The FBI is embarking on an effort to understand better the psychology behind mass shooters. The bureau has conducted a few interviews with perpetrators of mass killings in an effort to find commonalities in what motivated them to attack. Now the agency may launch a broad-based study to interview many mass shooters and look for patterns in their backgrounds, thinking and behavior. “We’re definitely missing a piece of the puzzle through the offenders’ eyes,” said Sarah Craun of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit. The potential study would be similar to research the FBI and Secret Service have conducted into serial killers, school shooters and assassins. It would likely take several years. The FBI declined to say how many mass shooters it hopes to interview.
Four of the five deadliest U.S. mass shootings have taken place since 2012, including last year’s Oct. 1 massacre that claimed the lives of 58 Las Vegas concertgoers and the Sutherland Springs, Tx., church shooting that left 26 dead. The 30 active shooter incidents in 2017 and the 138 people killed were both the highest totals since the FBI began keeping track in 2000, though they make up a tiny fraction of the nation’s homicides. The seeming randomness of the attacks often baffles the police and the public. Understanding what makes these types of killers tick could help identify potential attackers beforehand, law-enforcement and security officials say. “People are hungry for anything that can prevent this or predict this or deal with it better,” said criminologist Gregory Vecchi of Missouri Western State University, former chief of the FBI unit now known as Behavioral Analysis. An FBI review of the case files of 63 mass shooters found that only one-quarter had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness and only five percent had been convicted of a violent felony.