Are You in Danger From a Psychotic Killer?

ByABC News
February 9, 2009, 3:59 PM

April 18, 2007 — -- Almost anyone who has spent time in a school or workplace will tell you there is always that someone who seems a little off. The guy most likely to "go postal," people tend to say in an off-handed way.

The more the nation learns about the Virginia Tech killer, the more we realize the signs were everywhere. It's not always that easy. So how do you know, how can you protect yourself?

Unfortunately, psychiatrists say there is no way to definitively predict the kind of horrific behavior seen at Virginia Tech.

"There are millions of people who are depressed who are not violent, and there are millions of people who are lonely or write crazy kinds of things who are not violent either," said Dr. Peter Marzuk, associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and a published expert on the topic of murder-suicide.

"Even then, most people who are violent do not commit mass murder."

Still, there may be certain indicators that can help predict when an individual is contemplating violence -- as well as ways to protect yourself if the worst occurs.

"The most important predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior," Marzuk said. "If someone is known to have a past of violence, that alone is important."

A past history of violence could include being the victim of abuse, or a history of abusing others.

Cho's disturbing writings could be considered a red flag, indicating his deep rage and capacity for violence.

"A person's art is almost like a Rorschach's test," said Dr. Igor Galynker, director of the Bipolar Family Treatment Center at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, N.Y. "Cho's plays are bizarre beyond odd. They are a product of a psychotic mind."