EXPERT: What Makes a Mass Killer?

The trigger in the workplace mass shooting is a clear and significant one. It is characteristically a loss of job or significant financial collapse in a person who had psychologically very much wrapped himself up in that workplace or company. More important, it is an event, or the shooter's perception of a loss of his identity.

This is why the workplace mass shooter is later found to have few other passions or diversions, and little prospect of returning to the workplace in a comparable capacity. That is also why so many of these killers, like the Philadelphia killer, are in the mid 30s-and-over age group.

Men who experience substantial financial or career collapse at that stage may recognize they are falling in a way that they will never again recover. They are bitter and do not want the people they blame for their failure -- never themselves -- to win. Killing those they blame, and killing the workplace guarantees this legacy. In the Philadelphia killer's case, he came to that meeting with a semiautomatic weapon -- this was not about events that arose during that meeting.

Community mass shootings are quite the opposite. The killer has a poorly integrated identity, whether he is adolescent or adult. An angry and destructive fantasy graduates into a righteous cause that gives a killer the notion of greatness through destruction.

By making a violent and dramatic statement about his grudge, or his grievance, or for others he claims to represent as similarly belittled, he is empowered. The attention and notoriety he knows he will get further validate his choice to become an antihero. In my professional experience, this is why community mass shooters are ready to die.

It is not just about being suicidal or even depressed. It is a sense that they are proud of an achievement, and reflects their view that they will never achieve a comparable level of greatness. Carrying out a mass shooting in a shopping mall that is a source of community pride aims to amplify media attention and community impact -- and personal notoriety as a result.

Is it surprising to read of a mass shooter who described by others as calm?

Mass shooters are frequently experienced by others as calm. This incongruous serenity speaks more to how dysfunctionally they express their anger than it does depict any particular condition or its severity.

Are there other important distinctions between workplace mass shootings and community mass shootings?

I can recall from my experience in the cases of Byron Uyesugi, the Hawaii Xerox mass shooter, and Matthew Beck, who carried out a mass shooting at the Connecticut lottery headquarters, another important distinction between workplace mass shooters and community based mass shooters.

The workplace killers demonstrate a meticulous degree of advance planning for the assault -- when it will start, how it will unfold, where they will target. Community mass shooters are more likely to reflect a modus operandi of starting and simply shooting at targets until they are killed. This distinction reflects in the workplace killers as more organized in their manner and thinking. Research has demonstrated that the more random the victims, the more likely the killer has a psychotic condition.

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