Should we fear active shooter anniversaries?

Experts say that those who carry out horrific acts pick their dates very carefully, and that anniversaries may serve as a blueprint for evil

By John Burgeson
Connecticut Post, Bridgeport

As the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting approaches on Dec. 14, it's no secret that those who carry out horrific acts pick their dates very carefully, experts say.

Take the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, for example.

It took place on the same week as the anniversaries of the Waco, Texas, siege (April 19, 1993); the Oklahoma City bombing (April 19, 1995); the Columbine High School massacre (April 20, 1999); the Virginia Tech shooting (April 17, 2007) and Adolf Hitler's birthday (April 20, 1889).

Will Dec. 14 be another date to worry about? In a word, yes.

Dates are very important for those with a fascination with horrific acts, according to Deb Del Vecchio-Scully, a professional counselor in Fairfield who is also executive director of the Connecticut Counseling Association.

"If you look at the recently released report ... on Sandy Hook, you're seeing a definite fascination with other shootings, particularly Columbine, in an obsessive-pathological way," Del Vecchio-Scully said Wednesday.

She said there isn't a lot of scientific data on the subject, however. Most mass killers usually kill themselves or are killed by law enforcement at the scene of the crime, so in-depth analyses of their states of mind are rare.

Even so, mass killers seem to be obsessed with details, Del Vecchio-Scully said.

"People pick certain dates and certain times because it means something to them, even though it has no rational meaning to anyone else," she said. "One, for example, is to gain more notoriety by carrying these acts out on a certain date."

Del Vecchio-Scully said that we live in a "sick and distorted world" in which there are many "who want to be on top of the leader board" of the number of victims killed.

"Take a look at the video games that Adam Lanza played," she said. "One was called 'School Shooting.' Unfortunately, I think you're going to see more events like this happening."

Del Vecchio-Scully said there aren't "reasonable explanations" for abnormal behavior.

"Certainly, we see a tendency for obsessive-compulsive behavior, but honestly, there isn't a whole lot of research into the minds of these individuals," she said.

One common thread seems to be the age of these perpetrators.

Del Vecchio-Scully said most perpetrators tend to be young men in their late teens or early 20s. Lanza was 20 years old, and the suspect in the University of New Haven incident, William Dong, is 22.

"Late teens or early 20s is a prime time for psychotic breakdowns," she said. "They develop a break from reality -- paranoia, delusions and the belief that this is somehow what they're supposed to do."

Another possibility, Del Vecchio-Scully said, is schizophrenia, a disorder that shows itself at about age 18 in men, later in women.

"It's a mental health issue, but doing a post-mortem on why they act this way is a challenge," she said, noting that the combination of mental illness and the easy availability of automatic weapons can make for a deadly combination.

Copyright 2013 the Connecticut Post

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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