DENVER (CBS4) – Nothing captivates people’s attention like a mass shooting, and in Colorado long-term residents know all too well the sorrow and devastation caused by a mass shooter.
With any complex problem, the first step in preventing it from happening is understanding who is at risk and why.
In the last five years more than 100 people have been killed at the hands of a mass shooter, and all who survive are left asking “Why did he do it?”
It’s a simple question with a very complicated answer.
The FBI and police psychologists learn more about prevention with every shooting, but there’s still more to learn about the anatomy of an active shooter or mass shooter.
“We do know that 98 percent of the active shooters are male,” said FBI Assistant Special Agent In Charge For National Security Steve Olson, who works out of the FBI’s Denver office.
“They generally act alone,” Olson said. “Indicators include the fact that they may have limited positive social interaction with family friends and business associates. They also demonstrate inappropriate interests in firearms or explosives in other mass shootings that have taken place.”
Police psychologist Dr. John Nicoletti agrees with that profile. He says out of the hundreds of mass shootings there haven’t been many women (six female shooters since 1986).
“Violence tends to be a guy thing,” Nicoletti said. “In the adult workplace, women can perpetrate violence pretty close to the same rate as guys, they just do it differently. Guys will draw blood. Women like to sabotage computers, put superglue in locks and do things like that.”
And what makes boys and men publicly commit these violent acts?
“First thing they start off with is what we call a perceived injustice. In other words ‘You’ve done me wrong.’ Then they start feeling victimized,” Nicoletti said.
“Whether they are real or perceived grievances on the part of the active shooter — it might be a significant change in a relationship. It could be a loss of a job, a divorce, a break up. It could be a bad test score. — Something occurs that is a triggering event,” Olson said.
“From there they begin to externalize responsibility,” Nicoletti said. “And then they develop a grudge, an obsession, and they have to carry out that action.”
As for the myth that all mass shooters are mentally ill, Nicoletti says that doesn’t necessarily apply.
“I say ‘Why do they have to be out of their mind?’ It’s not an acceptable thing,” he said. “Maybe they were narcissistic. Maybe they were a sociopath, but they’re not significant psychotic.”
That’s where the public comes in, If you see something suspicious, experts like Nicoletti and Olson urge you to say something about it — to tell somebody.
“Don’t just sit on the information,” Olson said. “We have got to as a society get to a point where it is not a
social stigma to stick my nose into someone else’s business when it comes to preventing violence.”
Nicoletti said most police and security agencies have generally identified those in the system who pose the highest risk, but that it’s those who are not in the system — the ones they don’t know about, the outsiders — that pose the greatest danger to the public.
“You have the insider and the outsider,” Nicoletti said. “The insider is somebody that’s on your radar and it should have been prevented. The outsider would be like the Aurora theater, where folks had no idea what was coming.”
“What you’re seeing now especially in (places like) Colorado if you do have a shooting, it’s going to be from an outsider. The insiders are really being stopped.”
One thing is for sure, mass shooters are not going away.
“We have got to acknowledge that this is a problem. We cannot sit passively by and expect someone else to fix this problem.” “Olson said.