Are there characteristics all perpetrators of mass violence have in common? We asked three experts what red flags parents should be especially mindful of in their children, and what to do if they see any resemblance to a mass shooter profile.
Cause for Concern
Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and disaster mental health worker, tells Parentology there are personality traits many kids who go on to carry out acts of mass violence share. Among them:
- History of abuse/childhood trauma
- Victims of bullying/rejection
- History of acting abusive towards people/animals
- Patterns of aggression
- Fascination with violence/weapons
Some of these symptoms may be harder than others to spot. For example, you may not know if your teen is being bullied at school, but you may recognize some of these concerning symptoms. While these red flags alone aren’t indicators your child will commit an act of violence, they are common things that prior perpetrators of mass violence experienced.
Orvel Ronk, owner of Ronk Security Solutions and former civilian employee of the Department of Defense, tells Parentology that in addition to showing signs of depression and patterns of aggression listed above, the following traits are especially concerning and should be viewed as alerts:
- Empathy with people who commit violence
- Suicidal comments
- Actions that are suspect of paranoia, like believing everyone is out to get them
- Noticeable decrease in appearance and attention to hygiene
- Increase in fascination with firearms and other dangerous weapons
Ronk says parents should ultimately trust their gut. “The biggest warning sign is a change in behavior for your child. Not every child or situation is the same, there’s not one answer for everyone.”
Ronk recommends parents talk to their child about any signs they find concerning as they note said signs. “Never ignore the behavior; address it with your child, speak to school officials, professionals, or law enforcement personnel.”
Extreme Red Flags
Carole Lieberman, MD, media psychiatrist and bestselling author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror explains to Parentology that parents need to be especially mindful if their child displays “The triad of a sociopath:” cruelty to animals, fire setting and bedwetting.
While firesetting and cruelty to animals should be alarming at any age, Lieberman says after the age of five, persistent bedwetting — in combination with the other two — is especially alarming. Lieberman explains, “[Bedwetting] makes them feel ashamed of themselves and then angry, so they would want to take it out on the world.”
While any two of those factors may indicate a more concerning situation, all three combined together may mean your child will be prone to violent tendencies.
What to Expect When Asking for Help
Lieberman suggests parents reach out for professional help after noting the first red flag. “Don’t wait for your child to keep going down the path to disaster,” she says.
If you do seek help, reach out to a psychiatrist or psychologist who has experience treating children and knowledge about mass shooters.
Lieberman says to expect an evaluation to be done over at least three visits of around 50 minutes each. The therapist may want to meet with you first, but they will spend the majority of their time alone with your child.
If, after those initial meetings, they decide your child has any ongoing issues — including problems with anger — they may suggest either ongoing weekly therapy sessions or, if the danger is imminent, commitment to an inpatient psychiatric facility.
Mass Shooter Profile: Sources
Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and disaster mental health worker
Orvel Ronk, owner of Ronk Security Solutions, and former civilian employee of the Department of DefenseCarole Lieberman MD, media psychiatrist and bestselling author of Lions and Tigers and Terrorists, Oh My! How to Protect Your Child in a Time of Terror