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Spree killings and spree killers

In recent years there seems to have been an increase in spree killings, however there have always been spree killings. What has changed is that each now makes immediate headline news, often with live TV pictures from the scene.

In most cases, an individual, usually male, has armed himself with a gun and shot members of his family, colleagues at work, fellow students, or people in the street.

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.

Whilst spree killings grab the headlines, targets of bullying are rarely violent towards others. In the vast majority of cases their anger is turned inward resulting in depression or self-harm, which may include alcohol abuse or drug abuse, or suicidal ideation. In all cases, anger turned inward causes negative stress which the body expresses through some malady. For instance, internalised anger often expresses itself somatically through skin complaints, rashes, acne, eczema, etc.

Suicide is now the number one cause of death for 18-25-year-old males in the UK and the second most common cause of death for 15-25-year-old males in France. For more facts and figures see my suicide page. Neil Marr and Tim Field's book Bullycide: death at playtime exposes an epidemic of child suicide caused by bullying at school. The authors estimate a minimum of 16 suicides a year but because the circumstances are often unclear, the true total could be 80 or more every year.

Warning signs

In each spree killing case, there are warning signs that go unheeded. These are, according to the FBI and my own research:

I recommend Gavin de Becker's book The Gift of Fear: survival signals that protect us from violence which contains lots of information on how to recognise dangerous people before they harm you - including advice for employers on terminating an unsatisfactory employee whilst reducing the probability of a revenge spree killing.

Prominent spree killings and spree killers

August 1966: student Charles Whitman kills his wife and mother then the following day shoots dead 14 people from a 27-storey clock tower at University of Texas, Austin, before being killed by police.

January 1979: Pupil Brenda Spencer kills two and wounds nine in the playground at Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California, USA. She later says, "I don't like Mondays. This livens up the day." Her crime was the basis for the Boomtown Rats song "I don't like Mondays".

August 1986: Pat Sherrill, a postal worker about to be fired, shoots 14 people dead and kills himself at a post office in Edmond, Oklahoma. This is one of the cases that lead to the coining of the phrase "going postal". Although the US Postal Service is perceived as having a high likelihood of spree killings, in reality more shootings take place in burger bars than in postal offices.

August 1987: Michael Ryan kills his mother then walks through the streets of Hungerford, Berkshire, England, killing 16 and wounding 11 before shooting himself.

September 1989: employee Joseph T Wesbecker walks into Standard Gravure Corporation plant then kills 7 and wounds 12. One of the injured dies three days later. Wesbecker had a history of mental health problems and had been put on disability leave several months earlier, which he regarded as a gross injustice. Two weeks before his spree killing, Wesbecker had been prescribed Prozac. In a subsequent law suit, the allegation that Prozac had tipped Wesbecker over the edge was not proven, although it is believed that Eli Lilly, makers of Prozac, made an out-of-court settlement. John Cornwell, who covered the trial for the London Sunday Times, describes the case in his book The Power to Harm: Mind, Medicine, and Murder on Trial (Viking Books, ISBN 0670867675). The case raised questions about possible side-effects of Prozac. Whilst many people seem to benefit from Prozac, some (like me) notice no difference, and a small number of people believe that Prozac can increase violent tendencies. Princess Diana's driver and Michael Hutchence (lead singer of INXS) were both taking Prozac, although given the large number of people who take Prozac, whether this is significant is unknown.

June 1990: James Edward Pough kills 10 and wounds 4 in a shooting spree in a General Motors office in Florida. He then kills himself.

October 1991: George Hennard shoots 24 people dead after crashing his truck into a Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.

April 1995: At a refinery inspection station in Texas, former employee James Simpson shoots and kills the owner , the owner's wife and three workers before shooting himself.

March 1996: in one of the worst spree killings ever, Thomas Hamilton walks into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland and shoots dead 16 children and a teacher before killing himself.

March 1997: Hundreds of pupils at two schools in Sanaa, Yemen, are shot at by a man wielding an assault rifle. Eight people are killed, including six children. the man was sentenced to death the following day.

June 1997: Daniel S Marsden kills 2 employees and wounds 4 more at a plastics factory in Santa Fe Springs. He later kills himself.

October 1997: Two students including a former girlfriend are shot dead by a 16-year-old boy at Pearl High School, Mississippi. It transpires that prior to the shooting the boy had stabbed his mother to death.

December 1997: Former employee Arturo Reyes Torres kills his former boss and three others before being shot dead by police at a maintenance yard in Orange, California.

December 1997: three students are killed by a 14-year-old boy at a prayer meeting at Heath High School, West Paducah, Kentucky

March 1998: Following a dispute over pay, accountant Matthew Beck kills the Connecticut Lottery Corporation's president and three of his supervisors. He then kills himself.

March 1998: Four pupils and a teacher are killed by two boys aged 11 and 13 at Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas.

April 1999: Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold, both pupils at Columbine High School in Littleton, Denver, Colorado, walk into the school armed with guns and home-made bombs and kill 15 before killing themselves. Ethnic minorities and jocks (the school's sporting heroes) appear to be singled out.

April 1999: In Salt Lake City, Sergei Babarin opens fire in the Mormon Family History Library. He kills two people, wounds 4 more and is then shot dead by police.

June 1999: In Michigan, former patient Joseph Brooks Jnr shoots his psychiatrist and five others dead before turning the gun on himself.

July 1999: In Atlanta, Georgia, day trader Mark Barton kills his wife and two children, then visits two brokerage firms and shoots nine people and wounds a further 13 before killing himself.

November 1999: In the German town of Bad Reichenhall, a teenager breaks into his father's gun cabinet, then opens fire on people passing his apartment then kills his sister and himself.

November 1999: a 15-year-old student in Meissen, East Germany, takes bets from fellow pupils that he would dare to stab his teacher to death and then carries out the dare. He is later jailed for seven years.

November 1999: disgruntled former Xerox employee Byron K Uyesugi kills 7 people at a Xerox office in Honolulu.

Boxing Day, 26 December 2000: software consultant Michael McDermot age 48 walks into Edgewater Technologies at Wakefield near Boston where he has been employed for just less than a year and kills 7 people with an AK47. He carried a shotgun and a hand gun as well. He had been in dispute with the government about alleged unpaid back taxes.

March 2000: a 57-year-old teacher is shot dead by a 16-year-old pupil at a private boarding school in Branneburg, Bavaria, Southern Germany. The teenager, who was in the process of being expelled for failing a drugs test for cannabis, also shot himself.

5 March 2001: 15-year-old student Charles Williams shoots dead two fellow students at California's Santee High School. Williams had been talking about his planned shooting for several days but his comments were not taken seriously.

6 April 2001: after a long period of harassment which included making fun of his stuttering, employee Pierre Lebrun shoots four workers dead then turns the gun on himself at OC Transpo in Ottawa, Canada.

27 September 2001: fourteen members of a regional parliament in Zug, near Zurich, Switzerland, are shot dead in a spree killing by 57-year-old Friedrich Leibacher. Leibacher had a long-running dispute with bus drivers and transport officials and the killing appeared to be the result of a grudge. [More]

February 2002: a pupil who had been expelled from a technical school in Freising, Munich, Germany, killed the headmaster and detonated pipe bombs before killing his boss and a foreman at his place of work. He then killed himself. Another teacher was shot and seriously injured but survived. [More]

March 2002: 33-year-old Richard Durn shoots dead eight councillors and injures nineteen others in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. Durn, who had a history of psychological problems and was frustrated at the lack of attention he was receiving, was arrested but committed suicide two days later by jumping from the window of the room where he was being interviewed. [More]

April 2002: a pupil who was expelled from a school in Erfurt, East Germany, kills seventeen people including fourteen teachers before killing himself. [More]

October 2002: Robert Flores walks into the University of Arizona School of Nursing and shoots dead three of his teachers before killing himself. He had previously mailed a 22-page suicide letter to the Arizona Daily Star. [Commentary]

October 2002: Dick Anderson shoots and kills co-workers David Martin and Jim McCracken minutes after he was fired from his job at a government office in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. He then killed himself. [CBC News]

8 July 2003: Doug Williams shot 14 people, killing six, before committing suicide. Twelve of the fourteen victims were black. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Lockheed Martin allowed a "racially charged atmosphere" to grow at its factory in Meridian, Mississippi. [More]

July 2004: Elijah Brown kills five people at a Kansas meatpacking plant before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. Co-workers described him as "strange" and report he was often teased at work, but not for anything in particular. [ABC News]

January 2005: Myles Meyers shoots dead fellow employee at the Toledo North Daimler Chrysler Jeep plant and wounds two others before turning the weapon on himself. [Toledo City Paper]

March 2005: 17-year-old Jeff Weise shoots dead 9 people including his grandparents, a teacher and fellow pupils at Red Lake High School on the Chippewa Native American reservation in Minnesota before shooting himself. Weise's father committed suicide four years ago and his mother lives in a nursing home in Minneapolis since suffering brain injuries in a car accident. Witnesses reported that he was teased at school. [More]

Bully OnLine identifies bullying as the common denominator of harassment, discrimination, abuse, conflict and violence and is a gold mine of insight and information on bullying. In most cases of bullying and harassment, the perpetrator is a serial bully. Everyone knows at least one serial bully in their life. Click here to see who this describes.

Have a look through this web site to recognise the bullies and violent people in your life ... start with Am I being bullied? then move on to What is bullying? To find out what you can do about bullying, click Action to tackle bullying. Have a look at the profile of the serial bully which is common to harassers, racists, stalkers, rapists, violent partners, abusers, paedophiles, etc.

Bullying, harassment, discrimination and prejudice result in injury to health, commonly called "stress". Bullying, harassment, abuse, accident or violence can result in a collection of symptoms congruent with the diagnostic criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. For validation of and recovery from PTSD see David Kinchin's book Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: the invisible injury.

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