We all woke up on on Monday morning to another reminder of the fragility of life in these turbulent times. The floating anxiety that loomed in all of us as we beheld the violent and disturbing images of the Las Vegas killings on our screens was “this could have been me, my son, my daughter, my mother, my father. Visions of joyous, unencumbered festivals and celebratory musical gatherings our children would one day attend faded before our eyes, as we hung our heads with the sad, shared recognition: our world is not the place is used to be. It is not that we haven’t had mass shootings before – sadly there have been way too many to count, most carried out by single, White males. It is just the sobering reality that the collective anger, rage and shootings are getting worse – more calculated, more deliberate, more gruesome and with more unsuspecting victims.
The question of “why” hangs in our collective psyche: Why would a person inflict such unconscionable pain and hurl out a death sentence to so many innocent strangers? As a psychotherapist who has worked for years with troubled children, teens and adults, we mustn’t ignore the tell-tale, “silent” signs that were present in this “lone wolf” killer’s past and in his psychological make-up. Paddock presents as a man with little or no connection to friends, siblings or to his dysfunctional parents (his father was a bank robber who escaped from a federal prison,) a man who took risks (heavily involved in high-stakes gambling,) a man who hunted animals for pleasure and a man who verbally abused his girlfriend. Paddock’s brother described Paddock as an “army of one” with no known children despite a string of relationships. Someone you might see nursing a drink alone at a bar. Someone who went on cruises and played $100-a-hand video poker.”
We can only wonder how a college educated, wealthy loner, with no meaningful connections to friends, family and zero sense of community (aside from an on-and-off abusive relationship with his girlfriend,) with no social media connections, with a passion for hunting and gambling lugged an arsenal of 42 guns and a stash of “bump stocks” to his hotel room on the 32nd floor and aimed his arsenal from his high vantage point into the jovial crowd below as if he were on a hunting expedition, murdering a herd of innocent animals on an open field.
Decades of psychological studies have shown that a child’s attitude toward animals can predict future behavior. According to published reports, in every highly publicized school shooting, one warning sign has appeared consistently: All the young killers abused or killed animals before turning on their classmates. Animal cruelty is one of the many symptoms defined in the DSM V for Conduct Disorder, a precursor to Anti-Social Personality Disorder. 70% of the most serious and violent offenders in prison have repeated and serious animal abuses in their history. Research has linked those who hunt animals for sport to the “dark triad ” — narcissism (egotistical admiration of one own attributes, lack of compassion, Machiavellianism (being deceitful, cunning and manipulative) and psychopathy (lack of remorse or empathy, prone to impulsive behavior). Although many people hunt and do not commit mass murder, is it fair to assume that for Paddock, his ability to hunt animals desensitized him to randomly murdering 59 people and wounding over 500?
These types of shocking incidents offer us moments to pause and contemplate the severe disconnects in our society. Before we are overly stunned by these growing massacres, shouldn’t we consider how our culture is helping foster and create these killers by ignoring their silent but deadly signs? The quiet loners on the playground should never be overlooked by teachers, counselors and principals. Even if these students are passing their academic classes and not getting in trouble, there should be a continued effort to draw out what occupies these children’s thoughts and how they spends their time. The reclusive teenager who does not interact with peers, spends most of his time on-line and is uninvolved at school should always be given encouragement and extra attention. The quiet men purchasing 42 guns and bump stops on-line or in stores should be denied the right to purchase. How could anyone need that much arsenal to either protect themselves or even to hunt unless they were hunting human beings? Any hunter that can mow down animals for pleasure, power or sport with no empathy or compassion for the living being is one step closer to killing humans, who are also higher-thinking animals. The recluse in the neighborhood who keeps his blinds down, living a secret life and never speaking to his neighbors could be planning the next mass killing spree.
Yes – it is difficult to weed out the psychopath committing the next unthinkable event. But we must become more attuned at reading the “silent signs,” the quiet behind the noise, the lone wolf, repressing his rage until it overflows on hundreds of other unsuspecting beings. Those of us who work at schools or in other settings with children and teens can begin to spot this silent rage by identifying dysfunctional family systems and reading solitude as a precursor to murder. My heart goes out to the innocent victims and families affected by this unspeakable tragedy. I can only hope we can begin taking steps to prevent an even worse scenario.