Public Safety & Homeland Security

FBI Report Says Mass Shooters Obtain Guns Legally, Usually Give Off Signals Before Shooting Spree

The 30-page report released Wednesday studied 63 active shooters from 2000-2013.

by Dave Altimari, The Hartford Courant / June 28, 2018
Esteban Santiago, third from left, accused of fatally shooting several people and wounding multiple others at a crowded Florida airport baggage claim, is returned to Broward County's main jail after his first court appearance, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. AP/Alan Diaz

(TNS) - A new FBI study of active shooters over a 13-year period reveals that the majority used legally purchased guns, have a history with the site that they attack, and contrary to popular belief do not have a long history of mental health issues.

The 30-page report released Wednesday studied 63 active shooters from 2000-2013, including Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people including 20 first-graders in December 2012. The study concentrated on mass shootings, in which four or more people selected indiscriminately, not including the perpetrator, were killed.

One of the FBI profilers who prepared the report was Andres Simons, who worked with Connecticut State Police to develop a profile of Lanza that was included in the report — the second part of a study of mass shootings. The first study reported on the responses to active shooters by law enforcement.

“The FBI’s objective here was to examine specific behaviors that may precede an attack and which might be useful in identifying, assessing, and managing those who may be on a pathway to deadly shooting,” the report said.

Among its findings:

The youngest active shooter was 12 and the oldest 88, with an average age of 37.8 years. The sample was overwhelmingly male (94 percent) compared with only four females (6 percent).

Active shooters had a limited history of adult convictions for crimes, including violent crime.

Active shooters often attacked people and places with which they were familiar. There was a known connection between the active shooters and the attack site in 73 percent of the cases, often a workplace or former workplace for those 18 and older and almost always a school or former school for those younger than 18.

Most commonly the active shooter purchased a firearm or firearms legally and specifically for the purpose of perpetrating the attack. A very small percentage, only 2 percent, purchased firearms illegally or stole the firearm. Some borrowed or took the firearm from a person known to them. A significant number of active shooters (35 percent) already possessed a firearm and did not appear to have obtained it for the express purpose of committing the shooting.

Lanza was 20 years old when he carried out the massacre at the Newtown school. He was living at home with his mother Nancy Lanza, who he shot and killed before driving to the school. He eventually killed himself in one of the classrooms.

Lanza fits many of the categories — he attended elementary school at Sandy Hook, legally owned the guns used in the attack and had no criminal history.

The profilers also tried to develop stressors or breaking points that potential shooters may have in common to help school officials, family members or co-workers recognize a potential mass shooter.

Among the stressors are mental health issues, financial problems, marital problems, drug abuse, conflict with one or more family members and conflicts at school.

One active shooter was under six separate stressors, including a recent arrest for drunk driving, accumulating significant debt, facing eviction, showing signs of both depression and anxiety, and experiencing both the criminal and civil law repercussions of an incident three months before the attack in which he barricaded himself in a hotel room and the police were called.

Of the 16 shooters diagnosed with mental health issues prior to the incident, 12 active shooters had a mood disorder; four were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder; three were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder; and two were diagnosed with a personality disorder. Finally, one active shooter was diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder; one with a developmental disorder; and one was described as “other.”

The study doesn’t name the shooters but Lanza was known to have Asprerger’s syndrome, a form of autism. In the months before the attack on Sandy Hook, Lanza had become increasingly isolated from the outside world, spending most of his time in his room playing violent video games.

The study concludes that identifying the stressors can help identify shooters before they act.

“What emerges is a complex and troubling picture of individuals who fail to successfully navigate multiple stressors in their lives while concurrently displaying four to five observable, concerning behaviors, engaging in planning and preparation, and frequently communicating threats or leaking indications of an intent to attack,” the study said.

“In the weeks and months before an attack, many active shooters engage in behaviors that may signal impending violence,” the report said. “While some of these behaviors are intentionally concealed, others are observable and — if recognized and reported — may lead to a disruption prior to an attack.”

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