Adam Lanza and Stephen Paddock Prove These Shocking Traits Are Common in Mass Shooters

Newly released FBI documents in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting suggest shooter Adam Lanza had a lot in common with other mass shooters. His online presence points to a mind that, like many others, left clues about his future.

“The shooter did not ‘snap,’ but instead engaged in careful, methodical planning and preparation,” the FBI wrote in its analysis. “[He] was fascinated with past shootings and researched them thoroughly. The shooter shared many similar characteristics and behaviors with other active shooters.”

Mass shooters, the likes of which include Lanza, Stephen Paddock, Omar Mateen, and a mounting list of others share some disturbing characteristics. Here’s what we’ve learned.

Lanza harbored an obscene fascination with kids

adam lanza's school ID in a jumble of bottles, coins, keys, glasses

Adam Lanza’s school ID photo | Connecticut State Police via Getty Images

The FBI documents paint an even more disturbing portrait of killer Lanza, suggesting his fascination with children bordered on obscene. Connecticut investigators found a file on Lanza’s computer “advocating pedophiles’ rights and the liberation of children.”

According to The Huffington Post, Lanza told a woman he met online that sexual relationships between adults and children were “possibly beneficial to both parties.” But he also said they could be “unhealthy,” and never expressed personal sexual interest in children. Lanza mused that killing them helped them escape “brainwashing” and “harmful influences” from adults. He also kept extensive records of previous mass killings and blogged about his “respect” for the 1999 Columbine shooters. Among mass murderers, that behavior does not come as unusual. 

Stephen Paddock also kept to himself

a couple standing in front of mandalay bay hotel

A couple stops on the Las Vegas Stripto look up at the two broken window in the Mandalay Bay hotel. | Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Many described Lanza as a “shut in” and he has that in common with Paddock, who perpetrated the recent Las Vegas concert massacre. His friends and family described him as a “loner” who stayed under the radar. Like Lanza, Paddock planned his massacre carefully.

“It was pre-planned, extensively, and I’m pretty sure that he evaluated everything that he did in his actions, which is troublesome,” said Clark County sheriff Joe Lombardo in New York Magazine. While his father had an extensive criminal record and spent eight years on the FBI Most-Wanted List, Paddock’s record remained clean.

Los Angeles police also recently arrested his brother Bruce Paddock, CBS News reported. He stands charged with possessing more than 600 images of child pornography, as well as 19 counts sexual exploitation of a child. Stephen Paddock has never expressed the same proclivities, but it speaks to the effect his early home life may have had on the whole family. Another recent discovery shows he bore another similarity to Lanza. 

Paddock’s hard drive remains AWOL

a computer hard drive in front of scrap metal

Paddock’s hard drive remains missing, police report. | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

According to NBC DFW, the hard drive from Paddock’s computer remains missing, leaving questions about his motive. Investigators looking into Paddock’s background learned he purchased software designed to erase files from a hard drive. Without the hard drive itself, no one knows whether he actually used it.

Lanza had also removed the hard drive from his computer and smashed it with a hammer or screwdriver. ABC also reported that in 2007, Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung Hui also extracted the hard drive of his computer and disposed of his cell phone. Authorities never recovered the missing media. In addition, the 2008 Northern Illinois shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, removed the SIM card from his phone and the hard drive from his laptop.

Unlike Lanza and Paddock, Seung Hui did leave one common piece of evidence for police. 

Mass shooters often leave detailed motives

the columbine killers practice at a gun range in black trench coats

Eric Harris (L) watches as Dylan Klebold practices shooting a gun at a makeshift shooting range March 6, 1999, in Douglas County, CO. | Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department via Getty Images

In 2007, Virginia Tech shooter Cho Seung Hui left a video explaining his grievances. As an article in the London Review of Books pointed out, manifestos become expected for mass shooters in this day and age. He draws parallels between the online chat rooms boys like Lanza, Seung Hui, and others like Umpqua College shooter Christopher Harper-Mercer populate and their often detailed manifestos.

As author Andrew O’Hagan explains, “Shooters, or would-be shooters, often imagine themselves ‘speaking’ to each other across the world through their acts of violence. Behind every killer now is a previous set of killers, each giving rise to another, like an army in a video game, new recruits emerging from the chatrooms with guns on their mind.”

It’s not a uniquely American phenomenon, either. 

Some shooters even directly reference each other

A woman looks at an internet webpage of the "Jokela Highschool Shooting Sympathizers' portraying a picture of Finnish high school student Pekka-Eric Auvinen

Some killers idolize other killers. | Timo Jaakonaho/AFP/Getty Images

On Nov. 7, 2007, in Finland, Pekka-Eric Auvinen entered Jokela High School with a semi-automatic weapon and killed eight people before shooting himself in the head. “Hate, I am so full of it and I love it,” he wrote in his manifesto.

That statement comes as a direct quote from Columbine killer Eric Harris’s journal. “This is my war: a one-man war against humanity, governments and the weak-minded masses of the world!” wrote Auvinen.

Lanza also idolized the Columbine killers, The Daily Beast reported. “I’m still waiting for a mass shooter who eschews 9mm pistols and instead buys an AK-47 pistol, 30 30-round magazines, and 1000 hollow points,” Lanza posted in a forum about the Columbine High School shooting in January 2011.

Sources reported he played a video game called “Super Columbine Massacre RPG,” which lets players relive the 1999 Columbine High School massacre from the viewpoint of the killers. He also played one called “School Shooter,” a first-person shooter in which players gun down students. On Tumblr, Lanza shared graphic collages of corpses bodies from Columbine. In another post, he shared a series of pictures of the Virginia Tech murderer. The shooter frequently discussed idolizing the boys. He’s not alone in that fascination. 

Experts say shooters often follow each other

a Twitter stream by Bryce Williams

Bryce Williams posted about the shooting on Twitter almost immediately. | Williams via Twitter

Dr. Peter Langman, an expert on school shooters, said mass murderers often draw inspiration from previous ones. “Sometimes it’s a minimal reference, sometimes it a lot of research: idolizing them, practically worshiping them,” Langman told The Daily Beast. “What’s different about Adam Lanza is the extent of the research he did. … He went beyond what most shooters do, but the pattern that is consistent, especially among the younger perpetrators of mass attacks.”

Before Vester Flanagan killed a TV reporter and her cameraman, he wrote a counter-manifesto to the one written in June by Dylann Roof. Citing racist reasons, Roof killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Flanagan countered Roof’s assertions, saying he put down a deposit on a gun after Roof committed his massacre. He also name-dropped respect to mass shooters before him, writing “I was influenced by Seung-Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there.”

Flanagan, like others, also took to social media. 

Social media provides another outlet for shooters

a welcome back sign at umpqua college with police tape

A sign at the edge of campus welcomes students and staff back to Umpqua Community College. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

According to Mic, before he died, Flanagan uploaded videos of the killings to Twitter under his professional name, Bryce Williams. Those came accompanied by messages in which he alleged racial discrimination on the part of the victims. Harper-Mercer admired that instinct.

“I have noticed,” he wrote in a blog post, “That so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. … His face splashed across every screen, his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day.”

The 2014 Isla Vista shooter Elliot Rodger also left a Youtube video called “Retribution” for police to find. He also uploaded a 137-page manifesto and a video before setting out to kill six and injure 14. “I didn’t start this war,” Rodger wrote in his manifesto. “I wasn’t the one who struck first. But I will finish it by striking back. I will punish everyone. And it will be beautiful.”

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