Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters

Quote of the Day

For this study, “suicidal ideation” was defined as thinking about or planning suicide, while “suicide attempt” was defined as a non-fatal, self-directed behavior with the intent to die, regardless of whether the behavior ultimately results in an injury of any kind. Although these definitions are broad, the FBI concluded that an active shooter had suicidal ideation or engaged in a suicide attempt only when based on specific, non-trivial evidence.

Nearly half of the active shooters had suicidal ideation or engaged in suicide-related behaviors at some time prior to the attack (48%, n = 30), while five active shooters (8%) displayed no such behaviors (the status of the remaining 28 active shooters was unknown due to a lack of sufficient evidence to make a reasonable determination).

An overwhelming majority of the 30 suicidal active shooters showed signs of suicidal ideation (90%, n = 27), and seven made actual suicide attempts (23%). Nearly three-quarters (70%, n = 21) of these behaviors occurred within one year of the shooting.

Federal Bureau of Investigation
June 2018

From a causal reading suicide ideation and/or suicide attempt appeared to be the single most common observable behavior prior to a mass shooting.

Notably, the studied demographics appeared to be all over the map. I wish they had included political affiliation. Anecdotally there appears to be positive correlation with democrats and active shooters. See near the end of this post for some examples.

I also wish the use of psychiatric drugs would have been on their list of “demographics”. Although they did consider “mental illness” (only 25% of them had ever been diagnosed with mental illness).

Their key findings were:

  1. The 63 active shooters examined in this study did not appear to be uniform in any way such that they could be readily identified prior to attacking based on demographics alone.
  2. Active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attack, with 77% of the subjects spending a week or longer planning their attack and 46% spending a week or longer actually preparing (procuring the means) for the attack.
  3. A majority of active shooters obtained their firearms legally, with only very small percentages obtaining a firearm illegally.
  4. The FBI could only verify that 25% of active shooters in the study had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. Of those diagnosed, only three had been diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
  5. Active shooters were typically experiencing multiple stressors (an average of 3.6 separate stressors) in the year before they attacked.
  6. On average, each active shooter displayed 4 to 5 concerning behaviors over time that were observable to others around the shooter. The most frequently occurring concerning behaviors were related to the active shooter’s mental health, problematic interpersonal interactions, and leakage of violent intent.
  7. For active shooters under age 18, school peers and teachers were more likely to observe concerning behaviors than family members. For active shooters 18 years old and over, spouses/domestic partners were the most likely to observe concerning behaviors.
  8. When concerning behavior was observed by others, the most common response was to communicate directly to the active shooter (83%) or do nothing (54%). In 41% of the cases the concerning behavior was reported to law enforcement. Therefore, just because concerning behavior was recognized does not necessarily mean that it was reported to law enforcement.
  9. In those cases where the active shooter’s primary grievance could be identified, the most common grievances were related to an adverse interpersonal or employment action against the shooter (49%).
  10. In the majority of cases (64%) at least one of the victims was specifically targeted by the active shooter.

One thing I don’t understand is that in item 8., above, we see “most common response was to communicate directly to the active shooter (83%) or do nothing (54%).” How is this possible? 83% and 54% add up to greater than 100% and I don’t see how both could be true at the same time. Any ideas as to what I am missing here?


14 thoughts on “Pre-Attack Behaviors of Active Shooters

  1. Only thing that comes to mind, is aggregation of responses to multiple behaviors. For instance, if behaviors A and B were exhibited by the same person, 84% of people confronted them about A but half would be willing to let B slide.

    But if that’s the case, it should have been explained.

  2. Only way I can see to square #8 is if they are talking about two different groups, or grouping people in different ways.

    Odd behavior or concerns are noted by multiple people about the same individual. Of those who note something, 54% say nothing. But 84% of the perps had at least one person say something to them directly.

    Yes, the fact that they don’t report anything about medication when it’s been reported multiple times that nearly every mass shooter was on some sort of SSRI like Zoloft or Adderall means they know and don’t want official evidence for the downside risks of those drugs.

    These days, I’d also like to know if they are covid vaxxed, and how many boosters they have, given the number of reports of mental and medical side effects there are.

  3. Like most things federal government, One is never going to get straight answers.
    Like; How many mass shooters were actively sponsored by the FBI or other agency/NGO? For the propose of these talking points?
    What the FBI is truly engaged in is “mass distraction”. Mass shootings for the last 10 years add up to less than 6 months of cartel activity in this country. They murdered over a 100,000 people with drugs in 1year.
    And that’s just with drugs.
    And the FBI, indeed all federal agencies aren’t all hands-on-deck, AI’ed for backup, shutting down one of the worst genocides in human history?
    Instead, they want to scream and yell that you huddling in your home with AR-15 is the big problem?
    Cause someone else did something wrong with one?
    We all need to spend the next week digging around at;
    Stephen Coughlin’s “Unconstrained Analytics”.
    He will explain everything the FBI is doing and why.

    • Yes. Things like item number three makes is sound like gun laws are too loose, but they don’t investigate the funding for how they were legally acquired. For example, how does an unemployed 18 YO legally buy 10K worth of guns and ammo?

      They don’t look because they know the answer, and it would not reflect well on the FBI or some other Three Letter Agency.

  4. I would appreciate seeing data on the converse.

    Knowing how many active shooters had suicidal ideation is interesting. But how many people with suicidal ideation become active shooters?

    If (as I suspect) there are hundreds of thousands of people who experience suicidal ideation, and only a tiny fraction ever become active shooters, then this is not a good way to predict who will become an active shooter… which is, presumably, what is desired here.

    • This was the deal with OJ Simpson and his wife way back when, A violent ex-husband is not particularly likely to kill his ex- wife, but if you have a dead ex-wife, the first one you should suspect is the violent ex-husband.
      We shouldn’t be reasoning backwards.
      No matter how much the powers-that-be want us to.

    • For that matter

      How do we know about the suicidal ideations? And what do we know about them?

      Sure it might be in their medical records somewhere

      But most active shooters don’t survive the event. The only way to really know what was going on in their heads in the days & hours leading up to the event, is to interview them about it, and cross-correlate the results with their actions.

      It’s hard to get a dead person to start talking about their thoughts feelings & motivations.

      Even in regular therapy sessions sometimes things like that don’t come out for a while.

  5. “…the concerning behavior was reported to law enforcement.”

    “Law enforcement” is a blunt object; responses are constrained because they are defined by protocol which is driven by statute and public and political perception (aka “influence by electeds and appointeds”).

    Given specific criteria regarding suicidal ideation, if one gets an LE response at all it’s along the lines of the standard 48-72 hour psych hold, like Florida’s Baker Act. Which, despite being better than nothing, is often a “single point fix” attempt to what is almost certainly a pretty complex moderate-to-long-term condition that has more multiple roots than an overloaded semi-rigid bureaucracy can reasonably be expected to resolve, or even have much positive influence over in 2-3 days. Specifically, what’s mentioned multiple times above about the involvement of various chemicals; one thing that often stands out about such events is the degree of self-medication and/or drug conflicts, most of which will stay well under the radar because of HIPPA, medical embarrassment (which extends to liability issuesand the perception of negative effects from knowledge of psych treatment), and dollar-limited tox screens (pre- and post-event) that might provide more information about chemistry impact.

  6. Had there been any form of positive correlation between being an active shooter and being Republican I can guarantee you it would have been trumpeted over every lame-stream media/propaganda site on the planet. Since it wasn’t, the necessary corollary is that there was at least some sort of relationship between being an active shooter and Democrats (third parties are probably negligible here).

    This means that any such corollary would either be covered up or (more easily) ignored “…since it reflects badly on Democrats”.

  7. They correctly classified talking to the (future, but not predictably) shooter as a form of doing nothing. It’s highly unlikely that merely talking will change his behavior, and nearly as unlikely that someone planning a mass killing would talk about his plans clearly enough to justify locking him up.

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