Sunday, December 16, 2007

Shooter Psychology


It appears that I'm destined to blog about this. Every time a shooting spree hits the news and several people get killed, I get a note from somewhere asking if I heard about the story and my thoughts about it.

I have to say up front that I'm reluctant to blog about spree killers. I didn't blog about Cho and the Virginia Tech shootings or about the Amish school shootings or about the shootings at the Omaha shopping mall. And now we have the shootings in Colorado. These high profile media blitzes just strike me as disrespectful and hurtful to the victims and the victims' loved ones. I don't want to be another mental health talking head discussing the pop psychology of criminals. It makes the criminal take on an almost fictional quality, like a character in a television series, and turns a real human being into nothing more than a profile:

"He was drunk, he was high, he was poor, he was desparate, he was abandoned by his wife or girlfriend, fired from his job, facing jail time, always a loser, always a loner, he was quiet or cantankerous or paranoid and litiginous. He listened to heavy metal, listened to rap music, wore dark clothes, wore a trench coat, never spoke, he said hi to the neighbors, seemed like a nice guy, never thought he would do something like this."

For me, these stories aren't theoretical. They are my patients. I've known more than one spree killer and several hostage-takers, and I can tell you that there is no single monolithic answer to the question of why someone pulls the trigger. For me the most concerning reason was reflected in the suicide note left by the Omaha shooter. It said: "I want to be famous." And now, thanks to the New York Times, he is.

This leads me to the final reason I don't want to blog about spree shooters. Because somewhere out there, right now, there is a sad, angry, desperate person who also wants to be famous. I want that person to know that he will not be, at least not here on Shrink Rap.