Those rampage killers that I have interviewed, typically in connection with them facing the death penalty, are moreover very cautious about disclosing the conflicts of their despair. Ronald Taylor, a black man who was convicted of killing three white men in a racially motivated shooting rampage in Wilkinsburg, Pa., had a paranoid personality and was positively teeming with fury over whites. However, he did not have a psychotic condition, and was actually quite street smart. He had contemplated a mass shooting for many months. But what actually triggered the shootings, in my professional opinion, was his failure to woo a staff member at a social service center he attended; his "secret admirer" letters were quite frightening to her, and when he was exposed and shooed away he felt humiliated. Within a week he was shooting all of the whites he happened upon in his predominantly black neighborhood.
So do you attach importance to reports of the shooter having killed a romantic interest?
In my professional experience, rejection from a romantic target is a very common and underestimated homicidal trigger for young men, be it mass shooting, killing of friends or even intrafamilial shooting. The assailants are reluctant to speak of the emotionally loaded issue after the fact — particularly because they may have had an intense reaction to a rather unimpressive emotional connection.
And that is precisely the point. Alienated, paranoid individuals have great difficulty connecting with others because of their social awkwardness, rage and negativism, and because of the depression that many who later go on rampages also have in addition. Reminders of their failure to connect with others are very painful to them. Richard Baumhammer -- who targeted minorities in a shooting spree that left five people dead in April 2000 was so starved for relationships with women, for example, that he would pay girls from escort services to simply come to his home and sit with him.
It is a sad quality of the paranoid that they have such great difficulty tolerating intimacy. Stress triggers their paranoid defenses which may be wholly irrational.
What does a mass shooting that targets a classroom building have to do with a lost romantic interest?
It doesn't actually. The person contemplating a mass shooting does so because of how alienated he is. Those feelings arise independent of romantic feelings for another. The shooter experiences rejection in his own mind but reacts to it most intensely when he experiences it from someone he cultivates intense emotions for.
Mass shootings are set off with a personal conflict, which may seem relatively minor by comparison. However, the person who kills to end the confrontation with the last word cartwheels, in my professional experience, into a mass shooting because he also happens to harbor tremendous rage that he has long directed at a particular group or the general community — and he has already killed and recognizes he is facing life in prison, or worse.
So is the solution to isolate the paranoid in order to prevent mass shooting?
Absolutely not. It is the level of increasing isolation that fuels the destructive fantasies. However, for people who are specifically targets of paranoid thinking, they should engage someone else to keep the paranoid, weapon-obsessed and beligerent connected to humanity, while they themselves step back until that individual stabilizes.