Predicting Extreme Fatal Violence
There have been many motives for mass murder, from jealousy to payback to the need to make a public statement, with a great deal of damage as its punctuation. On October 16, 1991, George Hennard rammed his truck into a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, got out, and started shooting. Yelling, "This is payback day!" he left 23 dead or dying and 22 wounded before killing himself. Charles Whitman, the notorious 1966 campus shooter, picked off victims from his vantage point on the observation deck of the clock tower at the University of Texas at Austin. He killed 15 and wounded 31.
The school shooters, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Kip Kinkel, Michael Carneal, Barry Loukaitis, and Luke Woodham, all had issues with bullies or with feelings of failure, and all selected attacks on classmates as their reaction. Klebold and Harris also killed themselves. At the heart of their attacks was rage and frustration, and they were often well-armed and quite practiced with guns.
Rampage killers tend to be better educated than typical murderers, are usually rigid in temperament, express resentment against others, and are often self-defeating or suicidal. The most significant influence on their outburst appears to be some form of mental illness or psychological dysfunction, along with an inability to absorb life's disappointments. Often, they've made threats in the past and had fantasies about using violence to get their way. They usually arm themselves in preparation. What they do is not from impulse; it's the result of long-term planning with an ultimate goal. They usually act alone, although people who know them have seen the early warnings.
Some behaviors show up in these incidents often enough to become significant in risk assessment. The backgrounds of most killers who were not psychotic indicated that they might explode one day. Veiled threats, angry outbursts, or retaliations against others signal of a person's potential for large-scale physical violence, especially if these initial acts fail to satisfy them. A dangerous buildup of frustration derives from a need for control that hinders the ability to develop resilience. Those exposed to violence in their childhood environment appear to have a greater tendency to duplicate it, especially if they also develop sensitivity to rejection, failure, or frustration. Their fantasies absorb the conflicts and offer solutions that make sense to the person. More alarming, these fantasies feel good.