Updated 16 September 2014

Profile of a rampage killer

A masked gunman has shot dead at least 14 people during an attack at a movie theatre in a mall in Denver, Colorado. What type of person can do something like this?


A masked gunman has shot dead at least 14 people during an attack at the Century Aurora 16 Movie Theatre in a mall in Denver, Colorado. What type of person can do something like this?

Read Cybershrink's comments on rampage killers.

What sort of person can do something like this? This is what research has shown:

  • Over 50% of rampage killers have a history of mental illness and around half of these have usually stopped taking their prescribed drugs prior to the rampage killing.
  • Historically, most of the rampage killers are white men, although women, blacks and Asians are by no means unrepresented. The racial profile of rampage killers tends to reflect the profile of the general population.
  • Many adult rampage killers have high levels of education (over a third of them have post-school qualifications), but most of them are unemployed at the time of the rampage killings.
  • Rampage killers almost never try to get away – they mostly commit suicide at the scene of the crime, or allow themselves to be arrested. For this reason their mental state and stability are often unknown and patched together afterwards.
  • Adult rampage killers often have a military background and they often use weapons they have obtained legally.
  • Rampage killers mostly kill strangers, although the first one or two victims may be known to them.
  • In 22 percent of cases a romantic issue, such as a divorce or a breakup, is the precipitating event that sets the rampage killer off. Forty-four percent of rampage killers are set off by an unexpected job loss. There is often prior evidence of rage that then explodes into homicide.
  • Schools, malls, campuses, crowded places of work and trains seem to be the places rampage killers choose most frequently.
  • Contrary to public perception, few rampage killers (only 6%) show much interest in violent video games.
  • Adult rampage killers tend to act alone, unlike adolescents, who often rope in others to help them.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2012)

(Sources: Ford Fessenden for the New York Times (the study involved 102 cases);


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