Sunday, April 5, 2009

Mass Murder

Above: Mass Murder is not new
Middle: Charles Whtiman - died 8/1/66

Below: Life cover of U.T. Austin Tower shooting by Whitman

With the recent tragic mass murder in Binghamton, NY, I felt compelled to post some of basic research knowledge about Homicide-Suicides, of which Mass Murder is a category. My deepest sympathies go out to the survivors and community. I hope that the Binghamton community can come together to grieve, support one another, and not let this isolated act of selfish anger and resentment define them.

There is often the (false) impression in the media that mass murder more or less began with the Charles Whitman incident, but this is simply not the case. They have been occuring probably for longer than we have recorded history available to us. It is simply that the media has become more sophisticated and adept at reporting it (See above table). Here, I will briefly outline the phenomenon of Homicide-Suicide, and then discuss Mass Murder.

Homicide – Suicide is the phenomenon in which an individual commits a homicide, and subsequently (usually within 24 hours) commits suicide (Felthous, 1995; Marzuk, et al, 1992). The dramatic nature of a completed homicide-suicide frequently captures media attention, while efforts at recognition and prevention have received much less consideration. Because the event leaves no living victim or perpetrator, input from a mental health professional is typically not sought.

Most information about homicide-suicide has been gathered from data present in police and coroner’s reports. (Malphurs, 2002; Felthous 2001; Morton, 1998). Few studies have utilized interviews of family members, in addition to record reviews, to enhance the psychological autopsy approach.

The rate of homicide – suicide has been found to vary only slightly throughout the world. In the United States, rates have been reported as more or less consistently between 0.21 to 0.55 per 100,000 (Coid, 1983; Milray, 1995).

Although it is a relatively rare event, it is likely responsible for 1,000 to 1,500 deaths per year in the United States (Marzuk, et al, 1992). Coid (1983) found that countries with a high homicide rate had the lowest rate of homicide – suicide.

In their review of the literature Marzuk, et al (1992) were the first to propose a clinical typology for the classification of homicide – suicide. Their system categorizes perpetrators based on victim – perpetrator relationship, and by class of precipitants or motives. For example, it has been reported that the most common type of homicide – suicide is spousal killing, usually with the male killing his female “consort” due to a breakdown of the relationship (Milray, 1995). Marzuk, et al (1992) have classified this type as a Spousal homicide – suicide of the “Amorous Jealousy” class.

Depression was found to be the most common diagnosis in perpetrators of spousal homicide-suicide. These dyads were commonly characterized as chaotic, abusive relationships. In addition, histories of alcohol abuse and violent behavior are frequently found among this type of perpetrator (Rosenbaum, 1990). The common thread running through this type of homicide – suicide appears to be the precipitating factor of a loss of a previously intimate consort. Indeed, recent estrangement of a partner increases the risk of both homicide and homicide – suicide (Darpet, 1966; Currens, 1991).

Another common type is the Spousal homicide – suicide of the “Declining Health” class. In this group a male, usually elderly, kills his spouse and then himself because of declining health and it’s associated hardships. In actuality, both may be suffering declining health, or conversely, only one has health issues while the other suffers from depression. There may have been some form of threat (eg, financial) to a spouse’s ability to continue functioning in the caretaker role. Beginning in the 1990’s, younger couples suffering from AIDS have been classified in this group. Cohen argues that homicide – suicides of this class are not acts of love or altruism, but of depression and desperation (Cohen, 1998).

Other typologies of homicide – suicide seen with less frequency are the filial, familial, and extra-familial types. Filicide – suicide usually involves the classic scenario of a depressed and psychotic mother who kills her infant in an “extended suicide” (Resnick, 1970; Marzuk, et al 1992). A familicide – suicide is usually committed by a depressed man who kills his entire family. He is likely to view his act as a delivery of the family from continued hardships or stressors (Selkin, 1976).

The Extra-Familial type is sometimes referred to as the “Adversarial” type because the most common event involves an offense against a perceived “enemy” who is unrelated to the perpetrator. Adversarial homicide-suicides typically consist of disgruntled employees, or antagonistic, hate filled individuals. They are likely to be suspicious loners who have had a recent social stressor. They are prone to perceiving themselves as persecuted, and seek revenge in the workplace, or indiscriminately in public (Dietz, 1986; Felthous, 1995; Marzuk, 1992).

Mass murderers who commit suicide would fit into this category, as their relationships to their victims are often extra-familial and adversarial in nature. The U.S. Bureau of Justice has defined “mass murder” as the killing of four or more victims at 1 location, within 1 event. Thus, the following categories of homicide-suicide could also potentially be considered mass murders: 1) the “disgruntled” (ex) employee, 2) the “class room avenger,” and 3) the “pseudo-commando.”

Adversarial Homicide-Suicide (Extra-familial)

This type involves a disgruntled employee who has recently been dismissed or is experiencing work stress. He externalizes blame onto his supervisors or co-workers, and feels wronged in some way. He is very likely to have depression, as well as paranoid narcissistic traits. Actual persecutory delusions may be seen. Variants of this type include disgruntled students, patients, and litigants.

The phenomenon of mass murder described by Dietz (1986) has some over-lap with homicide-suicide. A mass murder occurs when multiple victims are intentionally killed by a single offender in a single incident. The "pseudo-commando" subtype of mass murder can be considered a homicide-suicide in certain cases. The pseudo-commando is usually a man who is feeling strong anger and resentment, in addition to a paranoid character(Dietz). He kills indiscriminately in public during the day time. He uses a powerful arsenal of weapons, and has no escape planned. This may sometimes involve a "passive suicide" in that he forces police to kill him in a last stand "blaze of glory."

Pseudo-commando mass murders have been described as often possessing the following characteristics (Mullen, 2004):

§ Bullied or isolated as a child
§ Loners who are socially excluded and despair over feeling excluded
§ Suspicious, resentful, grudge holders
§ Obsessional or rigid traits
§ Narcissistic, grandiose traits
§ Externalizers – unable to take responsibility for their distress and place responsibility on others
§ Weapons collector, preoccupied with weapons
§ Strong feelings of persecution or mistreatment
§ World seen as rejecting, uncaring
§ Resentful with rumination on past humiliations – “collectors of injustice” (Dietz)
§ Fantasize about violent revenge
§ No significant criminal or violence history
§ No significant mental health history or serious mental illness
§ No significant substance abuse

The massacres carried out by pseudo-commandos are often characterized by the following:

§ Well planned out – not impulsive, did not “snap” (JK: If you investigate closely enough, you will find that no one "just snaps." This is a lay-myth. The act is the culmination of a long period of harboring/collecting resentment and fantasizing about violent retribution)
§ Set out to kill as many people as they can
§ Come well prepared and well armed, often in camo or “warrior” gear
§ Pursue a highly personal agenda of “pay back” to an uncaring, rejecting world
§ Sometimes also against those he has a grievance with

Mullen (2004) raises the possibility that these “autogenic massacres” (mass murders) are unique to western society. Further, subsequent pseudo-commandos appear to have been inspired or influenced by previous ones via the media. The perpetrators “welcome death,” and perceive it as bringing them fame with an aura of power.

Here are more results from some interesting studies:

Mass Homicide & Suicide: Deadliness & Outcome (Lester, ’05)

This study examined a nonrandom sample of 98 Lone “rampage” killers. Lester defined "deadliness" by number of victims.

In terms of deadliness, here's how the perpetrators fell out:

  • Most deadly: Killed by police
  • 2nd most deadly: Committed suicide
  • 3rd most deadly: Captured by police

Lester also found that perpetrators often showed an interest in guns, had past violence, and demonstrated paranoia or paranoid traits. Interestingly, disgruntled employees were more likely to commit suicide.

Mass Murderer Characteristics (Hempel, ’99)

This study looked at a sample of 30 nonrandom mass murderers and found:

•Paranoid and/or depressive traits
•Personality disorders
•Major loss precipitating the event
•A “Warrior mentality” among perpetrators - coming to the event "decked out" in military-like garb, heavily armed and even sometimes shouting particular "war cries."

Another common theme running through these types of events is the toxic effects of social isolation or rejection. This phenomenon has been well studied by Baumeister, who has shown that social rejection engenders feelings of nihilism, hopelessness, anger, as well as impaired cognition and ability to make cautious decisions.

No comments:

Post a Comment