UHV mass murder expert gives take on theater shootings

July 20, 2012 at 2:20 a.m.
Updated July 21, 2012 at 2:21 a.m.

Keith Akins

Keith Akins

The man who opened fire on a movie theater early Friday likely displayed warning signs, said Keith Akins, an assistant professor at the University of Houston-Victoria.

Akins, whose studies specialize in terrorism and mass murder, said details like those that emerged after the Virginia Tech shootings should add to understanding the massacre that left at least 12 dead in Aurora, Colo.

At Virginia Tech, Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people. Police would later discover a history of depression, abnormal behavior and references to violence.

"It would not surprise me, once they get into this guy's life, if there weren't a number of similar events," Akins said. "These things don't happen in a vacuum. We don't really know a lot about this one."

Mass murderers usually fall into distinct categories, like those who kill their family, a lover or co-workers. When it comes to those who kill a group of strangers - like James Holmes is suspected of doing in Colorado - there could be a slew of different reasons for the behavior, Akins said.

They're "typically people whose lives aren't going the way they want them to go. They've built up a great deal of anger and resentment," he said. "It's usually not spur of the moment. They reach a point where they just can't take it anymore."

From what he'd heard from news reports, Akins said the shooter could be attracted to the attention that's spurred from the killings.

"It's pretty common for (mass murderers) to kill themselves. The fact that he turned himself in and started talking - I think there's a certain element of wanting attention and fame that goes with it."

With all of his understanding about mass murder, Akins said he's not sure there's much anyone could do to prevent the tragedy, save finding better funding for mental health programs.

"Mass murder has gone on for as long as there's been people," he said.

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