Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence

Balloons for Kathryn

Scott Esposito
Scott Esposito

Scott Esposito, 38, had hoped to get back together with his girlfriend, Kathryn Miller. Esposito lived with his elderly parents and disabled sister in Pennsylvania, mainly to care for them. People knew him as a church-going Catholic who often helped others. He purchased a dozen balloons to take over to Kathryn, who also lived with aging parents. Scott and Kathryn had met on an Internet dating site and had been together nearly two years. Some said they had broken up five months earlier, but Esposito's family affirmed they were still together.

In either case, on May 11, 2007, Esposito took the balloons to Kathryn's home and knocked on the door. When her father answered, Esposito shot him to death, then entered and found Kathryn in the family room. He turned the gun on her. Wounded, she ran outside, where he shot her again, and she collapsed and died. Esposito then got into his car and drove away, shooting himself in the mouth. He had purchased the ammunition the night before.

Mayfield Heights, Oh.,where Kathryn was staying with her father.
Mayfield Heights, Oh., where Kathryn
was staying with her father.

Nothing now known about Esposito indicated that he would suddenly commit a double homicide, let alone kill himself. Had anyone guessed, others might have tried to intervene. But not only was the act in stark contrast to what people knew of this man, he had carefully concealed his plan from everyone. He even left behind family who needed and depended on him, for whom he had made no arrangements.

There was no indication that he suffered from delusions or any other mental disorder that would explain his violence. Yet it was not out of character, as many people insisted. In The Myth of the Out of Character Crime, Dr. Stanton E. Samenow maintains that people "always act within character." People who were surprised by Esposito's act simply did not know him well enough to see what he might do. If one digs deep enough, all the factors are there that would precipitate violence in such situations.

It could be as simple as deep shame over the break-up and the embarrassment of lying to his family that they were still together. Sometimes people suppress such inner conflicts, which then build to a breaking point. But the challenge is knowing a dangerous person that well, because offenders who are aware of the wrongness of their contemplated acts tend to make their fatal plans in secret.

Predicting who might become violent in the future is like predicting the weather: while there's a science to calculating the probabilities, there are always surprises in practice. In addition, risk assessment implies the ability to step in to prevent predictable violence. While few seek a Minority Report situation, in which people with violent potential are snatched out of society, most do hope that science can help find ways to intervene before tragedies like the Esposito incident occur.

An extremely high-profile case that drew global attention to challenges of predicting violence was the massacre which occurred in the spring of 2007 at Virginia Tech.

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