone who might be mentally unstable. This was by a Phillips and printed in the “Virtual Mentor” predicting the risk of future dangerousness. He says this dangerousness is not always the result of mental illness. Many individuals who commit violent or aggressive acts often do so for reasons completely unrelated to their mental state, and the vast majority of violent people do not have any kind of mental illness whatsoever.
We have this very small portion of the violent people in our society that might also be mentally ill. Let's really think about that when we are trying to cull out the mentally ill people for a violent attack, although I do think it's very critical to not get guns in the hands of those who are possibly suicidal. He goes on to say that violence is not a diagnosis. It is not a disease and the potential to do harm is not actually a symptom or sign of mental illness but it must be a central consideration when we're assessing someone who might be potentially dangerous in the future.
I really like this piece put up by J. Reid Meloy, who is a PhD Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, and president of Forensis, Inc. Forensis, Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to forensic psychiatry and psychological research. He put up several blogs in the Oxford University Press in September, 2012. This would've been before the Newtown incident even occurred. I'm going to go through some of those blogs and the Newtown timing will be critical, with one of them being relative to weapons used in these mass murderers… in particular, assault rifles. He starts the blog by saying, For the past fifteen years, my colleagues and I have conducted research on mass murder.
Myth number one: they snap. Research on this shows that these mass murderers don't just snap, on a whim, and perpetrate this violence. They actually do a lot of research, a lot of planning, a lot of preparation… for days, weeks, and even months. This becomes like a fantasy that they've been incubating in their mind for years. It starts the clock, when they finally come to the point, where they have enough detailed preparations, that they actually are ready to carry through. However, there's no evidence that they actually have a high state of emotional arousal when the killings occurred. Witnesses who have seen the mass murderers who survived, talked about them being cool and calm, and very deliberate… lacking in complete emotion, relative to the violence that has happened.
For example, when we see a video of the Boston bombers or any of these other perpetrators taken into police custody, they're like blank slates. They're not very emotional and they're certainly not showing any remorse.
Myth number two: They can easily be divided into psychopaths, psychotics, and depressives. I talked about sociopathy earlier, but he's saying this is very complex. Their motivations are complex. Their psychopathology, if they have it, is very complex. One thing they have is self-centeredness. They are also very grandiose and have a lack of empathy. They're chronically indifferent toward others and very detached from their emotional life as well. This would stand to reason that when we find them and catch up with them, they're just kind of blank slates. They don't seem to care, one way or the other, that they killed people, blew their legs off, and changed their lives forever. They just don't have it in them to even feel that…
Myth number three: Incidents of mass murder are increasing. This author says, “No. It's a very rare phenomenon and it's neither increasing nor decreasing in the US.”
Myth number four: Banning assault weapons will lower the frequency of mass murder. Meloy writes that the most popular weapon chosen by mass murderers is a 9 mm pistol, oftentimes a Glock, but they usually do bring two or three firearms to the scene. Assault weapons, such as the AR 15 and AK-47, are generally not utilized. Remember though, this was written before the Newtown massacre, where the bushmaster that was used in that incident, did fall under the 1994 assault weapons ban legislation. This author had made the case that it's no surprise that between 1994-2004 when that ban was in effect that there was no decrease in the average number of mass murders per year in the US.
More study needs to be done because this type of weapon was used in Newtown Connecticut with the killing of the young children.
Myth number five: Psychotic individuals cannot plan in a precise and methodical manner. They say the majority of adult mass murderers are psychotic which means they have broken with reality and perceive the world in an idiosyncratic and often paranoid way. So, yes, they can plan and carry this out in a methodical manner.
Myth number six: It must be the drugs that they're abusing. It is very true that the violence that occurs in the general population most often does involve drug use and particularly alcohol, but in mass murderers, drugs are minimally used. They think that's because the mass murderer doesn't want drugs to cloud their consciousness at the time. It would mess with their planning and preparation and their goal of getting this carried out…their goal is often to maximize their casualty rates. Research has found two cases where the mass murder actually used therapeutic amounts of an illicit drug to help him remain calm during the shooting.
I'm going to wrap up this piece by talking about the final myth, number seven, that mass murder can be predicted and can be prevented. This author says…it's not going to happen. It's too rare, and as I mentioned earlier there are too many of the murderers who commit suicide, so we can't study them after the fact. There's also the concern that we can infringe on individual rights and freedoms by trying to profile everybody. We already have that issue in our society.
There is one thing that this author holds out as a little piece of hope that he says can probably mitigate the risk of such events. That is that all of us have a responsibility to pay attention to the behaviors of people we see and hear. These mass murderers oftentimes give us warning signs, such as leaking their intent to others, or posting something on the Internet that might raise concerns. It can be very overt, like “I'm going to kill my supervisor tomorrow at work”. Or it can be covert, such as “don't come to work tomorrow, you're my friend, but watch the news you might see me there”.
Our logical reaction should be initially that it doesn't feel quite right, or something in your gut is telling you to tell somebody in a position of authority. The truth is, most of us, even if we feel that gut reaction, don't do that. We need to start alerting the authorities.
There are people out there that suffer the guilt of feeling that something was wrong. They knew something was up with a suspicious person and didn't speak up. Can you imagine the survivors' guilt you would feel if you knew you could've averted a tragedy? The author writes that sometimes we will say, “I just didn't think he was serious”. Don't just use this rationale of passivity. Trust your emotional reactions. Trust the anxiety you feel. Trust the wariness and fear and report it to law enforcement and let them do their job of investigating.
I actually got to talk with someone, not from the bombing at the Boston Marathon, but someone who was in the crowd that escaped in a panic when shots were fired by gang members at the 4/20 event in Denver Colorado. This person was shook up. It really brings to mind that we not only have care and concern for the people who were killed, the people who lost family members, those that were wounded and injured, but also those that are injured from a psychological stance by being bystanders at these tragic events.
I heard some news reports of people that said they walked up to people at the Boston bombing wanting to provide help and they just couldn't stop because they saw limbs that had been blown off. They were thinking how unqualified they were to be there and left the scene. There is a huge trauma involved with that as well.
So, what do we do with the people who have been so traumatized by being in the proximity or even directly involved with these acts of violence?
If you follow me on my website then you know that once a day I put up a life coaching question. One of these questions was from someone who was a witness to the Aurora shooting. They were saying that every time they looked at the news and saw anything about Boston, or see something about Newtown, the traumatic event just all comes back to them. They are almost re-traumatized. When I addressed this person I told them this question was out of the realm of life coaching. If they're this severely affected by this then they may want to consider professional help.
However, I did put up some information that I reprinted from the Mayo Clinic website on post traumatic stress disorder, as we often call it PTSD, and this info very specifically states when to see a doctor. The Mayo Clinic said that it's normal to have a wide range of feelings and emotions after a traumatic event. You might experience fear and anxiety, lack of focus, sadness, changes in how well you sleep or how much you eat, and crying spells that catch you off guard. You might even have nightmares or be unable to stop thinking about the event. This doesn't necessarily mean that you have a post traumatic stress disorder, but if you're having these disturbing thoughts and feelings for more than a month, or if their severe or you're having trouble getting your life back under control, talk to your healthcare professional and get treatment as soon as possible. You can see that information on my website at JoanJerkovich.com.
If there's any take away from today's show it's that I want all of us to be very aware that if we see something or hear something that we think is dangerous or someone who is unstable then please report it to the authorities and let them do their job of checking it out. Let's also be mindful of the people who witnessed these types of traumatic events and the symptoms they may incur from post traumatic stress disorder. If we see or know someone with PTSD symptoms and they don't get better, like it said in the Mayo Clinic posting, and it persists for over a month, encourage them to get help. Help them get to their doctor or other healthcare professional.