During the past week, we have seen yet more violence and carnage from a brace of active shooters⏤mass murderers. Lone wolf attacks upon the innocent at the Gilroy Garlic Festival (CA), a popular shopping mall in El Paso (TX) and outside of a bar in Dayton (OH).
As a forensic criminologist and forensic investigator for the USDOJ, several State Attorney General’s Offices and numerous large municipalities across the nation; I am used to being awakened at 0300 am hours with news of either an officer-involved shooting, or an active shooter or mass murder incident. I am one of the people who tries to decipher the pieces of the puzzle and connect the dots. I and people like me go where others fear to tread – into the minds of mass killers. We are the profilers. The Mind Hunters.
The media pundits and some still ignorant politicians are oft to ask, “Why do these incident happen?” They seems to always follow up their rhetorical questions with their own self-serving answers that fit their political spin. We need stricter gun control. It’s President Trump’s fault. It’s a litany of ridiculous rants, intended to emotionally capture a base of voters who are equally uninformed and disengaged from the realities of life.
The truths be told, understanding why an extremely small but growing group of people would arm themselves and extend violence indiscriminately focusing on the innocent is not rocket science. While some of the reasons might occasionally be challenging to fathom; the motivations of these mass killers to mow down their fellow citizens who they have often never met is fairly limited in scope.
There are five basic motivations for active shooter/mass murder behavior: (1) mental health issues; (2) anger, rage or revenge; (3) hate of persons, or identifiable groups; (3) anti-government sentiment; (4) anti-religion sentiment and finally (5) people who have purely evil personalities.
To provide some historical context to our discussion, from 2016 – 2017, there were 50 active shooter or mass murder incidents in 21 out of our 50 U.S. states. These incidents resulted in 943 causalities, including 221 deaths and 722 people wounded. Consistent with these last three active shooter incidents, the top four states with the most active shooter or mass murder incidents were California, Texas, Ohio and Florida.
Between 2000 – 2018, the breakdown of active shooter incident locations have been: 45% at commercial businesses; 25% occurring at schools; 10% on government property; 9% took place in open spaces; 4% in houses of worship and 2% occurred in mental health facilities. Active shooter incidents go down fast; very fast. Our research documents that 69% of all active shootings/mass murders go down in less than five minutes; with 23% transpiring in less than two minutes. Not much time to respond unless you have practiced your escape, evade and/or fight plan.
No matter what the active shooter’s motivation to kill large numbers of people is; the salient truth is that they become extremely focused, yet emotionally disengaged killing machines.
Active shooters will shoot anyone; they will not show mercy; they will not take hostages; they will not make demands; they will not negotiate and they will almost never surrender to police. Ninety percent (90%) of all active shootings end on the shooter’s initiative by suicide, Suicide-by-Cop (SBC), or by capture by police in response to a tactical mistake like running out of ammunition, or a gun jamming. This is exactly why ever since the infamous Columbine High School active shooters 0r mass murders that police are now trained to immediately engage and neutralize the shooter(s) without waiting for a SWAT team or negotiators to arrive.
So what ignites the bomb? – Active shooters or mass killers are ticking time bombs and just like any bomb, once the fuse is lit, or the detonator depressed; there is nothing anyone can do to keep the bomb from exploding. And we almost never know exactly what stimulus will detonate these human bombs. But as a profiler, I can provide some insight as to what behaviors trigger the explosion protocol.
Ticking time bombs always have a mental dysfunction. It’s just not always overtly revealed to those closest around them. Parents, relatives, friends, associates, classmates and work colleagues who are interviewed post-incident almost always tell us that they “knew that something just wasn’t exactly right” with the shooter. They just didn’t want to be the one who brought their statements, rants on social media, or vague threats and/or abnormal behaviors to light.
Many ticking time bombs are like the dysfunctional children of dysfunctional parents. Often, the dysfunctional parents are politicians whose dangerous and irresponsible rhetoric and failure to act responsibly detonates the bomb.
In cases like at least the one in El Paso, Texas; it may be revealed that the shooter was so mentally and emotionally captured by the horrible crisis our the southern border with Mexico; the millions of illegal aliens, drug cartel members, thousands of tons of dangerous drugs killing tens of thousands of Americans; sex and human traffickers, international terrorists and MS-13 gang members entering our country and clashing with our law enforcement officers; that the pressure was too much and he exploded.
Simply profiling the El Paso shooter as a “white supremacist” or a hateful xenophobe, is far too simple an answer. So is any attempt to call for the confiscation of semi-automatic rifles because “guns kill people.” If that were the case, we would most certainly ban cars for killing thousands of people in the U.S. annually.
The weapon the active shooter or mass murderer employs to wreak their havoc upon the innocent is merely the “instrument of lethality.” It is far from the reason(s) why the shooter abruptly becomes enraged to point of mass murder.
As we have seen time and time again in other countries that have severely restricted or entirely banned the possession of firearms, the mass killer will use cars, garbage trucks and knives to kill large numbers of innocent people. Therefore, it is not the instrument we need to fear; it is the behaviors that create the angry, hateful, vengeful mindset that subsequently transitions to lethality we should worry about.
The ultimate violent actions of these ticking time bomb mass murderers is behaviorally driven and in today’s dysfunctional American society; irresponsible, hateful political rhetoric and the bad behavior of self-serving politicians is the match that lights the fuse of these bombs.
Every time a politician or high-profile media personality employs the irresponsible rhetoric of intolerance and hate on national television, I assure you that thousands of unstable ticking time bombs are watching, listening, analyzing and considering how what the person has said affects them. The more heated and irresponsible comments made; and the more that either no actions are taken, or improper actions are taken to worsen a national problem; the more pressure is placed upon the bomb’s detonator device until the bomb explodes.
When these ticking time bombs blow up, innocent people die. The problem is that they die far away from the halls of Congress, our federal courtrooms, and the headquarters of the national media networks. That is a forensic fact, we all need to keep in mind because in large part, these are the very people and dysfunctional systems that manufacture the components of America’s ticking time bombs.
Just remember that every day, everyone you meet is battling something you know nothing about. Who is the next ticking time bomb, ready to explode? That’s a thought we all need to keep in mind. And that’s the thought that keeps people like me up at night.