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Mass Murderers - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mass Murderers: Why People Kill Those Around Them

Dr. Sylvia Gearing

TXA 21 News, February 18th, 2010

Today’s shocking news of a private plane being flown into the Echelon Building in Austin is yet another example of mass murder and it’s tragic consequences. The FBI has identified Joseph Stack, a local resident, as the person likely flying the plane.

Although this may appear to be an instance of “domestic terrorism,” strictly speaking, Joseph Stack would be classified as a “mass murderer.”

The differences between a terrorist and a mass murderer are important since they have vastly different motivations and strategies. A terrorist’s sole intention is to inflict terror and to use terror to manipulate those around them. They most often profess to have a political or ideological agenda. Mr. Stack reportedly was acting alone and his lengthy note does not express terror for political or other gain. Mass murderers intend to inflict suffering and death on as many people as possible—a lethal strike—and may have no articulated agenda except to inflict death.

Here are the different characteristics of a mass murderer:

Sense of Revenge: Mass murderers kill for revenge. They are convinced that someone or something has wronged them, and their acts of violence are retribution against others. This kind of “punishment mentality” stems from a pattern of systematic grandiose thinking and narcissistic tendencies.

Grandiose Thinking: Grandiose thinking is a reflection of a narcissistic personality disorder, where a person believes that they are special and infallible. When they perceive an abuse, they overreact and lash out. Such revenge can become violent as we saw in the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech.

Scale and Single Event: Mass murderers have a specific target and want to take down as many people as they can. They often realize that their murderous acts will most likely be the last thing that they ever do. They plan to inflict as much suffering as possible. Reportedly, this pilot flew his plane into the second story of building housing hundreds of government employees. In a delusional mind, this was a manly exit and a final statement of revenge and anger.

You are most likely wondering, “Why would someone engage in such irrational behavior?”

Highly Regressed Thinking: Clearly, he was not thinking with a clear mind. His online diary indicates fragmented thinking, cognitive distortions, delusional ideation and paranoid thinking.

Normal Façade: It is important to remember that severely mentally ill people can assume a normal façade. This is especially true when there is paranoid ideation of any kind. They may harbor delusional beliefs that they carefully hide from others. Skillful at promoting one version of themselves to the public, they tend to engage in a private world of fantasy, defend themselves from perceived threats and even commit violent murders, as in this case.

Pervasive Distrust: The essential pattern is a pervasive distrust and suspiciousness of others. They assume that someone—and individual or a group (as in this case) will harm or exploit them even if there is no evidence to support their argument. Reality simply disappears.

Under the Radar: They generally do not come to the attention of the mental health system since they consider themselves perfectly normal. They fly under the proverbial radar.

If you are worried about the potential violence of those around you, here are some warning signs to look out for:

People need to know that forensic psychologists argue that mass murders come with warning signs. There is a predictive characteristics to these crimes including the following:

Typology of Language: Meaning and perspective behind words are the chief indicators of murderous intention. When someone is planning to commit violence, they tend to use one of these types of words or statements.

  • Rejection
  • Entitlement
  • Grandiosity
  • Attention Seeking
  • Revenge
  • Attachment (Irrational Behaviors like Stalking)

Reasoning for Murder: When someone is about to commit a violent act they perceive four issues in a justifying light. They believe that they have justification, they have no alternatives for the outcome they want, the consequences for their actions are acceptable, and that they have the resources and the abilities necessary to carry out mass murder.

Justification of Violence: While they are planning their action, they fully believe that their actions are justified and often deserved. They are “setting it right” and punishing those who deserve retribution. They are fully convinced that not only is violence an acceptable and only way, it is the right way.

For more information about Dr. Gearing please go to


“The Gift of Fear”, Gavin de Becker

“Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings” by Katherine Newman, Cybelle Fox, David Harding, Jal Mehta and Wen

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