MoJo Author Feeds: Mark Follman | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en Open Carry Gun Laws Make It Harder to Protect the Public, Police Chiefs Say <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It wasn't a matter of if, but when it would happen. On Saturday in Colorado Springs, a man exercising his right under state law to openly carry a rifle in the streets went on a rampage, killing three people before police took him out in a hail of bullets. Just before the attack, an alarmed neighbor saw the man walking around armed and dialed 911. The dispatcher explained to her that it was legal to carry a gun in public. Her 911 call wasn't deemed urgent&mdash;the police did not process it as "the highest priority call for service," a <a href="" target="_blank">Colorado Springs PD official confirmed</a> to <em>Mother Jones</em> yesterday. She soon dialed 911 again, after the killing had begun.</p> <p>Exactly when and how the two 911 calls played out remains unclear: The Colorado Springs PD has so far denied open records requests and refused to provide any further information about the calls, citing an ongoing investigation into the rampage. [<strong>Update: </strong>Audio of the calls has been released, <a href="" target="_blank">listen here</a>.] The 911 caller, Naomi Bettis, spoke further to local news outlet <a href="" target="_blank"><em>The Gazette</em></a> late Tuesday:</p> <blockquote> <p>"I didn't like the first dispatcher," Bettis said. "Because she says 'You know in Colorado, they do have an open/concealed weapon law.'" Bettis said the time between her 911 calls was "not very long, but it seemed like forever."</p> </blockquote> <p><em>The Gazette</em> also interviewed several Colorado police chiefs about how the state's open carry law affects their mission to protect public safety. Their responses were sobering:</p> <blockquote> <p>Police chiefs contacted by <em>The Gazette</em> declined to comment specifically on Saturday's shooting spree, because it remains under investigation. <strong>But they said calls related to weapons being carried openly are steeped in nuance &mdash; often leaving dispatchers and officers in a difficult spot.</strong></p> <p><strong>"The problem that we all face is that we never have all the information," said Fountain Police Department Chief Chris Heberer.</strong></p> <p>Evans Police Department Chief Rich Brandt, who also serves as president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police, said he was unaware of a uniform system for handling those calls, such as where to prioritize them against the myriad other 911 calls received daily.</p> <p><strong>Heberer said 911 call takers generally try to gauge callers' level of panic, and whether or not someone openly carrying a gun appears out of place.</strong></p> <p><strong>Dispatchers' challenges are similar to those of officers on the street, who have increasingly met people carrying guns &mdash; both openly and concealed.</strong></p> <p>Heberer stressed the need to respect gun holders' constitutional right to have guns, and their ability to carry them in public. And he said officers must approach calls more carefully as a result.</p> <p>"Situational awareness is that much more important," Heberer said.</p> </blockquote> <p>Despite long-running efforts by the National Rifle Association and other lobbying groups to persuade Americans otherwise, there is <a href="" target="_blank">clear empirical evidence</a> with mass shootings that armed civilians don't stop bad guys with guns. The question now is whether the looser gun laws pushed by the NRA and others also prevent the police from doing so.</p></body></html> Politics Crime and Justice Guns Top Stories police Wed, 04 Nov 2015 18:58:04 +0000 Mark Follman 288556 at Police Did Not Treat 911 Call About Colorado Gunman as "Highest Priority" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><a href="" target="_blank">As I first reported late Monday</a>, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham&mdash;who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about <a href="" target="_blank">Colorado's law</a> allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.</p> <p>Did Colorado's open carry law in effect hinder a police response to Harpham before he struck?</p> <p>The first time Bettis dialed 911 and spoke with a dispatcher, "a call for service was built for officers to respond," Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs PD told <em>Mother Jones</em>. "But it wasn't the highest priority call for service."</p> <p>Buckley declined to provide any further details about the timing or substance of the two 911 calls by Bettis, or about how they were handled, citing an ongoing investigation into the shooting.</p> <p>Contacted by <em>Mother Jones</em>, Bettis declined via her daughter to comment further, but on Tuesday the <em>Washington Post</em> <a href="" target="_blank">reported</a> that Bettis was surprised by the tepid response from the police dispatcher. "I don&rsquo;t remember what they call it&mdash;open arms&hellip;and she said, you know, we have that law here. And it just kind of blew me away, like she didn't believe me or something." Bettis also told the <em>Post</em> she was "angry" that she had to call 911 twice. "I don't think she probably thought it was an emergency until I made the second call," Bettis said, "and that's when I said, 'That guy I just called you about, he just shot somebody.'" According to <a href="" target="_blank">one witness</a>, Harpham attacked using an <a href="" target="_blank">AR-15</a>.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/threats_0_0.png"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Can they be prevented from striking? </strong></a></div> </div> <p>There are additional questions about how details of the gun rampage have emerged. Local law enforcement authorities did not identify the shooter or any of the victims until Monday afternoon&mdash;more than 48 hours after the attack&mdash;according to Joanna Bean, the editor of <em>The Gazette</em>, a local news outlet that <a href="" target="_blank">has covered the attack extensively</a>. That's an unusually long time in the face of intense public interest, including a flurry of comments on social media over the weekend lamenting the lack of information. In a column about <em>The Gazette</em>'s coverage, including on its decision to publish the shooter's name late Sunday, Bean <a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>From the time of the shooting until Monday afternoon, authorities remained tight lipped. "Pending completion of the autopsies and notification of the next of kin the El Paso County Sheriff's Office does not have any updates on the investigation regarding the officer involved shooting yesterday and the ensuing investigation," the office said on Facebook on Sunday. Colorado Springs police said they wouldn't discuss the shootings until autopsies were completed.</p> </blockquote> <p>Meanwhile, <em>The Gazette</em> apparently removed a key line from an in-depth <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> it published on Sunday&mdash;concerning Bettis' eyewitness account and first 911 call. On Facebook on Sunday night, several gun reform advocates referred to the <em>Gazette </em>story and directly quoted the line highlighted in bold below; they later pointed out that the line had been removed.</p> <blockquote> <p>Across the street, neighbor Naomi Bettis was shaken by what she saw on a sunny Saturday morning.</p> <p>Bettis said she called police twice on Saturday morning - once to report her neighbor walking around with a rifle. <strong>She took issue with the first dispatcher, who told her that Colorado has an open carry law.</strong></p> <p>She saw Harpham walk into the house with a rifle and a can or two of gasoline. Then, he went up an outside staircase and came out with a rifle and a pistol.</p> <p>He walked down the street and took aim at a passing bicyclist, she said.</p> <p>Bettis recalled the bicyclist's last words. "Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!"</p> <p>"But he was already being shot," Bettis said.</p> <p>She called 911 again the second time.</p> <p>"I said, 'The guy I just called you about that had the gun, he just shot somebody three times,'" Bettis said.</p> </blockquote> <p>It remains unclear why <em>The Gazette</em> apparently removed the line about Bettis' interaction with the dispatcher regarding Colorado's open carry law. Reached by email early Tuesday morning, Bean said she would look into the matter. If she responds further we will update the story.</p> <p><strong>Update, November 4: </strong>Bean further responded that the line in question was removed as part of <em>The Gazette</em>'s "ongoing, updated coverage throughout the weekend," which involved frequent changes to their print and online copy. "We continue to pursue a variety of angles on this shooting story," she added, "including the open carry angle and what information police have about that call to dispatch." Their <a href="" target="_blank">latest reporting on that angle is here</a>.</p></body></html> Politics Crime and Justice Guns Top Stories Wed, 04 Nov 2015 00:43:47 +0000 Mark Follman and AJ Vicens 288446 at Did Colorado's Open Carry Law Delay Police Response to a Mass Shooter? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Details are continuing to emerge about <a href="" target="_blank">a gun rampage</a> that took place in the streets of Colorado Springs on Saturday morning, in which 33-year-old Noah Harpham shot three people to death before police killed him in a shootout. On Monday, a troubling detail came to light in a <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Denver Post </em>report</a> suggesting that police may have had a chance to intervene before the slaughter began&mdash;but that a police dispatcher may have reacted without urgency to a 911 call about Harpham because of Colorado's open carry law:</p> <blockquote> <p>Witnesses watched in horror as Harpham picked his victims off. One of them, the bicyclist, pleaded for his life before being killed.</p> <p>"I heard the (young man) say, 'Don't shoot me! Don't shoot me!' " Naomi Bettis, a neighbor who witnessed the killing, said Monday.</p> <p><strong>Bettis said she recognized the gunman as her neighbor&mdash;whom she didn't know by name&mdash;and that before the initial slaying she saw him roaming outside with a rifle.</strong> <strong>She called 911 to report the man, but a dispatcher explained that Colorado has an open carry law that allows public handling of firearms.</strong></p> <p>"He did have a distraught look on his face," Bettis said. "It looked like he had a rough couple days or so."</p> </blockquote> <p>It's unclear how much time lapsed between Bettis' 911 call and when the rampage began, but according to <em><a href="" target="_blank">The Gazette</a></em> the initial police response didn't come until after the carnage was in progress:</p> <blockquote> <p>The first reports of a shooting came about 8:45 a.m. as Colorado Springs police were called to the 200 block of Prospect Street after multiple calls about gunshots, El Paso County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jacqueline Kirby and Colorado Springs police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley said. Authorities said the shooter was killed after opening fire on police officers.</p> </blockquote> <p>By then, Harpham had killed the bicyclist, <span id="redesign_default"><span id="MNGiSection">35-year-old Andrew Alan Myers, and two women at a nearby location, 42-year-old Jennifer Michelle Vasquez, and 34-year-old Christina Rose Baccus-Gallela. (Similarly, the <em>Denver Post </em>reported: "Officers were first called on reports of a 'possible shooting' at 230 North Prospect Street&mdash;a townhouse-like building&mdash;where they found the bicyclist dead and a fire burning, the dispatch archives show.") [<strong>Update: </strong>A Colorado Springs PD official <a href="" target="_blank">responds to <em>Mother Jones </em>here</a> about Bettis' 911 call.]</span></span></p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">Proponents of open carry laws</a> argue that the ability for citizens to take firearms with them in public isn't just a right but makes communities safer. We don't yet know, but the law allowing guns to be carried on display in Colorado may have just done the opposite.</p></body></html> MoJo Crime and Justice Guns Top Stories Tue, 03 Nov 2015 02:46:43 +0000 Mark Follman 288366 at No, Mental Illness Is Not the Main Cause of Mass Shootings in America <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>A <em>Washington Post-</em>ABC News <a href="" target="_blank">poll</a> on gun violence published Monday included a stark finding: "By&nbsp;a more than 2-to-1 margin, more people say mass shootings&nbsp;reflect problems identifying and treating people with mental health problems rather than inadequate gun control laws." Sixty-three percent of respondents blamed a deficient mental health care system as the prime reason for America's incessant gun massacres, while 23 percent pointed to weak gun regulations.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/WaPost%20chart%20on%20guns%20mental%20at%2012.36.38%20PM.png"></div> <p><br> What's most troubling about these results and the question that prompted them is that they perpetuate a dangerous stigmatization. The vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. I wrote about this in my recent <em>Mother Jones</em> cover story on <a href="" target="_blank">threat assessment</a>, a growing strategy for stopping mass shooters that relies on collaboration between mental health and law enforcement experts:</p> <blockquote> <p>We know that many mass shooters are young white men with <a href="" target="_blank">acute mental health issues</a>. The problem is, such broad traits do little to help threat assessment teams identify who will actually attack. Legions of young men love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions. The number who seek to commit mass murder is tiny. Decades of research have shown that the link between mental disorders and violent behavior is small and not useful for predicting violent acts. (People with severe mental disorders are in fact far more likely to be <a href="" target="_blank">victims of violence</a> than perpetrators.)</p> </blockquote> <p>Then there is the role of guns. As a top forensic psychologist described it to me at a recent summit of more than 700 threat assessment professionals in Southern California, "One of the first things you focus on with this process is access to weapons." Guns obviously are no more a sole cause of mass shootings than schizophrenia or suicidal depression are. But their role in such crimes is self-evident:</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/threats_0_0.png"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Can they be prevented from striking? </strong></a></div> </div> <blockquote> <p>Possession of a firearm, of course, is not a meaningful predictor of targeted violence. But at the conference in Disneyland, virtually everyone I spoke with agreed that guns make these crimes a lot easier to commit&mdash;and a lot more lethal. "There are so many firearms out there, you just assume everybody has one," Scalora says. "It's safer to assume that than the opposite." The presence of more than <a href="" target="_blank">300 million guns</a> in the United States&mdash;and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively&mdash;is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend, and why many believe their approach may be the best hope for combating what has become a painfully normal American problem.</p> </blockquote> <p>The <em>Washington Pos</em>t-ABC News poll furthered a misleading stereotype about a broad population of Americans by presenting a false choice between mental health and gun policy. The chart above shows that only 10 percent of respondents recognized that solving mass shootings is more complicated than checking one box or the other. Any solution deeply involves both, and <a href="" target="_blank">a whole lot more</a>.</p></body></html> MoJo Crime and Justice Guns Health Care Media Top Stories Tue, 27 Oct 2015 21:44:11 +0000 Mark Follman 287911 at How the Media Inspires Mass Shooters <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><head><link href=",700" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"></head><body><p><span class="section-lead">In late August,</span> not 10 hours after a disgruntled former TV reporter posted video on Twitter and Facebook of himself gunning down two ex-colleagues in Virginia, the <em>New York Daily News</em> tweeted a preview of <a href="">its front page</a> for the next day. It featured a triptych of stills from the killer's horrifying footage. Readers saw the attack from the shooter's perspective&mdash;looking down the barrel of his <a href="">Glock 19</a> at the flash of the muzzle and a victim's terrified face, just moments before her death.</p> <p>It was a gut punch to the victims' loved ones. Journalists and the public responded with a torrent of tweets decrying the cover as "repulsive" and "despicable" and saying that "the victims deserve better." The <em>Daily News</em> <a href="">said</a> that it published the images "to convey the true scale" of the attack "at a time when it is so easy for the public to become inured to such senseless violence."</p> <section class="right-rail chapters desktopOnly"><div id="chaptersHed">READ MORE:</div> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank">stopping mass shooters</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">the columbine effect</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">the cost of gun violence</a></li> </ul></section><p>Journalism can be a powerful force for change, and news organizations should not flinch at reporting on mass shootings. But what the <em>Daily News</em> editors didn't realize was that this sensational approach can possibly do more than perturb or offend. Such images provide the notoriety mass killers crave and can even be a jolt of inspiration for the next shooter.</p> <p>The next one struck just five weeks later, in Oregon. The 26-year-old man who murdered nine and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College last Thursday had <a href="">posted comments</a> expressing admiration for the Virginia killer, apparently impressed with his social-media achievement: "His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems like the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/fulldailynews.jpg"></a></div> <p>Since the 1980s, forensic investigators have found examples of mass killers emulating their most famous predecessors. Now, there is growing evidence that the copycat problem is far more serious than is generally understood. Ever since the 1999 massacre at Colorado's Columbine High School, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been studying what motivates people to carry out these crimes. Earlier this year, I met with supervisory special agent Andre Simons, who until recently led a team of agents and psychology experts who assist local authorities in heading off violent attacks around the country, using <a href="">a strategy known as threat assessment</a>. Since 2012, according to Simons, the FBI's unit has taken on more than 400 cases&mdash;and has found evidence of the copycat effect rippling through many of them.</p> <p>Evidence amassed by the FBI and other threat assessment experts shows that perpetrators and plotters look to past attacks both for inspiration and operational details, in hopes of causing even greater carnage. Would-be attackers frequently emulate the Columbine massacre; one high-level law enforcement agent told me that he's encountered dozens of students around the country who say they admire the Columbine killers. "Some of these kids now weren't even born when that happened," he said. The 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech and other attacks that generated major publicity have also spawned many copycats, according to several law enforcement officials I spoke with.</p> <p>As part of our <a href="" target="_blank">investigation into threat assessment</a>, <em>Mother Jones </em>documented the chilling scope of the "Columbine effect": We found at least <a href="">74 plots and attacks</a> across 30 states in which suspects and perpetrators claimed to have been inspired by the nation's worst high school massacre. Their goals ranged from attacking on the anniversary of Columbine to outdoing the original body count. Law enforcement stopped 53 of these plots before anyone was harmed. Twenty-one of them evolved into attacks, with a total of 89 victims killed, 126 injured, and nine perpetrators committing suicide. (<a href="" target="_blank">See more about this data here</a>.)</p> <p>As they plan to strike, many mass shooters now express their desire for fame in comments and manifestos posted online. "They do this to claim credit and to articulate the grievance behind the attack," Simons told me. "And we believe they do it to heighten the media attention that will be given to them, the infamy and notoriety they believe they'll derive from the event."</p> <p>Despite whatever delusions or obsessive grievances they may be experiencing, many perpetrators are keenly aware of how their actions will be seen by the media and the public. "A lot of times they thrive on posing," says Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist at the University of California-San Diego and a leading researcher on targeted violence who has interviewed and evaluated mass killers. He cites the police booking photo of Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011. "He's got that contemptuous smile, like it's a great pose. The savvy of these individuals to capitalize on visual exposure should not be underestimated."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/threats_0.png"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>The early warning signs that could help stop the next shooting rampage</strong></a></div> </div> <p>A month before the Tucson rampage, Loughner <a href="" target="_blank">posted</a> what he called "a foreshadow" of his attack in comments on his MySpace page: "I'll see you on National TV!" He got what he wanted&mdash;and then some. His booking photo "flashed around the world, at once haunting and fascinating," <em>Washington Post </em>media reporter Paul Farhi <a href="">wrote</a> three days after the massacre.&nbsp;"Dozens of newspapers placed the photo atop their front pages, burning Loughner's visage into the American consciousness." (The <em>Daily News</em> ran a "nearly life-sized" version on its front page, Farhi noted, with the headline "Face of Evil," while the <em>New York Post</em> ran a similar front page that blared "Mad Eyes of a Killer.") Several of the nation's largest news outlets have continued using the image in <a href="">stories</a> and <a href="">broadcasts</a> ever <a href="">since</a>.</p> <p>The media faces a growing challenge in how its content is spread and recycled. When I asked various law enforcement and forensic psychology experts what might explain America's <a href="" target="_blank">rising tide of gun rampages</a>, I heard the same two words over and over: social media. Although there is no definitive research yet, widespread anecdotal evidence suggests that the speed at which social media bombards us with memes and images exacerbates the copycat effect.</p> <p>Meloy and other threat assessment experts recommend some specific changes by the news media to address the copycat problem. Attackers' names should be used minimally&mdash;and their images even less so. "Their use can have a dangerous effect on other young men vulnerable to dark and violent identifications with the perpetrators," Meloy says. "When real life for these individuals is so blighted in terms of love and work, they turn to the anti-heroes." The narcissism running through many copycat cases is even more troubling in this regard: "They don't just want to be like them&mdash;they are envious and want to one-up them," Meloy explains. Copycats will aim to accomplish that either by <a href="">going for a higher body count</a>, he says, or, as in the Virginia case, killing in a more sensational way.</p> <p>Meloy argues the media should also rethink some of its language. "Stop using the term 'lone wolf' and stop using 'school shooter,'" he says. "In the minds of young men this makes these acts of violence cool. They think, 'This has got some juice behind it, and I can get out there and do something really cool&mdash;I can be a lone wolf. I can be a shooter.'" Instead, Meloy suggests using terms such as "an act of lone terrorism" and "an act of mass murder."</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/nprrail_360.png"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Listen to National Public Radio's Robert Siegel interview Mark Follman about this investigation </strong></a></div> </div> <p>Changing how the media covers these stories may be especially important when it comes to preventing gun rampages in schools, according to John Van Dreal, a psychologist who helped build a pioneering threat assessment program in Oregon's Salem-Keizer school district, which has more than 40,000 students. "I hear how all the kids talk about it," Van Dreal says. "When it gets played up so much in the media, it becomes heroic to the kids who are thinking about doing it." No one can control what explodes across social media platforms. But news organizations remain powerful magnifiers of content and could work toward "an ethical best practice to leave out the imagery and the name as much as possible," Van Dreal says.</p> <p>In January, Caren and Tom Teves&mdash;whose son Alex was one of the 12 people murdered in the July 2012 massacre in Aurora, Colorado&mdash;launched a "<a href="" target="_blank">No Notoriety</a>" campaign admonishing the media never to use mass shooters' names. There is a similar movement stirring among police officers: The Oregon sheriff handling the response to last week's attack (whose views on <a href="">gun regulations</a> and <a href="">the Sandy Hook massacre</a> raised some eyebrows) vowed in a press conference that he would not say the shooter's name&mdash;and the town of Roseburg <a href="">rallied around the idea</a>. His move echoed the <a href="">recommendations</a> of a FBI-endorsed law enforcement training program on active shooters at Texas State University, which recently began a "Don't Name Them" campaign.</p> <p>Though laudable, such absolutism is unrealistic in terms of the media's duty to report. As the Poynter Institute's chief media correspondent Jim Warren explained Sunday on CNN's <em><a href="">Reliable Sources</a></em>, reporting on the killers is crucial to public understanding of the problem&mdash;and for knocking down the rampant misinformation that ricochets around the internet in the aftermath of an attack. (Rumors swirled late last week that the Umpqua killer was a Muslim, for example, which was <a href="">false</a>.)</p> <p>But some journalists and news organizations are beginning to recast their coverage of mass shooters with the recognition that they should avoid glamorizing them, and that proportionality matters. The day of the Virginia murders, CNN said it would show a segment of the killer's footage <a href="">only once per hour</a>; if that sounded odd in its own right, it was an improvement over the sensationalism of the constant looping so common on cable news networks. Since Aurora, CNN's Anderson Cooper has at times <a href="">declined to name on the air</a> the perpetrators of high-profile massacres.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"> <p dir="ltr" lang="en">Should the media refrain from naming/showing mass shooters? <a href="">@SFClem</a> and Tom &amp; <a href="">@CarenTeves</a> say yes: <a href=""></a> from Sunday's show</p> &mdash; Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) <a href="">October 5, 2015</a></blockquote> <script async src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p>There is precedent for establishing the type of industry standard that threat assessment experts suggest. Rape victims and juveniles charged with crimes are rarely named in news reports. Ditto people who commit suicide&mdash;another problem with a potent contagion effect. When American journalists are taken hostage overseas, news organizations usually agree not to report on their plight due to fears that it would undermine their safety and jeopardize negotiations for their release. Perhaps a rising awareness of the copycat problem will lead to a similar change in how the media covers gun rampages.</p> <p><br><span class="section-lead">Over the past</span> three years, a team of colleagues at <em>Mother Jones</em> and I have spent a great deal of time and effort <a href="">reporting on mass shootings</a>. Knowing what we do now, we&rsquo;ll continue to inform the public while avoiding what could contribute to the copycat problem. In light of the Umpqua attacker's quest for notoriety, we've chosen not to publish his image or put his name in any headlines. We will focus attention on him or other killers only when we see clear journalistic value in doing so.</p> <p>We made similar choices with our newly published <a href="">cover package</a> on threat assessment and the Columbine effect. With most of our major investigations into gun violence, we have <a href="">published</a> our <a href="">underlying</a> <a href="">datasets</a> so that anyone can use them for further study and analysis. But we are only providing summary data and analysis from <a href="">our research on Columbine copycats</a>. Though much of the case-level data we've collected is publicly available, we decided not to make it easily accessible in one place, where it could potentially be used by aspiring attackers searching for inspiration or tactical information.</p> <p>Below, we've compiled half a dozen recommendations based on interviews with and research from threat assessment experts concerned about this issue. Not all of these ideas will go over well in newsrooms, and as journalists, we can see arguments for and against these practices. But given the scope of the copycat problem, they are worthy of serious consideration and debate. [<strong>Ed. note</strong>: For more on that debate, see Follman's <a href="" target="_blank">opinion piece in the <em>New York Times</em></a>.]</p> <ul><li> <p><strong>Report on the perpetrator forensically and with dispassionate language. </strong>Avoid terms like "lone wolf" and "school shooter," which may carry cachet with young men aspiring to attack. Instead use "perpetrator," "act of lone terrorism," and "act of mass murder."</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Minimize use of the perpetrator's name</strong>. When it isn't necessary to repeat it, don't. And don't include middle names gratuitously, a common practice for distinguishing criminal suspects from others of the same name, but which can otherwise lend a false sense of their importance.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Keep the perpetrator's name out of headlines. </strong>Rarely, if ever, will a generic reference to him in a headline be any less practical.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Minimize use of images of the perpetrator. </strong>This is especially important both in terms of aspiring copycats' desire for fame, and the psychology of vulnerable individuals who identify with mass shooters.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Avoid using "pseudocommando" or other posed photos of the perpetrator</strong>.&nbsp;This should apply especially after these images are outdated, such as showing the Aurora killer again with his red "Joker" hair during his trial three years later, when he was heavier and wore glasses and a beard.</p> </li> <li> <p><strong>Avoid publishing the perpetrators' videos or manifestos except when clearly necessary or valuable to the reporting.</strong> Instead, paraphrase, cite sparingly, and provide analysis. The guiding question here may be: Is this evidence already easily accessible online? If so, is there a genuine reason to reproduce and spread it, other than to generate page views?</p> </li> </ul></body></html> Politics Full Width Crime and Justice Guns Media Top Stories Tue, 06 Oct 2015 12:00:50 +0000 Mark Follman 286181 at Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><head><link href=",700" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css"></head><body><p><span class="section-lead">&acirc;&#128;&#139;</span><span class="section-lead">Soon after the</span> school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that "he was mad at 'preps' and was going to bring a gun in." Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that "he was not happy with school or with himself" but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with "numerous mental disorders," according to the police officer's report.</p> <section class="right-rail chapters desktopOnly"><div id="chaptersHed">READ MORE:</div> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank">the columbine effect</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">the media and copycats</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">the cost of gun violence</a></li> <li><a href="" target="_blank">mass shootings soar</a></li> </ul></section><p>To most people, Ayala's suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district's threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised "preps" and wished he could "just go out and kill a few of them." He went online to try to buy a gun. And he'd drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.</p> <p>The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn't have any weapons, they launched a "wraparound intervention"&mdash;in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.</p> <p>"He was a very gifted, bright young man," recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. "A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts."</p> <p>As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do "check and connects" with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler's outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.</p> <p>When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry's Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/shootinghistory_2.jpg"></div> <p>The two teams "successfully interrupted Ayala's process of planning to harm people," Van Dreal says. "We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety."</p> <p>But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.</p> <p><br><span class="section-lead">This past august,</span> I traveled to Disneyland to join more than 700 law enforcement agents, psychologists, and private security experts from around the country at the annual conference of the <a href="" target="_blank">Association of Threat Assessment Professionals</a>. While families splashed in the Disneyland Hotel's pools and strolled to the nearby theme park, conference attendees sat in chilly ballrooms for sessions like "20 Years of Workplace Shootings" and "Evil Thoughts, Wicked Deeds."</p> <p>After a day of talks focused on thwarting stalkers and preventing the next Sandy Hook, it seemed incongruous to emerge to throngs of overexcited kids and their weary parents enjoying the nightly fireworks. But it is no coincidence that Disney plays host to this conference. As gun rampages have <a href="" target="_blank">increased</a>, so have security efforts at public venues of all kinds, and threat assessment teams can now be found everywhere from school districts and college campuses to corporate headquarters and theme parks. Behind the scenes, the federal government has ramped up its threat assessment efforts: Behavioral Analysis Unit 2, a little-known FBI team based in Quantico, Virginia, now marshals more than a dozen specialists in security and psychology from across five federal agencies to assist local authorities who seek help in heading off would-be killers. Those calls have been flooding in: Since 2012, the FBI unit has taken on more than 400 cases.</p> <p>The conference keynote was given by Reid Meloy, a tall, white-haired forensic psychologist from the University of California-San Diego who is a leading researcher in the field. His presentation was peppered with gallows humor&mdash;a clip from <em>Breaking Bad</em>, a photo of Jack Nicholson "playing himself" in <em>The Shining</em>&mdash;and professional koans. "Monitor your own narcissism," he warned the assembled investigators. "This is going to be easier for some of you to get than others," he quipped, flashing an image of Donald Trump.</p> <p>There was a simple reason, Meloy suggested, for the record number of people packing the room: Mass murder is on the rise. "We've seen this very worrisome pattern over the past five or six years of an increase in targeted violence in public places," he told me later. "Personally and professionally, this is a big concern&mdash;that uptick is very important, especially as violent crime has decreased."</p> <p>Threat assessment is essentially a three-part process: identifying, evaluating, and then intervening. A case usually begins with a gut feeling that something is off. A teacher hears a student's dark comments and alerts the principal, or someone gets freaked out by a coworker's erratic behavior and tells a supervisor. If the tip makes its way to a local threat assessment team, the group quickly analyzes the subject's background and circumstances. They may talk with family, friends, or coworkers to get insight into his intentions, ability to handle stress, and, most importantly, potential plans to strike. "One of the first things you focus on with this process is access to weapons," Meloy notes. Like the group that handled Ayala's case, the team draws on mental health and security expertise. Possible responses range from helping the subject blow off steam and refocus on school or work to providing longer-term counseling. If violence seems imminent, involuntary hospitalization or arrest may be the safest approach.</p> <p>But such drastic measures are rare. "With a lot of these cases, you peel back the curtain and there are good social and mental health interventions that are diverting the person onto a better course," Meloy says. Often the best initial step is the most direct&mdash;conducting a "knock and talk" interview, which has the dual benefit of offering help and putting the subject on notice. Simply realizing that authorities are watching can be an effective deterrent.</p> <p>Threat assessment requires a remarkable shift in thinking for law enforcement because in most cases no crime has occurred. "Our goal is prevention over prosecution," supervisory special agent Andre Simons, who led the FBI unit until this summer, explained when we met at the bureau's headquarters in Washington earlier this year. "If we can facilitate caretaking for individuals who are not able to perceive alternatives to violence, then I think that's a righteous mission for us."</p> <p>Ever since Columbine, the FBI has been studying what drives people to commit mass shootings. Last fall it issued a <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> on 160 active-shooter cases, and what Simons could disclose from its continuing analysis was chilling: To a much greater degree than is generally understood, there's strong evidence of a copycat effect rippling through many cases, both among mass shooters and those aspiring to kill. Perpetrators and plotters look to past attacks for not only inspiration but operational details, in hopes of causing even greater carnage. Emerging research&mdash;including our own analysis of the "<a href="" target="_blank">Columbine effect</a>"&mdash;could have major implications for both threat assessment and <a href="" target="_blank">how the media should cover mass shootings</a>.</p> <p>In December 2013, then-Attorney General Eric Holder <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> that Simons' FBI unit had helped prevent almost 150 attacks in one year. The nearly two dozen experts I spoke with didn't like to be so definitive, noting that it's impossible to prove a negative. But many cited cases in which they believed threat assessment teams had prevented great harm. Sergeant Jeff Dunn, who leads the Los Angeles Police Department's Threat Management Unit, described a firefighting recruit who became enraged when he failed out of the academy. "He told another recruit, 'When they fire me, I'm gonna come back here and fucking massacre everyone.'" Academy officials alerted the LAPD, and Dunn's unit got a search warrant for the recruit's home. "This guy was absolutely geared to go to war," Dunn said. His arsenal included nearly a dozen semi-automatic handguns and assault rifles and a homemade explosive device. "Had there not been an intervention of some sort," Dunn said&mdash;in this case, an arrest on a felony weapons charge&mdash;"I have no doubt that it would've resulted in an active-shooter scenario."</p> <p>But cases often aren't so clear. One of the biggest challenges for threat assessment teams is that sometimes the quieter, less outwardly threatening subjects can prove the most dangerous. "When there are individuals who prompt a sense of anxiety or fear but no law or policy has been broken," Simons says, "that's the real work." Of the hundreds of subjects tracked by the FBI unit, he told me, only one went on to injure somebody. But measuring the effectiveness of threat assessment is tricky because ultimately there is no way of knowing whether someone would have otherwise gone on to attack.</p> <p>Meloy compares the challenge to fighting cardiovascular disease: Doctors can't predict whether someone will have a heart attack, but they can do a lot to decrease the risk. "You try to lower the probability."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/map960NEW.png"></a></div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">When the next </span>shooting happens at a school, an office building, or a movie theater, the question will again be asked: <a href="" target="_blank">"What made him snap</a>?" But mass murder is not an impulsive crime. Virtually every one of these attacks, forensic investigations show, is a predatory crime, methodically planned and executed. Therein lies the promise of threat assessment: The weeks, months, or even years when a would-be killer is escalating toward violence are a window of opportunity in which he can be detected and thwarted.</p> <p>A growing body of research has shed light on this "pathway to violence." It often begins with an unshakable sense of grievance, which stirs thoughts about harming people and leads to the planning and preparation for an attack. Elliot Rodger, convinced that women were unfairly denying him sex, seethed for months and fantasized about a "day of retribution" before he bought firearms, scouted sorority houses, and went on to <a href="" target="_blank">kill</a> 6 people and injure 14 others near Santa Barbara, California, in May 2014.</p> <p>A confluence of behaviors can indicate that someone is poised to walk into a school or a shopping mall and open fire. These include an obsession with weapons, a fixation on images of violence, and a history of aggressive acts that aren't directly related to the planned attack&mdash;possibly a way for the perpetrator to test his resolve. Almost a year before Rodger struck, he attempted to push some women off a 10-foot ledge at a house party. Some killers have mutilated pets before going on rampages.</p> <p>In fact, the vast majority of mass shooters signal their intentions in advance, though usually not directly to their intended targets. This "leakage," as threat assessment teams call it, can be difficult to recognize. Before Dylann Roof murdered nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, he told a friend about his desire to kill people and start a race war. (The friend <a href="" target="_blank">claimed</a> he didn't think Roof was serious.) Weeks before Rodger attacked, he posted disturbing videos that prompted his mother to alert a county mental health agency that he was suicidal. In response, sheriff's deputies went to Rodger's apartment to do a welfare check, interviewing him just a few strides from where he'd stashed three handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. He persuaded them he was fine. "Thankfully, all suspicion of me was dropped," he later <a href="" target="_blank">wrote</a>, "and the police never came back."</p> <p>We know that many mass shooters are young white men with acute mental health issues. The problem is, such broad traits do little to help threat assessment teams identify who will actually attack. Legions of young men love violent movies or first-person shooter games, get angry about school, jobs, or relationships, and suffer from mental health afflictions. The number who seek to commit mass murder is tiny. Decades of research have shown that the link between mental disorders and violent behavior is small and not useful for predicting violent acts. (People with severe mental disorders are in fact far more likely to be <a href="" target="_blank">victims of violence</a> than perpetrators.)</p> <p>That's why sizing up a suspect's current circumstances is crucial: Did he recently get fired from a job? Did he lose his kids in a nasty custody battle? Is he failing out of school or abusing drugs? Investigators also look for visible signs such as deteriorating hygiene or living conditions, which is why approaching someone directly and building rapport can be so important.</p> <p>"Most people who have a psychotic episode aren't thinking violently," explains Mario Scalora, a forensic psychologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. But for those who are experiencing psychosis&mdash;including 80 percent of stalkers who target public figures&mdash;intervention can head off disaster. Scalora describes the case of a student he calls Bob who experienced a psychotic break in his early 20s. Scalora's campus threat assessment team grew concerned after getting a tip about Bob muttering to himself and making ominous comments. They sent plainclothes detectives to his residence, where on the wall of his room hung a grotesque theater mask whose mouth had been sewn shut with black string. Bob said that voices were commanding him to hurt people at the behest of God, and that he was scared. The detectives persuaded him to check into a psychiatric ward for evaluation. "This made him feel cared for," Scalora says, "and gave us a mechanism by which we could continue to manage him. By building rapport with him, we're learning a lot about him and getting rich assessment data, and in the meantime he's not stalking people on our campus. It's a win-win."</p> <p>When the lead detective followed up with Bob a couple of days into his hospital stay, he asked her, "Can you go to my room and get the mask, and this big knife that's under my bed? I don't want them anymore."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/harvard_timeline_AJ_2.png" width="960"></a></div> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">The concept of </span>cops and mental health experts working hand in hand to stop violent crimes before they occur is relatively new. Its origins trace in part to a summer morning in West Los Angeles. Shortly after 10 a.m. on July 18, 1989, a 21-year-old actress named <a href="" target="_blank">Rebecca Schaeffer</a> was getting dressed for a meeting with Francis Ford Coppola about a role in the next <em>Godfather </em>movie when her apartment buzzer sounded. The intercom was broken, so Schaeffer went to the front door, where a young man stood holding a shopping bag. Nineteen-year-old Robert Bardo had been trying to reach Schaeffer for two years, writing her fan letters and periodically taking a bus from Tucson to LA to look for her. He'd never been able to get onto the soundstage where Schaeffer filmed the sitcom <em>My Sister Sam</em>, but he'd finally found her address.</p> <p>Bardo had already dropped by that morning, according to his <a href="" target="_blank">own account</a>, and Schaeffer had chatted with him politely. But now she was anxious. "You came to my door again," she said. "Hurry up, I don't have much time." Bardo later recalled, "I thought that was a very callous thing to say to a fan." In his bag he had a letter and a CD he wanted to give her. He also had a .357 Magnum handgun. A neighbor heard Schaeffer scream as Bardo fired a single shot into her chest.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/dailynews300px.jpg"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>How the media inspires copycat mass shooters&mdash;and six ways it could stop doing so </strong></a></div> </div> <p>Until then, obsessive behavior that could turn violent was still widely viewed as a mental health issue beyond the purview of law enforcement, even after the attacks on John Lennon and Ronald Reagan and a spate of government workers "going postal." But Schaeffer's murder shocked Holly&shy;wood, and studio heads called for action by the LAPD, which was already frustrated by its inability to stop a string of stalking murders of nonfamous women. The LAPD devised a plan for a multidisciplinary team that would aim to head off such crimes.</p> <p>The LAPD Threat Management Unit's mission expanded in 1995 after a city electrician, angry about a poor performance evaluation, walked into the Piper Tech center downtown and shot four supervisors to death. "Piper Tech" became shorthand for the rising wave of workplace threats the unit began to confront. (It currently handles about 200 cases a year, roughly half of which are workplace related.) Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, the Secret Service had also been developing tenets of threat assessment, led by a former agent from Reagan's security detail. But for most cops, close collaboration with mental health experts remained unheard of. And the idea of intervening before there was a crime to investigate went against everything they knew from their training. "It requires a paradigm shift," says the LAPD's Dunn. "So many in law enforcement don't recognize how useful a tool this can be."</p> <p>Then came Columbine.</p> <p><br><span class="section-lead">As they plotted</span> for months to slaughter their classmates, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold weren't just driven by rage and depression&mdash;they wanted to be immortalized and to inspire future school shootings. In diary entries and videos, the duo fantasized about Hollywood directors fighting over their story. They filmed themselves firing guns and yelling into the camera about killing hundreds and starting a "revolution."</p> <p>Such "legacy tokens" now often include manifestos posted online by perpetrators. "They do this to claim credit and to articulate the grievance behind the attack," says the FBI's Simons. "And we believe they do it to heighten the media attention that will be given to them, the infamy and notoriety they believe they'll derive from the event."</p> <p>There has long been evidence that stalkers and mass murderers emulate their famous predecessors. Before Bardo gunned down Schaeffer, he sent a letter to Mark Chapman, imprisoned for the 1980 murder of John Lennon. When Bardo fled from Schaeffer's building, among the items he discarded was a copy of <em>The Catcher in the Rye</em>, the novel Chapman infamously sat down to read after shooting Lennon. John Hinckley Jr. had a copy of the book and a John Lennon photo calendar in his hotel room when he tried to assassinate Reagan in 1981. Forensic psychologists describe this phenomenon as following a "cultural script," or the "<a href="" target="_blank">Werther effect</a>," referring to a spate of copycat suicides in 18th-century Europe after the publication of Goethe's novel <em>The Sorrows of Young Werther</em>.</p> <p>The Columbine killers authored a grimly compelling new script at the dawn of the internet age. Sixteen years later, the Columbine legacy keeps reappearing in violent plots, driven in part by online subcultures that obsess over the duo's words and images. "It's a cult following unlike anything I've ever seen before," says one longtime security specialist.</p> <p>To gauge just how deep the problem goes, <em>Mother Jones </em>examined scores of news reports and public documents and interviewed multiple law enforcement officials. We analyzed <a href="" target="_blank">74 plots and attacks</a> across 30 states whose suspects and perpetrators claimed to have been inspired by the Columbine massacre. Law enforcement stopped 53 of these plots before anyone was harmed. Twenty-one plots evolved into attacks, with a total of 89 victims killed, 126 injured, and 9 perpetrators committing suicide.</p> <p>The data reveals some disturbing patterns. In at least 14 cases, the suspects aimed to attack on the anniversary of Columbine. (Twelve of these plots were thwarted; two attacks ultimately took place on different dates.) Individuals in 13 cases indicated their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. And in at least 10 cases the suspects referred to Harris and Klebold as heroes, idols, martyrs, or God.</p> <div class="desktopOnly"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_1_0.jpg"></a></div> <div class="mobileOnly"> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" style="clear:both; display: inherit; border: 0;" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_mobile_h_0.jpg"></a><a href="" style="clear:both;" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_mobile_h_1.jpg"></a></div> </div> <p>At least three suspects made pilgrimages to Columbine High School&mdash;fulfilling the kind of "pseudocommando" mission that researchers have found mass shooters to be obsessed with. Two of them carried out rampages when they returned home&mdash;one at a college in Washington state and the other at a high school in North Carolina, using guns he'd decorated with pictures of the Columbine shooters. In another case, a 16-year-old from Utah flew to Denver without his parents' knowledge, hired a driver to take him to Columbine, and met with the principal under the auspices that he was writing an article for his school newspaper. He was trying to elicit information on lasting trauma, according to a law enforcement official familiar with the case. "All he wanted to know about was what the students and staff felt like&mdash;how long it took them to recover and if they still thought about it," the official says. The teen was arrested back home for plotting with a fellow student to bomb his own high school.</p> <p>These publicly documented cases are just the beginning. "There are many more who have come to our community and have been thwarted," says John McDonald, the director of security for Colorado's Jefferson County school district, where Columbine High School is located. "They want to see where it happened, want to feel it, want to walk the halls. They try to take souvenirs." Some aspiring copycats have even come from overseas, says McDonald. "The problem is always on our radar."</p> <p>Gene Deisinger, a threat assessment pioneer who led Virginia Tech's police force from 2009 to 2014, explains that the copycat effect also plays out at sites like Virginia Tech and Fort Hood. "Lots of the places that have experienced high-profile acts of mass violence over the last decade or more face ongoing threats from outsiders who identify with the perpetrators, the acts, or the places," he says.</p> <p>Major attacks motivate copycats in other ways. In April 2009, Jiverly Wong blocked the back exit of the building in upstate New York where he'd taken English classes and then used guns similar to those of the <a href="" target="_blank">Virginia Tech</a> shooter to kill 14 people and wound four others before shooting himself. "There was evidence that he had studied the attack at Virginia Tech," a federal law enforcement official told me, "looking at the chaining of the doors there that had prevented both entry and exit."</p> <p>It's not just Americans who emulate the killers of Columbine or Virginia Tech. Shooters inspired by these events have struck in Brazil, Canada, and Europe&mdash;particularly in Germany, where nine school shootings occurred in the decade after Columbine. At least three German shooters drew inspiration from Harris and Klebold, including an 18-year-old who referred to them as God and <a href="" target="_blank">attacked</a> his former school wearing a long black coat and wielding two sawed-off rifles, a handgun, and more than 10 homemade bombs.</p> <p>When I asked threat assessment experts what might explain the recent rise in gun rampages, I heard the same two words over and over: social media. Although there is no definitive research yet, widespread anecdotal evidence suggests that the speed at which social media bombards us with memes and images exacerbates the copycat effect. As Meloy and his colleagues noted earlier this year in the journal <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Behavioral Sciences and the Law</em></a>, "Cultural scripts are now spread globally...within seconds."</p> <div class="mobile-css-hide"> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href=";list_source=7H5ARA1A&amp;extra_don=1&amp;abver=A" target="_blank"><img alt="Please Donate!" class="image" src=""></a></div> </div> <p>In late August, this phenomenon reached its logical next step when a disgruntled former TV reporter <a href="" target="_blank">gunned down two former colleagues</a> during a live broadcast in Virginia while filming the scene on a camera. As he fled, he posted the footage on Twitter and Facebook. The first "social media murder" went viral in less than 30 minutes, raising the grim prospect that others will aim for similar feats&mdash;knowing that the news media will put them in the spotlight and help publicize their grisly images. (The 26-year-old who would go on a rampage at Umpqua Community College in Oregon five weeks later <a href="" target="_blank">reportedly commented online</a> about the Virginia shooting, "Seems the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight.")</p> <p>But just as digital media has created platforms for dangerous people seeking a blaze of notoriety, it has also become a valuable tool for identifying them. "We're now seeing that shooters are announcing more frequently via social media just prior to attacking," Simons says, noting that potential killers can otherwise be conspicuously withdrawn. "When people express violent ideation, what we're looking for is: Who are they talking to? Who's listening?" These days, he adds, "it's possible they're living more vividly online than in the physical world."</p> <p><br><span class="section-lead">Erik ayala could</span> barely sleep. He hadn't worked for months. He hardly ever talked to his two high school buddies anymore, even Mike, with whom he now shared an apartment in Portland. In the three years since he'd moved there in 2006, he'd struggled to hold down a job or find a girlfriend. Now 24 years old, he was no longer in touch with the teams who had watched over him in his hometown for nearly five years. He had become increasingly withdrawn and often holed up in his bedroom playing <a href="" target="_blank">Resistance: Fall of Man</a> and other first-person shooter games.</p> <p>On the morning of January 24, 2009, Ayala scribbled a note apologizing to his family and bequeathing his PlayStation 3, his car, and what little remained in his bank account to Mike. "I'm sorry to put all this on you buddy," he wrote. "I know it's not much consolation but as my friend and roommate you are entitled to everything that I own. Good luck in this fucked-up world." Then he grabbed the 9 mm semi-automatic he'd bought two weeks earlier at a pawnshop and headed downtown.</p> <p>Just before 10:30 p.m., a group of teens waited in line outside the Zone, an all-ages dance club. Ayala didn't know anyone at the club, but to him it was a hangout for the kinds of kids he despised. In a matter of seconds Ayala fatally <a href="" target="_blank">shot</a> two teenage girls and wounded seven people, most of them also teenagers. As a security guard moved toward him, Ayala put the barrel under his chin and pulled the trigger one last time.</p> <p>It was the worst mass shooting in Portland's history. Experts also cite it as a prime example of both the promise of threat assessment and its limitations. "Ayala ended up acting out his ideas from high school on a similar, if not the same, target population almost a decade later," Van Dreal says. That may suggest the two Oregon teams prevented Ayala from going on a rampage when he was younger, but it also reflects the daunting challenge of managing a potentially dangerous person over the long haul. Even if a troubled kid can be turned away from violence, how do you ensure he becomes a well-adjusted adult? What happens when he moves beyond the reach of those who have helped him? When is a case really over?</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/nprrail_360.png"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>Listen to National Public Radio's Robert Siegel interview Mark Follman about this investigation </strong></a></div> </div> <p>Others have fallen through the cracks, including James Holmes, who <a href="" target="_blank">underwent</a> threat assessment and psychiatric care at the University of Colorado-Denver before he dropped out, cut ties with the school, and carried out the movie theater massacre in Aurora. Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona, in 2011, had been booted out of Pima Community College after its threat assessment team looked at his disruptive behavior. Many mental health professionals still lack the training to evaluate potentially deadly people, says Deisinger, who is a psychologist as well as a cop. And they may be resistant to threat assessment's tactics and urgency.</p> <p>"There's nothing more frustrating than hearing people say there's no way to stop these mass shootings from occurring," says Russell Palarea, a forensic psychologist and veteran of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service who now consults for private corporations. Like many in his field, Palarea believes the key is helping more people understand what threat assessment is and how it works&mdash;similar to the "see something, say something" campaign meant to help foil terrorist attacks. "The methodology is in place," he says. "We just need to train the public, law enforcement, prosecutors, hospital clinicians, and other professionals on their roles in helping to manage the threats."</p> <p>The science behind threat assessment is still young, but it is attracting growing interest; last year the American Psychological Association launched the <em>Journal of Threat Assessment and Management. </em>The ranks of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals are rising, and since Sandy Hook, more corporate leaders have taken an interest in the strategy. Three states&mdash;Virginia, Illinois, and Connecticut&mdash;now mandate threat assessment teams in their public colleges and universities. Virginia was the first to do so (after the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007) and now also requires them in all <a href="" target="_blank">K-12 public schools</a>. (Read more about <a href="" target="_blank">its model here</a>.)</p> <p>But should a huge investment in threat assessment really be our only serious effort to stop mass shootings? Australia, another frontier culture with a deep attachment to guns, endured a slew of mass shootings starting in the 1970s. After a disturbed young man killed 35 people and wounded 18 others in 1996, the country invested heavily in gun buybacks and enacted stricter gun laws. Suicides and murders with guns declined dramatically, and Australia has had <a href="" target="_blank">only one</a> public mass shooting in the two decades since.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src=";showinfo=0" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Possession of a firearm, of course, is not a meaningful predictor of targeted violence. But at the conference in Disneyland, virtually everyone I spoke with agreed that guns make these crimes a lot easier to commit&mdash;and a lot more lethal. "There are so many firearms out there, you just assume everybody has one," Scalora says. "It's safer to assume that than the opposite." The presence of more than <a href="" target="_blank">300 million guns</a> in the United States&mdash;and the lack of political will to regulate their sale or use more effectively&mdash;is a stark reality with which threat assessment experts must contend, and why many believe their approach may be the best hope for combating what has become a painfully normal American problem.</p> <p>In a sense, threat assessment is an improvisational solution of last resort: If we can't muster the courage or consensus to change our underlying policies on firearms or mental health care, at least we can assemble teams of skilled people in our communities and try to stop this awful menace, case by case.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">Kyle alexander remembers</span> how he and Erik Ayala met as freshmen in the high school marching band: They were both introverts who loved video games and commiserated about being misfits. Hours before Ayala carried out his attack in Portland, his roommate, Mike, called Alexander, who was living in Seattle. "He'd found the note and he sounded very frantic," Alexander recalls. "He wanted to see if I knew Erik's whereabouts." Alexander was worried but didn't know what he could do from so far away. Mike was also at a loss. "At the time we thought Erik was just going through another bad cycle of depression," Alexander says. "We never saw it coming."</p> <p>Only recently did Alexander learn the full details of Ayala's case, including that he had once been on Ayala's hit list. "It was surprising, and scary to think about," he says. "Erik would go through very dark moods, but given the special relationship we had I was often able to help him turn things around." Alexander wishes he'd stayed closer with Ayala after high school. "The social relationship piece of it is big," he says. "I think it could've made a difference in his life."</p> <p>Alexander is now 32 years old and lives in Salem, Oregon, where he works as a school psychologist. He is trained in threat assessment and works with school-based teams in his district. His passion is helping at-risk kids.</p></body></html> Politics Full Width Longreads Crime and Justice Guns Media Top Stories Mon, 05 Oct 2015 12:00:07 +0000 Mark Follman 285071 at How Columbine Spawned Dozens of Copycats <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On April 20, 1999, two teenage boys fatally shot 13 people and injured 24 others at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. A <em>Mother Jones</em> investigation shows that the nation's worst high school shooting has inspired at least 74 plots or attacks across 30 states. To gauge just how deep the problem goes, we examined scores of news reports and public documents and interviewed multiple law enforcement officials.</p> <p>The data we have compiled reveals some disturbing patterns. In at least 14 cases, the Columbine copycats aimed to attack on the anniversary of the original massacre. Individuals in 13 cases indicated that their goal was to outdo the Columbine body count. In at least 10 cases, the suspects and attackers referred to the pair who struck in 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, as heroes, idols, martyrs, or God. And at least three plotters made pilgrimages to Columbine High School from other states.</p> <div class="inline inline-right" style="display: table; width: 1%"><a href="" target="_blank"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/dailynews300px.jpg"></a> <div class="caption"><a href="" target="_blank"><strong>How the media inspires copycat mass shooters&mdash;and six ways it could stop doing so </strong></a></div> </div> <p>As one longtime security specialist explains in our investigation into <a href="" target="_blank">a growing national effort to stop mass shooters before they strike</a>, "It's a cult following unlike anything I've ever seen before."</p> <p><em>Mother Jones</em> is not publishing our research on Columbine copycats beyond the numbers and analysis below. Though much of the case-level details we've collected are publicly available, we have chosen not to make them easily accessible in one place, where they might potentially be used by would-be copycats searching for inspiration or information. For more of our reporting on the copycat problem stemming from Columbine and other high-profile attacks, <a href="" target="_blank">read the main investigation here.</a></p> <div class="desktopOnly"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_1_0.jpg"></div> <div class="mobileOnly"> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_mobile_h_0.jpg"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/columbine_mobile_h_1.jpg"></div> </div></body></html> Politics Full Width Crime and Justice Guns Media Top Stories Mon, 05 Oct 2015 12:00:07 +0000 Mark Follman and Becca Andrews 285981 at Reddit's Former CEO Is Fed Up With the Site's Vindictive Trolls, But Not Its Anonymous Gun Dealers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>As <a href="" target="_blank">turmoil</a> continues at Reddit, former CEO Yishan Wong has been defending ousted leader Ellen Pao, in part with a <a href="" target="_blank">schadenfreude-tinged post</a> on Tuesday in which he informed the trolls populating the site's controversial hate-speech forums that their days are likely numbered. But when I questioned Wong on Tuesday night on Twitter about another controversial corner of Reddit&mdash;a de facto national market for assault weapons called r/GunsForSale that we exposed in a <em>Mother Jones</em> investigation last year&mdash;he was of a different mindset. As Wong had put it earlier on Tuesday, the new CEO now had "the moral authority to move ahead with the purge" of Reddit's darkest reaches. I wondered whether that might now also apply to a forum where anonymous gun dealers <a href="" target="_blank">revel in the prospect of profiting from the mass murder of first graders</a> and boast about selling firearms with zero regulatory scrutiny.</p> <p>Reddit wasn't just allowing this gun market to thrive on its platform when we broke the story, it had also put its stamp on it&mdash;literally. The company had licensed its official alien logo for use on a bunch of custom AR-15 semiautomatic rifles, produced for and purchased by the site's users. Turns out Wong, who was CEO at the time, was himself a fan. In his response to me on Tuesday night he wrote in a series of <a href="" target="_blank">tweets</a>:</p> <blockquote>Ironically the sensationalist, leading questions you sent us when "researching" this muckraking piece sparked my interest in guns, which later led me to buy an AR-15. Wish I could get one of those reddit-stamped lower receivers though. Seriously, the hi-res pictures you included made those rifles look amazing. It was almost an advertisement for them.</blockquote> <p>A fresh look at r/GunsForSale this week revealed plenty of <a href="" target="_blank">Bushmaster AR-15s</a> and <a href="" target="_blank">Glocks</a> with <a href="" target="_blank">high-capacity magazines</a>&mdash;the weapons of choice for mass shooters in Charleston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, and <a href="" target="_blank">so many other places</a>&mdash;continue to be available from unidentifiable sellers eager to do deals in person. As in: Meet me in the parking lot, show me the money, no questions asked.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/redditGlock630_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>"I'd prefer to sell this face to face. I am in North Florida." </strong>From a July 14 gun listing on Reddit</div> </div> <p>There is now hot debate about a regulatory process that let the Charleston killer purchase his Glock after three days from a gun store, <a href="" target="_blank">despite his disqualifying criminal record</a>. But forget about how licensed retailers should operate: With sites like r/GunsForSale brimming with product, including in <a href=";restrict_sr=on" target="_blank">South Carolina</a>, that whole conversation may really just be moot.</p></body></html> MoJo Guns Media Tech Top Stories Thu, 16 Jul 2015 10:00:14 +0000 Mark Follman 279776 at Watch President Obama Break Into "Amazing Grace" During His Extraordinary Charleston Eulogy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>President Obama came before a grief-stricken but ebullient crowd in Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday afternoon to eulogize the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was among the nine people gunned down on June 18 in the massacre at the historic Mother Emanuel church. Obama delivered more than a presidential speech&mdash;he gave a sermon, a powerful and lively invocation of Pinckney's life, punctuated by applause, cheers, and notes from the church organ. He drew on the history of pain and survival of the church community that Pinckney led, and situated Pinckney's life within the broader historical struggle for civil rights for black Americans.</p> <p>But it was Obama's rendition of "Amazing Grace"&mdash;begun a cappella by the president in a moment of quiet pause near the end, and soon joined by the church band and the entire audience&mdash;that will surely be the most remembered part of this extraordinary presidential address. (The song starts around the 35:20 mark.)</p> <p>Taking the stage after a series of passionate eulogies and moving gospel numbers at a packed arena at the College of Charleston, Obama called Pinckney "a man who believed in things not seen, a man who believed there were better days ahead, off in the distance. A man of service who persevered" and was "wise beyond his years."</p> <p>"Rev. Pinckney embodied a politics that was never mean, nor small," Obama said, to regular vocal agreement from the crowd. "He encouraged progress not by pushing his ideas along, but by seeking out your ideas." Pinckney, Obama said, "embodied that our Christian faith demands deeds, not just prayer."</p> <p>"Our pain cuts that much deeper because it happened in a church," the president continued, going on to detail the history of the struggles faced by black churches&mdash;what he called "hush harbors," "rest stops," and "bunkers" along the turbulent path to freedom, desegregation, and beyond. "A foundation stone for liberty and justice for all," he said. "That's what the church meant." He was met with more than one standing ovation.</p> <p>In the aftermath of the Charleston massacre, Obama has spoken forcefully both about race and <a href="" target="_blank">gun violence</a>. As the eulogy crescendoed, he all but merged the two subjects. First, he said, "None of us can or should expect a transformation of race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, somebody says, 'We have to have a conversation about race.'" He then said emphatically, "We talk a lot about race. There's no shortcut. We don't need more talk."</p> <p>After the applause subsided, he turned to guns. "None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy&mdash;it will not," he said, acknowledging that worthwhile policy arguments will go on. "There are good people on both sides of these debates." Obama continued:</p> <blockquote>But it would be a betrayal of everything Rev. Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allowed ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again. Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on&mdash;to go back to business as usual. That's what we so often do, to avoid the uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society. To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change. That's how we lose our way again.</blockquote> <p>The president appeared with first lady Michelle Obama, alongside Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden. House Speaker John Boehner was also in attendance (the White House confirmed to CBS News reporter Mark Knoller that it had been Boehner's first time aboard Air Force One with Obama).</p> <p>The eulogy in Charleston capped an extraordinary two days for Obama in which he hailed two landmark Supreme Court decisions. The first, handed down Thursday, saved a key part of his signature health care law. The second, on Friday morning, cleared the path for marriage equality across America. Then the president strode onto a stage to inspire a grieving community, and nation, using words and song like no president had before.</p></body></html> Politics Video Civil Liberties Guns Obama Race and Ethnicity Top Stories Charleston church shooting Fri, 26 Jun 2015 19:49:50 +0000 James West and Mark Follman 278571 at NRA Leader Blames Slain Charleston Pastor for Slaughter of His Congregants <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Gun rights activists have been out in force since the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, <a href="" target="_blank">once</a> <a href="" target="_blank">again</a> <a href="" target="_blank">blaming</a> the slaughter on so-called <a href="" target="_blank">gun-free zones</a>, and claiming that an armed citizen could have otherwise stopped the attack. It's an argument that the gun lobby has used for many years, but on Thursday afternoon it was marked by a brazen new low with comments from Charles Cotton, a longtime board member of the National Rifle Association. Cotton wrote on a Texas gun-rights forum that slain pastor and South Carolina state Sen. <a href="" target="_blank">Clementa Pinckney</a> was responsible for the murders of his congregants because of his opposition to looser concealed-carry laws.</p> <p>"Eight of his church members, who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church, are dead," <a href="" target="_blank">Cotton said</a>. "Innocent people died because of his political position on the issue."</p> <div class="inline inline-left" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Cotton-630.jpg"><div class="caption">Screen shot:</div> </div> <p>It's unsurprising that debate over gun laws flared up in the aftermath of Charleston, on both sides of the issue. Speaking from the White House on Thursday, President Obama said, "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries&hellip;with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it."</p> <p>Yet, Obama also spoke of the "dark part of our history" evoked by an attack on a historic black church in the South. No one who has watched the horror unfold in Charleston doubts that the killer's motivation was infused with racial hatred. And to suggest that gun restrictions were the root cause of the bloodbath isn't just callous&mdash;it's also plain wrong.</p> <p>As <em>Mother Jones</em> has previously reported, there <a href="" target="_blank">has never been any evidence</a> that mass shooters picked their targets based on gun regulations; to the contrary, <a href="" target="_blank">data</a> from scores of cases shows perpetrators had other specific motivations for where they attacked, including <a href="" target="_blank">racial hatred</a>. The idea that armed citizens stop crimes in the United States has also been <a href="" target="_blank">wildly exaggerated</a> by the gun lobby, as <a href="" target="_blank">a new study based on federal data</a> reaffirms.</p> <p>Cotton has long led pro-gun lobbying efforts in Texas: He was at Gov. Greg Abbott's side last weekend when Abbott signed a new open-carry bill <a href="" target="_blank">at a Texas gun range</a>.</p> <p>Cotton's comments have since been deleted from <a href=";t=78200&amp;hilit=church+shooting&amp;start=15" target="_blank"></a>, where he is listed as a site administrator. He did not reply to a request for further comment. In a statement on Friday to <a href="" target="_blank"><em>Politico</em></a>, the NRA distanced itself from Cotton's rhetoric, saying individual board members "do not have the authority to speak for the NRA."</p></body></html> Politics Crime and Justice Guns Race and Ethnicity The Right Top Stories Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:03:54 +0000 Mark Follman 277806 at