Erica Goode looks into the mind of those who kill, and kill themselves, and writes — without irony, in the New York Times — that such killers seek fame, glory, or attention:
Before Adam Lanza, 20, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter, killed 20 children, six adults and himself in 2012, he wrote in an online forum, “Just look at how many fans you can find for all different types of mass murderers.”
Robert Hawkins, 19, who committed suicide after killing eight people at a shopping mall in Omaha in 2007, left a note saying “I’m gonna be famous,” punctuating the sentence with an expletive.
And Dylan Klebold, 17, of Columbine High School fame, bragged that the goal was to cause “the most deaths in U.S. history…we’re hoping. We’re hoping.”
“Directors will be fighting over this story,” Mr. Klebold said in a video made before the massacre.
Yes, let’s repeat their stories in the most important newspaper in the country, maybe the world.
The standard comic-book supervillain motivation — “a towering narcissism, a strong sense of grievance and a desire for infamy” — seems to describe these killers surprisingly well:
Serious mental illness, studies of mass killers suggest, is a prime driver in a minority of cases — about 20 percent, according to estimates by several experts. Far more common are distortions of personality — excesses of rage, paranoia, grandiosity, thirst for vengeance or pathological narcissism and callousness.
“The typical personality attribute in mass murderers is one of paranoid traits plus massive disgruntlement,” said Dr. Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist in New York who recently completed a study of 228 mass killers, many of whom also killed themselves.
“They want to die, but to bring many others down with them, whether co-workers, bosses, family members or just plain folk who are in the vicinity.”
Murder-suicides are rare — maybe 1,000 to 1,500 deaths per year — and murder-suicides involving strangers are rarer still — and different in character:
In domestic cases, depression does appear to play a significant role. A recent psychological autopsy study of murder-suicides in Dallas, most of which involved domestic violence, found that 17 of the 18 perpetrators met the diagnostic criteria for major depression or some other form of the illness.
The study, conducted by Dr. Knoll and Dr. Susan Hatters Friedman, a forensic psychiatrist at Case Western, found that a majority of the killers also abused alcohol or drugs. Four had a family history of suicide. The study has been submitted to a scientific journal.
Domestic murder-suicides are almost always impulsive — committed in fits of rage or jealousy, often enabled by the presence of a firearm. In contrast, killers who take groups of strangers as targets plan their crimes carefully, waiting for an opportunity to act.
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And while domestic murder-suicides are frequently fueled by alcohol, people who plan ahead to kill themselves and others seem concerned about keeping a clear mind for the task ahead.