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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Some Scientific Backdrop To Stalking

My previous past concerned my own harrowing experience with a determined stalker. I had intended though I had not specified in that post that I would follow it up with a more studied explanation from “the literature” of my profession on stalking.

The author is a forensic psychologist of great skill and renown, having read a number of his articles and heard a few addresses by him at really good meetings, I turned to his body of work to try to find a single piece that I hoped would cover this subject well. My memory was right and through the magic of Google I found just such a source that is comprehensive and well written enough to actually be understood, no small task in our complex field who subject matter often strains the limits of language.

The author is Dr. J. Reid Meloy and his piece though a bit dated, published in 2007, is quite good and worth reading. The reference in the old fashioned method is “Editorial: Stalking: the state of the science,” in Criminal Behavior and Mental Health, 17: 1-17, 2007, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Focusing on the psychological phenomenology of stalking, he writes of the legal consensus that “three elements are necessary: an intentional activity, a credible threat, and the induction of fear in the victim.” He further expands these elements writing :it seems apparent that there must be a pattern of unwanted pursuit, the behavior must pose an implicit or explicit threat o the safety of the victim, and the victim must experience fears as a result of the intentional behavior of the pursuer.”

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Effect of the Stalker on My Backwards Vision

As a psychiatrist I have had my share of experiences with stalkers. Recently I had a reminder of my own experiences with this awful process, that is not really germane here and now. I have had several persons haunt my house, scare members of my family by looming outside dark windows on rainy nights, paint weird threats on one or another of my little “station cars,” my jalopies that just get me to the hospital and back and which none of my children would ever ride in…

But I too had a long experience with a determined stalker. I am not sure when stalkers made it into the national media and our shared national conscious awareness but for me it was when one of the prominent young comedienne stars of the popular late 1980’s tv sitcom My Sister Sam, Rebecca Schaeffer, was stalked, shot and killed by her assailant and lunatic ‘admirer’ as stalkers were euphemistically termed in those rather innocent days, Robert Bardo. Ms. Schaeffer was at that time a very affectionately regarded young comedy starlet, only 21 years old and likely had a potentially promising career ahead of her. Old clips of the show, reminded me of tv when it had a much more open, fresh and enjoyable ring to the humor which may well be in shorter supply these days.

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Stalking, the Next Dangerous Aberrant Gray Zone Mental Health Malady

This week the British paper, The Telegraph, published a well done article on malevolent stalking. Entitled “Rejected, obsessed and erotomanic: Inside the mind of a stalker,” it gives a well done examination of a current British case currently undergoing legal prosecution. It makes for informed reading and is still somewhat chilling. Among its relevant points are that a very substantial proportion of cases repeat their offenses and dangerous, terrorizing behaviors, even after being convicted and punished. They are not the ordinary ‘criminal recidivists, as they learn nothing from the punishment experiences but are largely NOT the psychopath who learns nothing from experience…These folks are different and still not well understood by my discipline. The psychotic ones are often fairly easy to discern in evaluations. The others are the products of family training by abusive parents, and the products of their unique personal developmental experiences which makes everything “imprecise,” and individualized.

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