What Pushes Shooters Over the Edge?

After a spate of rampage killings, a psychiatrist explains hidden motivations.

ByABC News via logo
February 9, 2008, 2:23 PM

Feb. 9, 2008— -- After a week of deadly shootings across the country, including at least six-high profile rampages that killed 24 people, Americans are asking what made these mass murderers snap.

A man guns down five people at a city council meeting in Missouri. In Los Angeles, a standoff leaves four family members and a police officer dead. On the campus of Louisiana Tech, a nursing student kills two of her peers before turning the weapon on herself. In Maryland a gunman opens fire in a restaurant, killing three. Last weekend in suburban Chicago, five people were killed inside a Lane Bryant store.

One expert says the common element in all these horrible crimes is the desire for attention.

"Mass homicide is a crime that can be completely eliminated by the press, teachers, parents and society. If we take the incentive of attention out of it, we can eliminate it," forensic psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner said today on "Good Morning America Weekend."

Charles Lee "Cookie" Thornton, who shot five people at a city council meeting in Kirkwood, Mo., on Thursday, was described by friends as regular guy who battled the town over parking tickets and the right to speak at council meetings.

"He wasn't crazy. He knew what he was going to do," said his mother, Annie Bell Thornton. "All these years, I just feel it had just taken a toll on him."

"Rampage killings have an important common thread of someone seeking notoriety. Someone who feels they are a failure, who had high expectations for themselves, and sees the attention that these shooters get and says, 'I can get that.Somebody will care about my manifesto. Somebody will care about my letter,'" Welner said.

The media's focus on the manifesto and the life of the criminal appeals to these killers who feel like failures that nobody notices, Welner said.

"[Robert] Hawkins in Nebraska who said 'I'll be famous that's why I did it.' He taught us something, we made him famous. We should not be focusing on the manifesto. We should be focusing on the suffering," Welner said, referring to the 19-year-old who opened fired in December in an Omaha mall, killing eight people before turning the gun on himself.