The Baffling Stories Behind Our Epidemic Of Mass Killers
Note: This deep dive into the mindset of mass killers originally ran in 2016, we're resurfacing it in light of the recent attack.
Don't tell me the attacks are "inexplicable." Anything can be explained.
It seems like the last year has been an unending parade of unfathomable acts of mass violence, usually by "lone wolf" attackers against a bunch of strangers who never wronged them. Well, I'm not comfortable declaring things unfathomable. I want to fathom everything. It's how I cope. If you don't want to read about these people or think this is glorifying them, I respect your opinion. But me? I want to know. I want to understand.
So I've examined the lives of the mass killers who've made headlines over the last year, and what I've found is that the ensuing narrative in each case was usually either wrong or laughably oversimplified.
Note: I'm intentionally leaving out the Paris attacks of November 2015 and the bombings in Brussels, because those were no mystery -- they were the work of well-organized ISIS cells. I'm also leaving off the guy who shot 17 people in Kansas in April (do you even remember that one?), because he wasn't much of a mystery either -- he was a lifelong criminal who had so much meth and alcohol in his system that he probably had no idea what the fuck he was even doing.
The rest, well, aren't so simple. Let's take a few minutes to try to understand these fetid shitheads.
Oregon: A Guy Shoots 18 People At His Community College
Criminal History: None.
Shit, I bet most of you have forgotten this one too. Happened last October? Guy shot up a community college? There was a frenzy in the immediate aftermath to determine if he was a jihadist or white nationalist, then we kind of forgot about it, because it turned out he didn't really fit anybody's narrative. Hey, I get it, this was like 36 shootings ago.
You remember. It was the one where people sent "thoughts and prayers."
There were no real warning signs with this guy. He was named Christopher Sean Harper-Mercer (do most mass killers go by three names, or is that just something the press does in the aftermath?), he grew up in LA, and his parents divorced when he was a baby. You're going to find out that this, if nothing else, is a running theme on this list. He still lived with his mom. He was mixed-race, and his mother was black (this will be relevant in a moment).
He had Asperger's syndrome (though I hope I don't have to point out that mass murder is not a symptom of that disease), and attended a special needs school for a while. He joined the Army in 2008, but washed out of basic training after a month. He described himself on a dating website as an introvert, as well as "conservative" and "intellectual." He went to community college for two years, from 2010-2012. No incidents, no run-ins with the law -- just a quiet, socially awkward loner who loved the shit out of some guns.
Does that last part describe you or anyone you know? That's the point.
Yeah, he owned 14 guns at the time of his death. His mother was a gun enthusiast too, and they went shooting together (if you think that's weird, keep in mind that's also how I grew up, and I'm normal as fuck).
Then, in the last few years, he started writing message board posts praising prior mass shooters for having found fame. "I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are ... His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."
So, you know, there's that.
He'd recently gone back to school -- Umpqua Community College -- and was involved in the theater program. He wanted to work in Hollywood. On October 1, 2015, he strapped on body armor, gathered up six of his guns, and went to campus. He walked up to somebody, presumably at random, and gave them a copy of his extensive manifesto. It rambled about his hatred of organized religion, bemoaned his virginity and lack of career prospects, and expressed a hatred of blacks (again, he was mixed-race and lived with his doting black mother). Oh, and on his old Myspace page, he praised the Irish Republican Army(?).
He probably cared less about their politics and more that he thought those were some sweet-ass guns.
He walked into his creative writing class and started shooting. Supposedly, he made some of the students tell him their religion, and if they answered "Christian," they were killed (though two non-Christians were among the dead). Altogether, nine were killed and nine more were injured. The cops showed up, and Mercer shot himself in the head. He could have done much, much more damage -- they found him with plate body armor and an assault rifle.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
And I mean, in terms of laws we can pass. The guy wanted to get famous by killing a bunch of people, so you might say, "Stop publicizing the names of shooters!" But do you mean we make it illegal to talk about them? Because any outlet which voluntarily self-censors that information will just lose audience to the outlets that don't. People want to know. They, like me, want to understand.
You can talk about an assault weapons ban, but he never fired his -- the killing was done with pistols. You can talk about background checks for gun buyers, but this guy had a clean record -- and even if he didn't, he could have just used his mother's guns, or had her buy on his behalf.
It's not like their local gun shop was selling out anytime soon.
So? How do you prevent this? Ban and confiscate all guns? Post armed guards at community colleges? Arrest people who praise killers on social media? Seriously, tell me. I'm all ears.
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San Bernardino: A Married Couple Drops The Baby Off At Grandma's, Then Shoots 36 People
Age: The guy was 28, the woman was 29.
Criminal History: None.
Media Narrative Afterward: ISIS attack! Seriously, what is there to even discuss? We're at war!
Nothing about this makes a lick of sense.
The guy, Syed Rizwan Farook, grew up in Riverside, California, in what sounds like a shitty home. His parents were from Pakistan. His mom claimed his father was an alcoholic who abused her, and asked for a divorce on those grounds. So there's another broken home ... except Syed grew up, did great in school, and got a degree in 2010. Never got in trouble. A quiet guy, kept to himself (so we're two for two there, also), landlord said he had a good credit rating. He got a boring job as a food inspector with the county health department in 2011, made a decent salary. Co-workers said he was just ... kind of there.
His hobbies included watching TV, quiet walks, and taking the most stoned-looking driver's license photos in history.
In 2013, Farook met a woman named Tashfeen Malik on an online dating service. She was in Pakistan, came from an influential family, and had a degree in pharmacology. Strict Muslim upbringing, but no known connection with violent radicals. Farook brought her to the U.S. on a fiancee visa.
We know now that some of the private messages they sent back and forth upon meeting spoke of Jihad and martyrdom. There were no other indications of what was coming. Was their marriage genuine? Did they actually feel anything for each other? Or was it just a death pact, the marriage a sham to get her into the country? I still don't know. At least a year before the attack, they started planning. They filled their garage with bomb-making materials -- the FBI would find 12 pipe bombs in there afterward which they never got the chance to use. They bought guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
But get this: In mid-2015, they fucking have a baby.
Was that ... an accident? Part of the plan?
Too bad their plans didn't involve reading the books they bought their kid and fucking understanding them.
Regardless, it didn't derail the mission -- they just made plans to give the baby to Farook's mother before they carried out their suicide attack. The day before the shooting, they dropped off the infant with her (claiming they had an appointment to go to) and rented an SUV. Time to initiate their grand plan to strike a blow for global jihad. Which was to, uh, shoot up Farook's office Christmas party. Obviously.
On December 2, Farook attends the party, staying quiet for most of it. They were about to take a group photo when he stepped out. Then he and his wife returned in black tactical gear and ski masks, each with the Standard Mass Shooter Loadout: An AR-15-style assault rifle and a semiautomatic pistol.
They shot everyone they saw -- leaving 14 dead and 20 wounded -- then left a backpack on a table. It contained three pipe bombs which were intended to kill police and emergency workers who showed up to help the victims. (Those thankfully failed to detonate. All of their bombs appear to have been built poorly, off instructions they found on the internet.)
The police pursued the couple in a highway chase which turned into a running gun battle. It ended in a hellish last stand in which seven cops needed 380 rounds to take down this mild-mannered food inspector and a new mother with a degree in pharmacology. The couple fired 76 shots back, hitting two officers (both survived).
There is no indication that the couple had contact with ISIS or were supplied/directed by them in any way. They had just decided, together, that they should abandon their baby and their comfortable middle-class lifestyle to form their own two-person terror cell, apparently for the express purpose of shooting up the county health department.
My opinion: These people were dipshits.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
This is when you started hearing, "Don't let Muslims into the country!" from politicians as a possible solution. So we're including ones who are marrying existing citizens, and have college degrees and no history of violence? What if she tells immigration she's stopped being Muslim? Then what? "Just ban the ones from hostile countries, then!" Okay, but Pakistan has been a U.S. ally ever since it became a country. "Forget about all that, we need to strike back at ISIS!" By what, putting ground troops in Syria, where ISIS is? How does that stop this?
How does anything stop it?
Orlando: Man Opens Fire On A Gay Nightclub, Claims 102 Victims
Criminal History: Charges but no convictions, a history of aggressive behavior.
The shooter was Omar Mateen, and he was a creepy, angry kid for as long as anybody remembers. Born in New York, his parents were from Afghanistan. His father made a nice living as a broker, but went nuts later (more on that in a moment). Omar was getting disciplined by teachers as early as third grade, and in high school, he was sent to an alternative program for kids with behavior disorders. An arrogant bully, constantly joking about violence, constantly trying to get a reaction. Teachers complained that his parents enabled his behavior. He looked like this:
Yeah, he was always kind of a douche. Is he wearing two watches?
Oh, and he was a wannabe cop (not the last one on the list, either). He took multiple selfies wearing NYPD gear (he was never employed by the New York Police Department in any way), like he was just a fan.
Roughly a zero-percent chance he'd have been one of those cool cops who play basketball with local kids.
Mateen grew up to become a high-testosterone type, kind of a bro. He worked part-time at gyms and supplement stores. Applied for a job as a prison guard, got fired six months into the trainee program for skipping class and jokingly asking if he could bring a gun. Took jobs as a security guard after that -- the closest he could get to being police. He got married in 2009. His wife says he beat her and that she fled less than a year later. Mateen immediately got married again, got his new wife pregnant, then cheated on her. She left not long after.
Mateen is the first one on the list who didn't come from a broken home, but his situation is actually much weirder. His dad had hosted a public access TV show about Afghani politics, and at some point, he started wearing a military uniform and proclaiming himself the new ruler of Afghanistan, claiming he had friends in high places who would help him overthrow the current government (he did not).
He couldn't even overthrow basic cable.
Mateen, meanwhile, got fired from his security guard job for -- you guessed it -- talking/joking about terrorism. He told people he had joined Hezbollah and had ties to Al Qaeda -- both of which are bitter enemies of ISIS. His bosses reported him to the FBI, who investigated and could find no actual connections to terrorist groups -- he was just talking shit. They would look into him again when an acquaintance of his carried out a bombing in Syria, but would find no connection between the two men other than that they barely knew each other.
Multiple men have come forward and said that Mateen was a regular at the Pulse nightclub and that he used gay dating apps like Grindr. Some even claimed to have dated him. Others deny this (for their part, the FBI found no hard evidence that Mateen was gay or that he targeted Pulse because it was a gay club).
Yep, we'd deny dating this asshole too.
Like every attack on this list, it was not a spontaneous act. Two months before the shooting, Mateen sold his house to his sister. A few weeks before the attack, he tried to buy body armor and 1,000 rounds of ammunition from a gun shop, which -- get this -- turned him away, presumably because they saw that he had "mass shooter" written all over him. (They claim they reported the incident to the FBI, but nobody has any record of it.) Two weeks before the attack, he tried again at another shop. He bought the standard mass shooter gear: an assault rifle (similar to an AR-15, but a different brand) and a Glock 17 semiautomatic pistol. He again asked for body armor, but the shop didn't carry it.
Somehow, the thought that all the setbacks might have been the Universe telling him to stop didn't occur to him.
On June 12, 2016, Mateen announced on Facebook that the U.S. was about to taste the vengeance of ISIS -- the bitter enemies of the groups he had claimed to belong to earlier. He walked into the club and killed 49 people and wounded 53 more. He called 911 multiple times to reaffirm that he was acting on behalf of ISIS, and called a local TV news station to state the same. In reality, he had no contact with the group. After years of pulling random terrorist groups out of his ass to get attention, he finally landed on one and went with it.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
This incident prompted the "No guns for people on the terror watch list" movement, which actually got a proposed bill to the floor of Congress (it didn't pass). But Mateen had been completely cleared by the FBI and taken off the list. He had no convictions on his record, so "no guns for felons" wouldn't have stopped him either.
If you're in the "A good guy with a gun could have stopped him!" crowd, all I can do is ask you to imagine a dark nightclub, packed with people, music blasting, in a state of mass confusion after shots start ringing out. Does the presence of a dozen wannabe heroes with Glocks stuffed in the back of their pants lower the body count?
Related: 4 Famous Killers Everyone Gets Wrong
Dallas: An Army Vet Ambushes Police At A Black Lives Matter Rally, Shooting 14 Officers and Two Civilians
Criminal History: None.
Media Narrative Afterward: Depending on whether Facebook is feeding you stories from the left or the right, you either got "Black Lives Matter terrorists murder cops" or "lone wolf shooting by an Army vet who snapped."
Not even a hint of trouble for most of this guy's life. I have more red flags in my childhood than him.
Micah Johnson grew up in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite. His parents were divorced (we're three out of four on that count), but Micah was a good, polite, churchgoing kid, according to everybody who's been asked. He got bad grades in school, but never got in trouble. Friends described him as "goofy" and "fun-loving" and a "jokester." Note: None of our five mass killers so far had a single conviction on their record prior to the shit hitting the fan.
Like Omar Mateen, Johnson aspired to be a police officer. On Facebook, he "liked" multiple police departments -- again, like he was just a fan. He tried to enroll in college, but never really got started. Went into the military in 2009 instead, spent six years there, got deployed to Afghanistan from 2013-2014. Did construction work on base, no evidence he was ever in combat.
But now plenty of evidence that he didn't know what that hand sign means.
Johnson's military career fell apart after a bizarre incident in which he was found with a female soldier's underwear. Some claim they were dating, but whatever it was, it turned into a sexual harassment case which nearly resulted in a dishonorable discharge (he made a deal for a lesser punishment).
This appears to have utterly derailed Johnson's life. Everyone agrees he came back a different man -- quiet and withdrawn. He then turned his rage toward, uh, working as an aide for mentally challenged people.
Sure, he posted on Facebook about all the videos of police shootings and said he was angry. But no angrier than millions of others who saw the same videos -- there were no threats of violence. Still, he accumulated "bomb-making materials, ballistic vests, rifles, ammunition, and a personal journal of combat tactics." He practiced combat tactics in his backyard for weeks leading up to the attack, and took classes in martial arts and weapons from a local gym.
He also thought he understood Black Lives Matter, but as with the police departments, he had no clue. Just a fan.
This was all in advance of an attack he couldn't have been specifically planning for. Remember, the rally where the attack occurred was in response to police shootings which had just happened days earlier. I guess he was just preparing in general, figuring that the opportunity would come along eventually? He's driving around handicapped people by the day, practicing his mass shooter moves by night? Okay.
On the night of July 7, he gathered up his mass shooter gear (his assault rifle was an AK-47 variant, his semiautomatic pistol another Glock), and pulled up to two police officers at the Dallas Black Lives Matter protest. He conversed with them for a bit, then shot them.
Then he got out and took cover in a nearby building -- investigators think he was familiar with it and knew the layout -- and shot as many police officers as he could (killing five, wounding nine more, plus two civilians), utilizing the shoot-and-move tactics he'd been practicing. He was eventually wounded and got cornered in the building. Negotiators came in to talk to him. He showed no signs of nervousness or panic, laughing and singing and taunting the cops. He refused multiple offers to surrender peacefully. This quiet, churchgoing class clown absolutely intended to keep killing police until they killed him -- which they did, by rolling in a robot with a lump of C4 plastic explosive attached to it.
The next day, when Micah's employer was told by a reporter had happened, she responded, "He's not that kind of person. He's not violent. That can't be him."
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
Again, short of banning all guns and magically making the existing 300 million of them (including tens of millions of assault rifles) vanish? All of the compromise positions would have done nothing. He'd have passed any background check. He had no mental illness and no criminal record, and was a brave Army veteran who had put his life on the line in the War on Terror.
Maybe the neighbor who saw him practicing combat tactics in his backyard could have said something? Eh, hindsight is 20/20.
Nice, France: A Driver Plows A Truck Into A Crowd And Runs Over 400 People
Criminal History: Extensive. A career criminal.
Media Narrative Afterward: ISIS strikes France again!
"Wait," you're probably saying, at least if you're a news-watcher, "this was a straight ISIS terror attack, right? Like the other stuff in France and the surrounding area?"
Eh, not quite.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was a career criminal and lifelong fuckup. He wasn't religious -- his neighbors didn't even know he was a Muslim. He was born in Tunisia, his parents are divorced (that's four out of five -- you can decide if it means anything) and moved to France in 2005. He drank, he smoked weed. He was a fitness nut, like Mateen. He had memberships on dating sites and apparently dated both men and women. He looked like this:
There's your goddamned radical Muslim Jihadist.
He worked as a delivery driver and was a father of three, but divorced the mother two years ago after the police had to show up for multiple domestic violence complaints. He had a history of depression and an explosive temper, and had been evaluated for what his parents thought were signs of psychosis even before he moved to France. An all-around creepy guy who would just stare if you said hello.
Like all the others, he started planning the attack weeks or months in advance, this time with help (several people have been arrested as accomplices, but it's not yet clear what role they played). On July 1st, he started researching the Bastille Day celebrations where he would carry out the attack, figuring out where the crowds would be. His browser history showed that he had also read about the Pulse nightclub shooting in June, and the Dallas police shooting, which occurred just days before his own attack. On July 4, he reserved the 19-ton truck he would use as a weapon, and picked it up on the 11th.
If only a good guy with a 19-ton truck were there to stop him.
On the 14th, Bouhlel loaded up a real pistol and, for some bizarre reason, several fake weapons (a replica AK-47, M-16, and a fake grenade), and drove the rental truck around the Promenade for a while, as if figuring out his route. After a fireworks display ended, he stepped on the gas and plowed through the crowd, swerving to hit as many people as he could. This went on for more than a mile. Two police finally shot him dead (Bouhlel shot back, but didn't hit anyone). He killed 84 people and managed to injure 308 more.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
Well, gun laws don't help you here. You can start talking about Muslim immigration again, but this guy came to France from Tunisia. That's a former French colony with close ties (most of the population there still speaks French -- it's kind of an America/Canada situation) which France regards as a key ally against terrorism.
If it turns out the accomplices were recruiting him on behalf of ISIS, the question isn't how you stop that. It's what are you trying to stop? It's one thing to track the movement of money, guns, and explosives -- that's what we do now. But if all these people did was put an idea into his head to rent a truck and run people over? Even if the cops had uncovered the plot, what's there to uncover? Up until the killing started, all that happened was a delivery driver rented a big truck. What part of the "We have to get tough on ISIS!" strategy stops this from happening?
Turning the scene into an anti-memorial Bouhlel trash effigy for people to spit on is the current plan, apparently.
I ask again: Does anything stop this?
Baton Rouge: A Guy Drives Hundreds Of Miles To Ambush Police, Shoots Six Of Them
Criminal History: None.
Media Narrative Afterward: A copycat attack after Dallas by another anti-cop terrorist.
This was a second police ambush shooting, and came just 10 days after the last one. As we learned in the last entry, none of these are happening in a vacuum -- every attacker on the list probably knew about the ones that came before.
The shooter was born Gavin Eugene Long. Parents are divorced (that's five of six). Otherwise, the only information we currently have about his childhood is that his step-family says he was quiet, polite, and intelligent. Grew up in Kansas City, graduated from high school in 2005. No criminal history at all.
Unless you consider rebranding yourself as a life coach named "Cosmo Setepenra" a crime -- which it probably should be.
By the way, note the narrow age range on this list so far -- 25, 26, 28, 29, 29, 29, 31. Hmm.
Like Harper-Mercer and Johnson, he had joined the military, enlisting in the Marines in 2005 through 2010. He was deployed to Iraq from 2008 to 2009, working as a data network specialist. He never saw combat (as far as anyone knows). No problems anyone is aware of. He came back and got married in 2009, but everyone agrees his personality started to change around then. He said he suffered from PTSD, though there are no records that he was diagnosed with it by a medical professional. He was on anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping medication. He bounced around a few different colleges and got good grades. Everyone agrees that he was intelligent.
Then, in the last couple of years, Long kind of went nuts. He got divorced and claims he sold all of his worldly possessions and lived in Africa for a time. He created a new identity for himself: Cosmo Setepenra. He legally changed his name to that in May 2015 and started referring to himself as a "Freedom Strategist, Mental Game Coach, Nutritionist, Author and Spiritual Adviser." He started a website, a Twitter account, and a YouTube vlog, and wrote a series of bizarre self-published books.
If you understand any of that, talk to a counselor now.
Around then, Long had started to become paranoid that every stranger in his life was spying on him, joining an online group whose stated mission is to help people who are "Marginalized and abused by ... Remote Brain experimentation, Remote Neural Monitoring of an entire Humans Body."
He was very vocal about his rage over police shootings of African Americans, and made vague references to the need for violent revolution. He referenced black separatist groups in his social media channels, but nine days before the attack, he posted a video announcing that he had no affiliation with any group and didn't want any of his actions attributed to them, or vice versa. The man had created his own unique belief system, and was proud of it.
It's like a Russian Nesting Doll of deranged, misguided fans.
On July 17, 2016, Long packed up the exact arsenal the San Bernardino shooters used -- an AR-15 variant with the exact same Springfield semiautomatic pistol as backup, with the addition of another assault rifle (he left one of them behind during the shooting). He stole a rental car, driving it 700 miles from Kansas City to Baton Rouge, the scene of the recent controversial police shooting of Alton Sterling. Then he just started driving aimlessly in search of police officers to kill.
He aborted two attempts (finding police cars but without the officers inside) before someone finally called in to report that a dude wearing a black mask was wandering around with an assault rifle. Police responded, and Long killed three officers and wounded three more before a SWAT sniper took him out from 100 yards away.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
OK, I have to pause to address everyone who's been shouting, "assault weapons ban!" at their screen for the last 4,000 words. After all, should that crazy fucker have been able to buy these?
If it looks like something Master Chief uses, maybe don't sell it to shifty weirdos?
But remember, all we're talking about with an assault weapons ban is a limit on how many bullets they hold at a time before you have to reload. Would this particular shooting have turned out differently if he'd only been able to fire, say, ten shots before swapping magazines? Remember, he had combat training -- with practice, swapping magazines can be done in a couple of seconds.
Otherwise, yes, he said bombastic things on social media -- but his posts were a single molecule of bombast in the roiling ocean of bombast we call "the internet." The whole point of giving us a platform to talk shit is so that we don't take to the streets -- talking shit is supposed to be the safety valve. I once wrote a whole first-person story about a guy shooting up his school, and another about a guy who shot up his office. I owned three guns and played violent video games. The only difference between us is that at some point, he was no longer just fantasizing about it.
Munich: A Teenager Shoots 13 People -- Mostly Other Teenagers -- At A McDonald's
Criminal History: None.
Media Narrative Afterward: Either you heard he was a jihadist who shouted "Allahu Akbar" during the rampage or that he was an anti-immigrant racist who worshiped Norway killer Anders Breivik. Again, depending on which headlines you're filtering for.
This one literally happened while I was writing this fucking article.
And with this, we're right back around to the lonely, socially withdrawn student archetype we led off with. Shooter was an 18-year-old kid, born and raised in Munich, lived in an affluent neighborhood. His parents were Iranian -- they came to Germany 20 years ago as asylum seekers (and are still together, so there's that). Kid's name was Ali David Sonboly; he appears to have preferred "David."
Now we can just call him "*Sigh* Again?".
He was a bullied, troubled kid. At least one incident with classmates in 2012 resulted in injuries (records involving minors don't provide much detail). He had been getting psychiatric care for depression. He was obsessed with mass shootings and owned multiple books on the subject. He was especially fascinated by the Norway killing in 2011, in which a white nationalist killed 77 people at a youth camp, many of them children. That occurred on July 22 -- Sonboly's shooting would come on the anniversary. Not an accident.
On the day of, he posted a message on Facebook under a dummy account claiming a local McDonald's at a shopping center was having a promotion -- a clumsy attempt to lure in victims. He went there with a Glock 17 pistol (third Glock on the list) and 300 bullets in his rucksack. Sonboly apparently went into the restroom and came out shooting, killing nine and wounding four more. Seven of the victims were minors -- two were 13 years old. He was targeting kids, just like in Norway. One group of four friends were eating at a table together -- Sonboly killed them all.
In the midst of the attack, he was caught on video having an argument with bystanders. He can be heard yelling, "Because of you I was bullied for seven years ... and now I have to buy a gun to shoot you!" Someone apparently shouted an ethnic slur, causing him to reply that he was German.
One guy on a roof with a gun: Easy Mode in Call Of Duty, terrifying as shit in real life.
In fact, he appeared to be targeting foreigners (only one victim was ethnic German), claiming that Turkish and Arab kids had bullied him in school. He fled from the scene of the attack, then shot himself in the head before the police got there. Witnesses say he shouted "Allahu Akbar," but if so, that would be the only time in his life he showed any interest at all in Islamic extremism whatsoever.
How Could This Have Been Stopped?
Well, Germany already has strict gun control laws which include mandatory psychological testing -- he got his gun illegally. No point in talking about getting tough on ISIS -- this had nothing to do with them. You can talk about stopping Muslim immigrants, and the irony is that Ali David Sonboly would apparently agree with you. You can talk about mental health, but he was already getting treatment.
You can say that the coverage of the 2011 Norway attack inspired this copycat, but what would you do differently, coverage-wise? Report the event and conspicuously leave out the guy's name, background, and motivation? That just makes him more mysterious and intriguing to people like Sonboly, and adds to the public's ignorance about what causes tragedies like this.
Again, I'm at a loss. Sorry.
So what do all of these people have in common?
* Their average age was 27, no one older than 31.
* Most, but not all, came from broken homes.
* Most, but not all, felt like they had no prospects for the future.
* Most, but not all, had latched onto a violent movement's ideology.
* Some, but not most, had studied or idolized previous mass killers.
* Some, but not most, had histories of criminal activity or violence.
* All of them thought mass murder would give their lives meaning.
* All of them saw their victims as nothing more than fodder -- lifeless vessels to absorb their rage.
So there you go. They all had, at some point in their lives, completely shed empathy for entire categories of people, training themselves to see fellow humans as mere props in their hero story, foot soldiers of the system they were lashing out against. You want to root out the hateful ideology that turns normal people into killing machines, there it is.
Note: While we were editing this article, a man in Japan killed 19 disabled people with a knife and wounded 26 more at the facility where he worked, slitting their throats one at a time. He's 26 years old.
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