Mass Killers Share Several Traits; Warning Signs Clear Only in Hindsight


Through collaborating with Jack Levin of Northeastern University in examining countless case studies of mass killers, several common characteristics and motivational themes have emerged, writes criminologist James Alan Fox for USA Today. “Mass killers tend to be profoundly frustrated and despondent over life’s disappointments, isolated from family and friends who might be in a position to provide comfort and support, and see themselves as the victim of undeserved mistreatment and unfairness. For them, the act of murder against certain people seen as responsible for their misfortune, if not against a corrupt society in general, is justified,” Fox says.

“Unfortunately, not much is readily available to help reduce the risk,” he adds. That’s because thousands of people share these same characteristics. Of the vast pool of people who fail to reach their ambitions, blame others or “the system” for their troubles, and have inadequate social support, very few resort to gun violence. Mass murderers often exhibit telltale warning signs in their behavior or words, but these become clear only with hindsight. Still, Fox says it would be good if the legacy of mass shootings such as last Friday’s in Colorado was an expansion of mental health services. A major challenge is that those who are ready to rampage would typically view the problem to be with others, not themselves, and would resist treatment.

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