Mass Shootings, The Emerging Unfortunate Truths and Dilemmas

I felt it was time to share my thoughts on the mass shootings phenomenon that has been occurring to the dismay and horror of all of us over the last several years. My memory on this is somewhat longer than most people’s because of my profession as a psychiatrist and because I have been following this issue for now over twenty years when the first “modern” shootings started and the first was of school shootings by minors starting nearly two decades. This does not mean mass shooting have not occurred before in history as any internet search engine entry of “history of mass shootings” will give new reports and articles on shootings going back many many decades, eclipsing by far all our current lifespans.

I have seen as a psychiatrists people who have done isolated shootings very early in my training and early in my career after residency training. All of them were shootings in the singular or in pairs or more family members or persons known and close to the shooter/murderer. The first was an estranged young high school student who shot a supposed girlfriend he had an imaginary of delusional fixation on, and who finally jilted him at school, which was the trigger for his shooting her outside of school fortunately. He fit the now current profile we hear about in many of these cases, a younger, white loner male who is known by almost no one, a marginal student, on the fringes of almost all social circles in school and who suffers a traumatic loss and which constitutes the apparent motivating “last straw” or trigger for the murderous act which seems to come out of nowhere. As with at least some of the recent young white male shooters, he had had no contact with any sphere of mental health services and his family was certainly not aware of what was going on with him. Which leads to one of the central issues with many of these shooters, they convey their intentions usually to no one clearly though some of them display very disturbed, aberrant, angry, paranoid views toward one or more social groups they rant about and blame for various and sundry personal or national ills. Since the youths who become these murderous shooters, they have lived less long and have consequently displayed or entertained these issues for shorter periods of time, though in some of them by the time they reach their later teen or young adult years, it may have really been going on in their thoughts for several years. In the cases of the adult shooters, it seems to fall into two time frames, some for many years, in some for most of their adulthood with only hints conveyed to others rarely in the form of racial or ethnic group hatreds or “odd” ideas, that they do not expand upon long or often enough to raise alarm in their work colleagues or families if they are not total loners. The other class is the impulse shooter who usually is confined to giving way and losing control of murderous anger suddenly in reaction to a sudden loss, such as a job, rejection by a spouse with separation (usually a wife who leaves). These men then stalk their estranged wives, develop or increase their previous paranoid ideas that they wives are and have been cheating on them, though many or most of them have surveilled their wives so closely for so long with such sophistication, nowadays even planting secretly GDS directional instruments in the wives’ cars to track their driving patterns and destination, being convinced they will surely catch them in an affair. Also they typically, record  their wives’ cars’ mileage constantly, often follow them in their own cars, or do not permit them to drive as part of the over the top irrational jealousy and controlling behaviors toward their wives, in effect, keeping them captive, perhaps a milder subset that is related to though milder than the serial killers who capture women, torture them, but keep them in captivity as the case in Cleveland with the fellow who kept three women hostage for 10 years or so. Those men usually kill their spouses, and sometime qualify as mass shooters, which now is defined variously as killing two or three persons at once, though most authorities and experts still hold to the older threshold of at least three persons. An example would be the man in Minnesota who accosted his estranged wife in the beauty shop across from the large mall, shot and killed her, and killed one or more other women before turning his gun on himself. His shooting shows how indiscriminant the murderous rage can be as after he shot his wife which one would assume was his primary motive, intention and target, he shot, wounded and killed other women who just happened to be in shop at the time. Others of these men will not only shoot their estranged wives, but also their children, their own parents,-aut and/or their wives’ parents and thus qualify as “mass shooters.”

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School Shootings, PTSD and Concentration Camp Survivor Syndrome

In one of the venues in which I have practiced in the last 40 years of as a psychiatrist, I was asked to be a member two decades ago in a large city’s psychiatric/mental health trauma team by my partner at the time. He had served on the ‘team’ for some years and wished to give it up. He offered it to me and with my usual gung ho attitude of never turn a chance down to do something new and different, I assented to his offer and was accepted into the inter-agency body upon his recommendation. I underwent all sorts of training but mainly working with victims of mass hostage situations, shootings in public places, and mass industrial or urban accident scenes with the visual presence of much death and human destruction. To date myself, this work occurred over 20 years ago when the post office employees were cutting loose in fits of rage and shooting up large post offices, killing supervisors and fellow employees. Some of the situations involved angry employees who took customers hostage in numbers at their places of employment whether manufacturing plants or large retail stores in large malls. To be sure, all of these situations involved adult perpetrators not children. Our teams of mental health ‘first aid’ workers, or as they are now called, ‘first responders,’ primarily focused on separating victims and shocked witnesses away from the scenes of their spells of captivity,  of being hostages, when permitted by law enforcement and then debriefing them gently to start the painful process of ventilating the toxic and seemingly impossible feelings so that our follow up private office counselling could continue later.

I had a special interest in these issues that jumped up into my conscious realization of what my initially unaware or “unconscious” motives were as I underwent the initial training sessions. I was interested in the victims’ experiences of being traumatized since I had been an early to middle teenager. It was not that I had been abused myself. My motivations were  much more esoteric and farther removed from the growing wave of revenge motivated violence we see now in this country, now having filtered down to middle elementary school students who are often as angry as the begrudging adult mass shooters.

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