When a tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas occurs, we want to know why. Our human nature compels us to look for motives, for explanations. Researcher Katherine S. Newman, author of Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings, has some key insight about mass shooters. We’ll also take a quick look at what Stephen Paddock’s family can tell us, and another recent mass shooting (page 5).
What motivates mass shooters?
“Having spent two years studying rampage shooters in American middle and high schools, I saw the same pattern of ‘moral archaeology’ unfold,” she told The Independent. “The families of the shooters were looked upon as the proximate agents of the shooters’ acts, not because they pulled the actual trigger, but because commentators assumed they might have been pulling emotional triggers for years in advance.”
Newman said mass shooters often give off few social cues for their loved ones to notice. Young shooters conceal their dark impulses to avoid labels like “sicko” or “freak.” “These young shooters were masters of concealment, capable of planning their mayhem for months in advance without evoking suspicions,” she said.
For older ones, “they give off even fewer clues to the people around them. Not their families, not their friends,” the expert noted. She said signs like a gruff demeanor, keeping to themselves, or even outbursts don’t necessarily point to their violent potential. “These signals are faint and rarely lead to psychiatric treatment or a police file,” Newman explained.
In retrospect, shooters sometimes display traits that predict their behavior. Sometimes, their family backgrounds may have set them off at an early age. Las Vegas shooter Paddock seems like one such case.
Next: Paddock’s father was not exactly a role model.
Stephen Paddock’s father was not exactly a model parent
Eric Paddock, brother of the Las Vegas gunman, said their father was once on the FBI’s most-wanted list, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The FBI removed Benjamin Hoskins Paddock from the list in 1977 and he died in 1998. Paddock had worked as a garbage-disposal salesman and serviceman, according to a 1960 article by the Arizona Republic. He tried to run an FBI agent over with his car before his capture in Las Vegas that year.
The bank robber made the list after escaping from a federal prison in La Tuna, Texas, on Dec. 31, 1968, having served eight years of a 20-year sentence. At the time, the FBI described Hoskins Paddock as a frequent gambler and avid bridge player. They finally apprehended him in Springfield, Ore., in 1978. Eric Paddock choked up as he talked about his brother. “Steve was like a dad surrogate. He took me camping. I liked my brother. He was a good guy.”
“If we know that a killer spent his formative years in the company of a pathological father who was a bank robber … we can imagine how such a warped childhood may have produced a sociopath who would kill 58 people and maim over 500 others,” Newman posited. “It doesn’t reduce his moral culpability, but it makes us feel that the social world is more predictable.”
Finding out his father’s background gives us some clues to Stephen Paddock’s loner attitude, as well as how he spent his time.
Next: Gambling problems and verbal abuse
When it comes to gambling problems, the apple falls close to the tree
Paddock frequently gambled at the casino where his girlfriend Marilou Danley once worked, The New York Times reported. “He was a gambler. That was his job,” his brother said. Other customers described the regular as a loner, who spent a lot of time playing, but always within his means.
At one of those casinos, Starbucks employees said they saw him verbally abuse Danley on multiple occasions. “It happened a lot,” supervisor Esperanza Mendoza told the Times. He verbally abused her when Danley asked to use his casino card to buy food or other things inside the casino.
“He would glare down at her and say — with a mean attitude — ‘You don’t need my casino card for this. I’m paying for your drink, just like I’m paying for you.’ Then she would softly say, ‘Okay’ and step back behind him. He was so rude to her in front of us.”
Next: His girlfriend tells a different story.
Paddock’s girlfriend described him as ‘kind, quiet’
“I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man,” said Danley in a statement. “He never said anything to me or took any action that I was aware of that I understood in any way to be a warning that something horrible like this was going to happen.”
Danley, 62, told The Washington Post Paddock bought her a ticket to visit her family in the Philippines and then wired $100,000 to purchase a home for Danley and her family.
“I was grateful, but honestly, I was worried, that at first, the unexpected trip home, and then the money, was a way of breaking up with me,” she said. “It never occurred to me in any way whatsoever that he was planning violence against anyone.”
That doesn’t surprise Newman. “His methodical approach tells us he was not an impulsive person,” she said. “And we feel both terrified and comforted. Terrified because who knows how many caring, quiet men there are in our midst who are also capable of mass murder and comforted because it is very hard to predict or stop someone who is this dedicated to an evil end. If his loving girlfriend didn’t have a clue, how could any of the rest of us?”
Next: The next mass shooter did show signs of things to come, early on.
Pulse shooter Omar Mateen came from a troubled past
Three years before he killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the FBI had Omar Mateen under investigation for 10 months, according to The Daily Beast. The organization suspected that he might have ties to terrorism, but agents found no evidence of any connections or plans.
Mateen first came to the FBI’s attention in May 2013, after bragging to co-workers about his ties to terrorist groups. Former FBI Director James Comey told reporters that Mateen had claimed “family connections to al Qaeda,” and called himself “a member of Hezbollah.” As Comey pointed out, these claims contradict themselves, since the two are sworn enemies. Mateen’s boasts point to a base insecurity, probably rooted in his childhood.
Next: He had trouble in both school and at home.
Mateen encountered repeated trouble both in school and at home
The future shooter grew up the only boy in a house of four kids. School records obtained by The Daily Beast show that Mateen struggled in school. As he grew older, Mateen grew violent toward other children, in addition to his poor grades. One teacher noted that Mateen “lacks remorse.” Between 8th and 10th grades, Mateen got suspended for 48 days in total, even moving to a different school after he fought another student.
At home, his parents modeled that violence. In 2002, when Mateen was 16, police went to the family’s home and arrested his mother, Shahla, on charges of beating her husband. According to a police report, the couple argued while their children slept. His father, Seddique, tried to disengage, and Shahla began cursing at him. She pulled his hair and pinched him on the bicep hard enough to leave a mark.
Becky Diefendorf, 57, worked with Shahla at two St. Lucie County Walgreens stores. She told The Daily Beast she had several explosive run-ins with her former co-worker, whom she described as “paranoid.” His father came with his own baggage, as it turns out.
Next: Omar Mateen’s father hosted an Afghan nationalist TV show.
Seddique Mateen, ‘Afghanistan’s president’
Omar Mateen’s father hosted an Afghan nationalist TV show, under the nonprofit he founded, Durand Jirga Inc. Seddique Mateen used the show to spread his hatred of Pakistan, among other themes. Mateen calls himself a peacemaker — in at least one video he provided a detailed peace plan for the rival nations. He also showed wild inconsistency, at one point praising the Taliban and then condemning it for violent acts. Showing increasing delusion, he appointed himself president of Afghanistan. He later posted to his Facebook pages the names and photos of people he claimed served as ministers in his cabinet.
“Many Afghans on social media have circulated his videos just to laugh and write some funny comments,” said one person. The individual translated some of the videos for The Daily Beast and asked to remain anonymous. “He is known among Afghans because of his abnormal statements.”
Next: His parents’ instability seemed to trickle down to the son.
Future shooter abused his ex-wife
In 2009, Omar Mateen married Sitora Yusifiy, a New Jersey real estate agent. She met Mateen through an online dating service, according to The Washington Post. At first, they lived with his parents and he seemed “normal.” Then the physical and emotional abuse started.
“He was not a stable person,” she said. “He beat me [and] would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.” That instability does not always serve as a marker for future behavior, Newman pointed out. Nor are loved ones qualified to make that assessment.
“Parents and girlfriends have a very limited ‘database’ for assessing the behavior … that might tell them how far outside the margins of normal the concerning behavior might be,” she explained. In some cases, loved ones live in total denial. That happened with the pair of terrorists we discuss next.
Next: Who radicalized who?
Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev: Who radicalized who?
The Boston Marathon Bombing perpetrators moved to Boston as refugees, bouncing between homes before ultimately settling in the United States, according to ABC. Their parents married and lived in Kyrgyzstan, deciding to leave after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They attempted to settle in Chechnya, but wars there in the 1990s forced them to quickly return to Kyrgyzstan. By 2001, they moved to Dagestan, where the mother’s family lived, when the boys were 14 and 7 years old. The family lived there for about six months before resettling in the U.S.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva, the mother of the bombers, revealed that she and her husband divorced several years ago because he did not agree with her stricter embrace of Islamic traditions. According to a family member, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a devout Muslim, got kicked out of his uncle’s house because of his increasingly extremist religious views. Tsarnaev later began filling his younger brother’s head with hatred toward the West.
While the pair’s radicalization could have started either in Russia or the U.S., several other family members show signs of general instability.
Next: Both mother and sister have run into legal trouble.
Both mother and sister have run into legal trouble
Authorities do not know much about the two Tsarnaeva daughters, Ailina, 24, and Bella, 26. They last lived in New Jersey, according to CNN.
Ailina Tsarnaeva threatened a woman in a phone call in 2015. “Leave my man alone,” she said. “I know people that can put a bomb where you live,” she said, according to the complaint. Prosecutors charged Tsarnaeva with aggravated harassment. Tsarnaeva’s past record also includes misleading police in a counterfeiting case and leaving the scene of an accident. Her older sister, Bella, entered a pretrial intervention program, for possessing and intending to distribute marijuana in 2012.
Zubeidat Tsarnaeva fled back to Russia in 2012, where she remains a fugitive. Police arrested her in June 2012 for allegedly shoplifting $1,600 worth of women’s clothing.
In 2011, Russia raised concerns to U.S. authorities about her at the same time they asked about her son Tamerlan. According to several sources, U.S. authorities added the mother and son to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, database. That list can serve as a starting point for investigating terrorists. FBI agents interviewed Zubeidat Tsarnaev as part of the investigation into her son, but the case went cold after several months.
Newman explained why people become fascinated with these families, in the aftermath of mass murder. “Understanding the pathway to murder, especially on such a massive scale, is important,” she said. “Living with randomness is psychologically and politically impossible when the costs are so high.”
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