Things That Matter

What Makes a Mass Shooter? New Study Stresses the Need for Prevention

After yet another school shooting in Santa Clarita, California, the conversation about gun violence has reached new and troubling heights. According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks every mass shooting in the country, 2019 may be the first year since 2016 with an average of more than one shooting a day. As of November 17, there have been 369 mass shootings in the U.S. We all know that there are 365 (well, sometimes 366) calendar days in a year—so when you do the math, you’re quick to realize that 2019 has seen a serious excess of senseless tragedy…and we still have six weeks left.

The issue of gun violence is complicated by misguided political and financial interests, but the data behind mass shootings is undeniably clear—it is data, after all. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as “any incident in which four people are shot, including the shooter.” The FBI defines mass murders as “incidents in which at least four people are killed.” While the FBI does not have a formal definition for mass shootings, the Gun Violence Archive investigates both, asserting that of the above mentioned 369 mass shootings, 28 were mass murders.

In total, there have been 34,365 deaths and 25,929 injuries as a result of gun violence in 2019, whether from mass shootings, homicides, suicides, or accidents. So, who is committing these crimes?

credit: CNN.com

Of course, the answer is varied, complex, and incredibly nuanced. But in light of the recent tragedy in California, our attention is once again drawn to one group within the broad population of U.S. gun users: mass shooters. What leads someone to carry out these large-scale acts of violence? And what do mass shooters have in common with each other?

On November 19, a study funded by the Department of Justice—the largest study of mass shooters ever funded by the U.S. government—was released, and it responds directly to these questions. A dataset that stretches back to 1966 (beginning with the University of Texas shooting of that year, chosen by researchers for the massive media attention it received), the study tracks the pattern of large-scale shootings over the course of 53 years, ultimately concluding that mass shooters share four prominent characteristics: childhood trauma, a personal crisis, sources that validate their aggressive feelings, and access to a firearm.

The study was conducted by the Violence Project, a nonpartisan organization that “aims to reduce violence in society and improve related policy and practice through research and analysis.” With a sharp focus on the life histories of more than 171 mass shooters, the study serves as the largest, most comprehensive database of its kind, and it exposes a lot about the mass shooter archetype.

In addition to revealing that 20% of the 167 incidents have occurred in the past five years, the study reveals that shooters are increasingly motivated by a racial, religious, or misogynist impetus—especially those who committed their crimes in that same time frame.

credit: Los Angeles Times

This pattern is best demonstrated by the following metrics: Of the 75 mass shootings that took place between 1966 and 2000,  9% were motivated by racism, 1% by religious hatred, and 7% by sexism and misogyny. Of the 32 mass shootings that have unfolded since 2015, 18% were motivated by racism, 15% by religious hatred, and 21% by misogyny—a jump in numbers that exceeds 200% across the board.

While acknowledging mass shooters’ tendency to target populations that they are prejudiced against, the research team also drew attention to the fact that nearly all mass shooters seemed to be in a state of personal crisis in the time leading up to the actual shooting. This pattern, according to the researchers, demonstrates opportunities for prevention that are all too often missed.

Similarly, the study found that nearly 70% of shooters exhibited suicidal motivations before (or during) the shooting—a finding that the researchers hope will directly influence public policy. We know a lot more about suicide prevention than we do about this issue, and we know what works — things like limiting access to weapons, directly asking the question, connecting people with outside resources, not talking about it in the news,” Dr. Jillian Peterson, co-founder of the Violence Project, told VICE. “This shows us that there are opportunities for intervention—this doesn’t just happen out of the blue.”

Family history, life circumstances, and mental health aside, mass shootings would not be possible without the use of a gun. Roughly half of the perpetrators in the database purchased their weapons legally, while 13% obtained their weapons by theft. Over the last five years, the study notes an increase in mass shooters’ use of assault rifles, which correlates with the increased deadliness of shootings during that period. 

Beyond a desire for tighter firearm regulation, the Violence Project aims to focus on prevention: addressing the patterns surrounding gun violence in order to end it before it begins. This extensive database is definitely a step in the right direction.

Two Teens Charged With Child Endangerment After They Filmed a Video Of Toddler They Were Babysitting Smoking A Vape Pen

Things That Matter

Two Teens Charged With Child Endangerment After They Filmed a Video Of Toddler They Were Babysitting Smoking A Vape Pen

Parentology / Twitter

Pennsylvania police have confirmed that they are filing child endangerment charges against two teenagers who filmed a video of a two-year-old boy smoking a vape pen while they were babysitting him. According to police, the authorities were alerted to the video via the local youth violence prevention hotline, Safe2Say Something.

The video shows the toddler inhaling from a vaping device and falling down while he coughs and cries. The laughter of the two girls can be heard in the background of the video. The teenage girls–who are 18 and 17, respectively–allegedly filmed the video of the toddler smoking and then posted the 20-second clip to Snapchat. 

Shortly after being posted and reported, the video went viral on social media, with the public demanding that the police get involved. 

The Indiana Criminal Investigation Unit responded to the outcry with a statement saying that they were “aware of a video” and were “investigating the related incident in which a 2-year-old child was given a vaping device”. They confirmed that the “involved persons and child have been identified and charges are pending.” The authorities also revealed that the toddler did not display any other visible effects from the vape, which apparently contained 3% nicotine and no THC.

According to authorities, the local school district has identified the teenagers in the video as students who attend one of their schools. They provided the students’ names to the police.  “United administration was made aware of the video today, and the matter is being investigated by the authorities,” said United School District of Armagh Superintendent Dr. Barbara Parkins in a statement. “We believe that two of our students were involved in the situation. The names of those students were provided to the authorities.”

Viewers were especially disturbed by the video in light of the troubling cases of illness and death that have recently been associated with vape pens,

As of January 7, 2020, a total of 2,602 e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) cases or deaths have been reported to The Center for Disease Control. According to the CDC, 82% of those cases involved the use of THC-containing vaping pens, most of which were obtained from “informal sources” (i.e. black-market products). 

The media-dubbed epidemic has elicited a strong response from health officials who urge the public to avoid vaping pens and e-cigarettes at all costs. “E-cigarettes are not safe and can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease,” American Lung Association president Harold Wimmer recently said in a statement addressing the health epidemic. “No one should use e-cigarettes or any other tobacco product.”. 

As for the toddler’s mother, she is horrified that her child was subjected to such dangerous activity without her knowledge. 

“I’m disgusted. I’m very upset.I’m in disbelief they would even laugh or even have something like that in reach of a child’s possession,” the child’s mother told local news station WXPI. “I’m not trusting anybody anymore to babysit my child,” she continued. “I’m done. I don’t even want to put him in daycare. I can’t trust anybody anymore.”

As for the fallout from this incident, the video is sparking a larger debate on social media about the callous way in which many Gen Zers use social media to publicize their problematic activities for clout and retweets. In an internet culture that glorifies problematic “pranks” and public humiliation, this kind of incident feels, for many, like the last straw.

The public’s outcry seems to largely stem from the fact that the teenagers were laughing while they recklessly put a toddler in danger. 

It’s one thing to put a child in harm’s way, it’s another to laugh about it, and it’s an entirely other case when you post and brag about it on social media.

Some Twitter-users pointed out the fact that vape pens have recently become incredibly dangerous. 

The reality is, EVALI is a new phenomenon that we still don’t know all the facts about. 

This Latina mother makes clear that, should anyone do the same thing to her child, she would take the law into her own hands:

We can only imagine the feelings of shock and betrayal this mother is experiencing right now.

This viewers still seemed to be in denial about the entire situation:

As much as we’d love for this video to have been doctored, we have a feeling that it is 100% real. 

This person is primarily disturbed about the girls’ reaction to the toddler coughing and crying

It is likely that these teen girls didn’t know the danger they were putting this child in by letting him smoke an e-cigarette.

A 5-Year-Old Girl Was Abandoned By Her Parents And Found Chained To Her Bed In Mexico

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A 5-Year-Old Girl Was Abandoned By Her Parents And Found Chained To Her Bed In Mexico

Daily Mail / Twitter

More often than we might like, headlines tend to describe literal, living nightmares—and the recent story about a 5-year-old girl abandoned by her parents in Mexico is no exception. On January 3, a young girl was found in an empty house in San Luis Potosi, tethered to her bed by a rusty chain. Neighbors had heard cries for help coming from the house and notified the local police. When authorities arrived on the scene, they discovered that the girl was living in terrible conditions: not only was she alone, but she was surrounded by piles of trash and filth. Mexican newspaper Excelsior reported that investigators also found a small bucket near the bed, which the child was forced to use as a toilet. She had bruises on her leg and ankle from the metal cuff. After noting her injuries, police transferred her to a local hospital where and she was found to be in stable condition. As of now, the state prosecutor’s office is collaborating with child protective services and police in an attempt to locate the child’s parents.

Not much is yet known about this child (her name is not being released), and no arrests have yet been made. But what we do know is that her situation is not unique.

When searching for information about this story, countless results recounting nearly identical situations appeared, with headlines like “Girl, 6, Was Chained to Bed for 5 Years in Norco Home;” and “‘They’re Chained Up to Their Bed’: Hear 911 Call From Girl Who Escaped Captivity, Saved Her 12 Siblings.” Although each case offers its own twisted nuances, we can’t help but wonder: How is it possible that this horror story of captivity, abuse, and neglect is so common?

The tale that garnered the most media attention in recent years—mentioned in the above headline about a girl who escaped to save her 12 siblings—chronicles the experience of the Turpin children, all of whom were held captive by their parents over the course of almost three decades.

The torture and abuse enacted upon the Turpin children started as neglect, according to officials. In the beginning, the children’s parents would tie them to their beds as a form of punishment, using rope before later graduating to padlocks and chains. At first, the children would only be confined for short periods; but over time, these stints began to stretch longer and longer, sometimes spanning days or weeks, and the siblings—aged 2 to 29—would not be allowed to use the bathroom.

When the siblings were discovered by police in January 2018, almost all of them were severely malnourished. Evidently, when they were not chained up, they were fed very little food according to a strict regimen. Sometimes, the Turpin parents would buy food and place it in plain sight, taunting the children by prohibiting them from tasting it. According to Riverside County District Attorney Michael Hestrin, at the time the siblings were rescued, one 12-year-old weighed what an average 7-year-old might weigh, and the female 29-year-old clocked in at a mere 82 pounds. The family dogs, on the other hand, appeared to be in good spirits and overall good health.

In spite of her emaciated physical condition, the 17-year-old managed to escape by climbing out a window and dialing 911 on a deactivated cell phone (federal law requires that all cell phones be capable of contacting emergency services, even those that are not operational). According to Hestrin, she and some of her siblings had been devising an escape plan for over two years.

So, statistically, how many victims of domestic captivity are able to share successful stories of escape? It’s tough to say, as there is no definitive number of children in domestic captivity, and it’s ultimately impossible to compare the numbers of known cases with unknown, still-active cases.

Plus, experts say that the potential consequences of attempting to escape often deter victims from even trying. Fear of violence and/or punishment—paired with psychological conditions like Stockholm Syndrome, which occurs when captives become emotionally attached to their captors—is often a major reason that captives don’t try to flee. Long periods of abuse can also lead to a loss of perspective in victims, causing them to feel grateful for any sort of lull in abuse and potentially falling into complacency or acceptance when the abuse is paused or slowed.  

Although the children mentioned above were held captive by their own parents, human trafficking—and especially the trafficking of young children—continues to be a pervasive global issue. According to the latest global estimates, 25 million adults and children are currently being exploited for forced labor, and that is not a comprehensive metric. The statistics surrounding the breadth of human exploitation are staggering, and if you suspect that someone is a victim of trafficking, the National Human Trafficking Hotline is the best resource. Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free at 1-888-373-7888: Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take any and all reports of potential cases.