It's barely a year since Orange County suffered its deadliest mass murder when eight people were killed by a lone gunman at a Seal Beach salon. Since that tragedy, dozens more have been killed in similar massacres, victims of a disturbing increase in mass murders.
July brought the Aurora movie theater massacre, in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. A UC Irvine professor was arrested in late July before carrying out what authorities say was a plot to shoot, in his own words, 200 students at an Irvine high school. In August, there was the shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin that left seven dead. In October, a gunman killed three women in a beauty salon in Casselberry, Fla. A few days later, another gunman killed three women and wounded four at a Brookfield, Wis., beauty salon.
Last month, two people were killed and another critically injured when a gunman strolled into an Oregon Mall and opened fire in the food court. Today, a gunman rained fire on an elementary school in
How could this happen? Why do there seem to be so many mass murders lately?
Mass murders, in fact, are occurring more frequently in the United States, said Dr. Alan J. Lipman, a clinical psychologist at the George Washington University Medical Center and the founder of the Center for the Study of Violence.
Lipman, who has been studying mass murders for three decades, said he's noticed a snowball effect over the last decade as more mass murders are committed.
Friday’s tragedy appears to have similarities to other recent attacks, Lipman said.
As with the shooters at the Oregon mall, the Aurora movie theater and the Tucson massacre in which 18 people were shot along with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Connecticut shooter was reportedly a man in his early 20s.
“This is happening more and more with a certain kind of person,” Lipman said.
The early 20s are a key age for people vulnerable to developing psychosis. Mental illness combined with some sort of acute stress can trigger a psychotic break from reality, said Lipman. A U.S. Secret Service study of mass murders found that 90 percent of the killers had an underlying mental illness compounded by some kind of stressful event in their lives, added Lipman.
In the case of the alleged Connecticut shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, his parents were divorced, and police said he killed his mother first before heading to the school where she worked to open fire on students and administrators, Lipman said.
“Why did he shoot the kids? At that point, his life is over, and the kids become targets of his vengeance,” Lipman said. “He’s so angry, he wants to make the whole world disappear around him.”
Lipman links technology, globalization and the fast pace of life with an increase in mass murders. It’s similar to the Arab Spring, when technology and globalization sped up the pace of the revolution by enabling people to connect and act.
For potential killers, the Internet can increase the stress they are exposed to, he said. They can go online, read paranoid fantasies, learn about military regalia and read about other mass murders, said Lipman.
“These environmental stresses have a pipeline into the souls of individuals at any given moment,” Lipman said. Added to that, “you have a person who is on the edge. He is a ticking time bomb. He has a genetic disposition to be more violent, and he suddenly experiences a stressful event that triggers the break. It’s called the diathesis stress model."
It’s rarely the case that there are no signs of mental illness prior to such violence, said Lipman. These people fall through the cracks, in part, because there is a diffusion of responsibility, society’s collective unwillingness to risk the embarrassment of wrongfully butting-in when someone seems off, said Lipman.
He encourages people to get over the fear of interfering. If someone seems unusually stressed or agitated, ask them how they are doing, said Lipman. If it is a family member or friend, offer to go with them to get help. The best way to prevent such tragedies is to be attuned to signs of illness, to overcome the stigma of mental illness and intervene to get help, added Lipman.
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