The bomb keeps ticking

April 16, 2007; Blacksburg, Virginia - Seung-Hui Cho kills 35 people and himself at Virginia Tech University.

October 3, 2006; Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania - Carl Charles Roberts IV kills 5, wounds 5 schoolgirls, aged 6 to 13 years, before killing himself.

September 13, 2006; Montreal Canada - Kimveer Gill kills 6 and injures 19 at Dawson College. "It's society's fault ... Society disgusts me."

January 30, 2006; Goleta California, former postal employee Jennifer San Marco kills 6 and herself at a letter sorting facility.

March 21, 2005; Red Lake, Michigan - high school student Jeff Weise kills his grandparents, a teacher, a security guard, and 5 students and wounds 12 before killing himself.

March 12, 2005; Brookfield Wisconsin - Terry Ratzmann kills 8, including himself, wounds 4 more at a hotel church service before killing himself. Neighbors said, "He was a quiet and devout man ..."

March 11, 2005; Atlanta Georgia - accused rapist Brian Nichols kills 3, wounds 1 at the Fulton County courthouse.

July 8, 2003; Meridian Mississippi - Doug Williams kills 6 and wounds 8 co-workers at a Lockheed Martin aircraft parts plant.

March 27, 2002; Paris France - Richard Durn kills 8 officials and wounds 19 others at a Nanterre city council meeting.

April 26, 2002; Erfurt, Germany - Robert Steinhaeuser kills 13 teachers, 2 students, and 1 policeman and wounds 10 more at the Johann Gutenberg secondary school.

April 20, 1999; Littleton, Colorado - Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 14 students (including themselves), and 1 teacher and wounds 23 others at Columbine High School. Both had been released early from psychiatric care due to good behavoir.

March 24, 1998; Jonesboro, Arkansas - 2 students kill 4 students, 1 teacher, and wound 10 others at Westside Middle School.

April 28, 1996; Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia - Martin Bryant kills 35 and wounds 37 with an assault rifle at a popular prison colony tourist attraction.

August 20, 1986; Edmond Oklahoma - Patrick Sherrill kills 15 fellow postal workers before killing himself.

July 18, 1984; San Ysidro California ("The McDonald's Massacre") - James Oliver Huberty kills 21 and injures 19 at a McDonald's restaurant before being shot by a police sniper. "Society had its chance," he told his wife that morning.

August 1, 1966; Austin Texas - Charles Whitman, the "Texas Tower Sniper," kills 16 and wounds 31 others at the University of Texas before police shoot him.

March 6, 1915; Brunswick Georgia - Monroe Phillips kills 6 and wounds 32.

The Will to Power...Or a Cry For Help?

"What surprised him most was the terrible, impossible gulf that lay between him and everyone else. They seemed to him to be a different species, and he looked at them and they at him with distrust and hostility."

In "Crime and Punishment," Fyodor Dostoevsky's Rashkolnikov, pushed beyond his limits and alienated from the collective body of mankind by his own feelings of insecurity, weakness, and self-loathing, plans and commits a murder in order to prove to himself that he is not a "nobody."

The Dostoevsky novel, considered by many to be the definitive work on the fractured man, was published in 1866, indicating that feelings of hostility and alienation toward our fellow man are not merely a recent phenomenon. Unfortunately however, in a society where the individual has become catalogued, compartmentalized, and numbered, the Rashkolnikovs of the world seem to increasingly be slipping between the cracks; that is, until their frustrations compel them to lash out and splash themselves across our collective consciousness in seemingly random acts of senseless violence.

Why Did He Do It?

Everytime we hear of another school shooting or office worker going on a killing rampage, we're left with the question of why, if the perpetrator was so bent on self-destruction, he felt the need to take so many with him? What prompts these spree killings and how can we prevent them or protect ourselves and our loved ones from the line of fire? An article from Bully offers the following insights:

Spree killings differ from serial killings in that the perpetrator bears a grudge and eventually some incident, sometimes identifiable or sometimes only guessed at, causes him to flip and he immediately commits a killing spree, shooting those he sees as responsible for his predicament, and sometimes randomly shooting and killing people who he sees as representative of those who have failed or rejected him. Rejection is a common trigger in violence. Sometimes the killing appears spontaneous, but most often it is planned, even if the precise date and time are not. In most cases, the spree killing ends with the gunman shooting himself or being shot dead by police.

In many cases of spree killings, the gunman appears to have been a victim of abuse or a target of bullying, often for many years, and sometimes throughout his life. The bullying and abuse have built resentment which culminates in a violent outburst. A triggering event occurs, which may be minor in nature but is the last straw; the individual reaches his breaking point and extracts revenge on those he perceives as responsible for his circumstances, or responsible for failing to deal with his allegations. He may phrase this as "accountability" or "retribution" or "revenge" or "reckoning" depending on his state of mind. He may emphasise the lack of respect he's gotten throughout his life. He might also unwittingly allude to his delusional thinking processes by inferring how his act will finally bring him that respect.

Sometimes there is a history of mental health problems and in many cases it appears the spree killer was starting to experience delusional thinking but it may not have been significant enough to warrant medical attention or intervention. In many cases I've suspected the spree killer may have had some symptoms of schizophrenia."

Recognizing the Danger

So what, you ask, could possibly drive a normally rational person to just snap? If you think it could never happen to you, consider this: In any given year, roughly 22% of American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder. Of them, about 5% has some form of depression and 1.5% has bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia. Is it any wonder that, with all stress-related versions of mental illness on the rise, suicide is now the 11th leading cause of death in the U.S.?

To quote To Know A Killer, a Richmond-Times Dispatch article by David Ress and Frank Green:

It's hard -- most mental-health experts say impossible -- to tell when someone is ill enough to kill 32 people and then himself... Often, people simply will not talk. Or they will talk to someone who isn't there. Often they are in a place so dark the only escape they see is suicide.

Red Flags

"People talk about red flags -- they're really yellow flags. They only become red flags when blood is spilled upon them."

While none of us will ever be completely safe from such random acts of violence, there are steps we can take to reduce our chances of becoming a victim. Awareness of your surroundings and those with whom you come in contact on a daily basis is the most important of these. Naturally, not everyone who exhibits these behaviors is a potential spree killer, but experts agree that combinations of these warning signs can indicate a problem is imminent.

IMPORTANT! If you observe someone exhibiting behavior that you believe is threatening to himself or others, SPEAK TO A PROFESSIONAL ABOUT YOUR SUSPICIONS. Unless you have training in the area of personality disorders, you could end up placing yourself or others in more danger by trying to handle the situation alone.

Profile of Potentially Violent Persons

  • Previous history of violence toward the vulnerable (women, children, animals)
  • Loner, withdrawn; feels nobody listens to him, views change with fear
  • Emotional problems (substance abuse, depression, low self-esteem)
  • Career frustration & either significant tenure on the same job OR migratory job history
  • Antagonistic relationships with others
  • Some type of obsession; i.e., weapons, other acts of violence, romantic/sexual, zealot (political, religious, racial), the job itself, neatness and order

Observable Warning Signs

  • Violent or threatening behavior, hostility, approval of the use of violence
  • Strange behavior (becoming reclusive, deteriorating appearance/hygiene, erratic behavior)
  • Emotional problems (drug/alcohol abuse, unusual stress, depression, inappropriate emotional display)
  • Performance problems, including problems with attendance or tardiness
  • Interpersonal problems (numerous conflicts, hyper-sensitivity, resentment)
  • "At the end of his/her rope" (indicators of impending suicide, unspecified plan to "solve all problems")
  • Access to and familiarity with weapons

Triggering Event

  • Being fired, laid off or suspended, passed over for promotion
  • Disciplinary action, poor performance review, criticism from boss or coworkers
  • Bank or court action (foreclosure, restraining order, custody hearing)
  • Benchmark date (company anniversary, chronological age, Hitler's birthday, as was the case for Columbine)
  • Failed or spurned romance, personal crisis (divorce, death in family)

Workplace Violence

Unfortunately, regardless of how diligent we may be in our awareness, some of us may someday find ourselves in a crisis situation. So how can you protect yourself and your coworkers when faced with a hostile, potentially violent person?

  1. Understand the mindset of the hostile or potentially violent person. The person has a compelling need to communicate his grievance to someone now! Give him a verbal outlet. Even if he is wrong, the individual is acting on perceptions that are real to him. In the overwhelming number of cases, the person just wants fairness.
  2. Practice "Active Listening." Stop what you are doing and give the person your full attention. Listen to what is really being said. Use silence and paraphrasing. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
  3. Avoid confrontation. Instead, build trust and provide help. Be calm, courteous, respectful, patient, open and honest. Never belittle, embarrass or verbally attack a hostile person.
  4. Allow a total airing of the grievance without comment or judgment. Make eye contact (but don't stare). Allow verbal venting of emotion. Let the person have his say (not necessarily his way). Ignore challenges and insults and don't take it personally; redirect attention to the real issue.
  5. Allow the aggrieved party to suggest a solution. A person will more readily agree to a resolution that he helped formulate. And it might surprise you that the person's suggestion may be very reasonable.
  6. Move toward a win-win resolution. Preserve the individual's dignity. Switch the focus from what you can't do toward what you can. With the person's permission, call in additional resources, i.e., supervisor, Human Resources, Employee Assistance Program, Security, or Police.

Additional Helpful Links

Warning Signs For Going Postal

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance

What Do These Students Have in Common?

Getting Help For Depression

For Teens: Let's Talk About Depression

Going Postal: The Road to Depression and Salvation

Recovering From Depression

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, 1-800-950-NAMI

National Depression Screening Project, 1-800-520-6373

DEPRESSION/Awareness, Recognition and Treatment Program, The National Institute of Mental Health 1-800-421-4211

National Depressive and Manic Depressive Association, 1-800-82-NDMDA

A Final Word

If you or someone you know is feeling depressed or experiencing feelings of anxiety or alienation, get help as soon as possible. No matter what you may think, you're not alone. The world needs every one of its beautiful people.