Denby Fawcett: The Lonely Backgrounds That Trigger Mass Shooters

Hawaii’s most infamous mass shooting happened 22 years ago.

Although that massacre seems a distant memory, week after week we are saddened by public massacres elsewhere, the repeated shock of hearing about murderers killing multiple victims, often strangers, often helpless children.

Public shootings have become so common that the flags on Hawaii’s government buildings seem to be flying at half mast perpetually.

On Sunday in Hawaii, flags were flown at half mast to commemorate the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The previous week, flags were lowered for the victims of the mass shooting during a July 4 parade in Highland Park near Chicago. On May 24, the flags were flown at half mast in grief for 19 fourth graders and two teachers killed by a mass shooter at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Hawaii’s worst shooting occurred on November 2, 1999, when Byran Uyesugi, an aggrieved Xerox copier repairman, walked into Xerox’s second-floor boardroom on Nimitz Highway and shot seven of his fellow technicians. machinery maintenance.

I covered that shooting and still struggle to understand how even an angry loner like Uyesugi could, seemingly without remorse, kill seven of the men he worked with every day.

New York Times opinion writer David Brooks in a Thursday column makes one of the best attempts I’ve read at explaining what drives mass shooters.

He writes about modern shooters after the time of Uyesugi, but the subject he raises is relevant today when most reports of mass shootings fail to explain exactly why the shooter did it in first place.

Uyesugi shot people he knew in an office where he had worked for 10 years. Brooks writes about the phenomenon of killers who shoot assault weapons to kill people they have usually never encountered.

In his article, Brooks asserts that the majority of shooters are not motivated by an underlying disease, a diagnosed mental illnessbut rather primarily by their own personal circumstances.

Like Uyesugi — who is currently serving a life sentence without parole at Saguaro Correctional Center in Arizona — mass killers are most often portrayed as loners.

Many mass shooters are not mentally ill per se, but suffer from isolation and loneliness. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

But Brooks says a more accurate description of them is “integration failures.” The circumstances that put them on the path to violence are their thwarted desire to be noticed, to be loved for who they are, to be accepted by others.

“These young men are often ghosts. They often experience early childhood trauma, such as extreme abuse or bullying. At school, no one knows them. Both boys and girls turn their backs on them…These young men often lack social skills,” Brooks writes.

I remember a group of gang members coming to the Legislative Assembly to testify in favor of a bill to fund a non-profit organization that was helping them pull themselves out of their life of petty crime.

When a lawmaker asked one of the teenagers what made him join a gang, he replied, “To be known.” That’s what most people want: to be known, to be accepted, to be part of something.

Brooks writes when a person who will become a shooter is ostracized: “They harden in their loneliness. … Humans only realize how much they yearn for recognition from the world when that recognition is denied, and when it is, they crawl inward.

They ruminate, feeling invisible. They wonder why other people are having fun and not them. Why they are excluded. They take care of grievances.

This is how Uyesugi was described in an assessment made after his arrest. His path to violence apparently began after his mother died of cancer around the same time he was transferred to a new work group at Xerox, where he began making accusations of harassment and tampering with machines against his colleagues.

It turned into paranoia. He began to see shadows and blame Xerox repairmen for coming to his house in Nuuanu, where he lived with his father, to catch goldfish which he raised to sell to pet shops.

Unable to appease him, the colleagues ostracized Uyesugi, which drove him further into isolation and despair to the point that he began to openly issue threats against their lives.

Mass shooters often brazenly broadcast their intentions before they are actually carried out.

Brooks says social science studies show that when the budding shooter becomes increasingly isolated, they turn their situation around — they’re not the loser, the others around them are the losers.

“And that’s where victimhood turns into meanness. Those who become mass shooters decide they’re Superman, and it’s the world that’s full of ants. They decide to kill themselves in a way that will selfishly give them what they crave most: to be recognized, to be famous,” he wrote. By shooting down many other human beings, they recognize that they too will have to die under the gunfire, but they will be known.

This is where access to firearms becomes an important part of their plans. All mass shooters had access to high-powered weapons—usually more than one—easily obtained from gun shops or from family or friends. Uyesugi owned 25 firearms, including the Glock 17 semi-automatic pistol which he used to kill his colleagues.

Even in a country like Japan with some of the strictest gun laws in the world, former Prime Minister Abe’s assassin armed himself by crafting his own deadly weapon from wooden pipes and metal – such a crude weapon that at the time of the fatal shot it was held together by black electrical tape.

Brooks writes, “Weapons also seem to have some sort of psychological effect. For people who have felt helpless all their lives, guns seem to provide an almost narcotic sense of power. Perhaps it’s the pleasure they get from posing with their weapons that pushes some of them over the edge. The guns are like snakes in the trees, whispering to them.

A special threat assessment unit of the FBI has proved that some of the men planning to be mass shooters – albeit angry and determined – can be prevented from following their deadly path if the circumstances are right.

Part of the program is to train everyone to be Akamai Bystanders – to report behavior before it turns lethal.

In his article, Brooks mentioned a young gunman named “Trunk” for his prison nickname “Trunk Full of Guns”. A 2014 article in Esquire describes how his mass shooting agenda was thwarted when a police officer arrested him during a routine stop to find him and two other accomplices, heavily armed with automatic weapons and knives. , en route to their planned murder.

Trunk pleaded guilty to carjacking, for which he served 10 years in prison. Now he’s helping the FBI’s Threat Assessment Unit prevent future mass shootings. He believes many would-be shooters – injured like himself – want someone to stop them before they commit crimes that will result in their own death or life in prison.

The FBI’s Threat Assessment Unit depends on information from bystanders, family members, friends and teachers to alert them when they see someone behaving in a concerning manner, such as buying weapons , becoming obsessed with violent video games, torturing animals, or posting violent messages. intentions on social media – all hallmarks of budding mass killers.

Similar units operate in different states. Last October, the Department of Homeland Security awarded by the University of Hawaii West Oahu $780,000 to establish a Behavioral Response Team to create units in schools and colleges to access, intervene and manage reported threats before they become a violent reality.

Part of the program is to train everyone to be Akamai Bystanders – to report behavior before it turns lethal.

Mass shootings will continue to happen. There are not enough threat assessment units in the country to stop them. Even if there were, determined shooters will slip through the cracks. And the friends and family who know the most about the concerning behavior may be the least likely to report it.

Still, it’s comforting to know that if some of the would-be killers are found soon enough, their path to violence could be stopped.

About Geraldine Higgins

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