Mass Killers and Communication, May 24, 2014

A police officer inspects the car of the suspected gunman Saturday, May 24, after deadly shootings in Isla Vista near the University of California, Santa Barbara. The suspect, described as mentally disturbed and possibly bent on retribution, sprayed bullets from his car Friday night, May 23, killing six people in a rampage called "premeditated mass murder," Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies said. The shooter also died.Eliott Rodger, 22, has been named the perpetrator of a mass killing in Isla Vista, California, the community bordering UC Santa Barbara. Rodger created a manifesto and YouTube video declaring his hatred for women who have seemingly spurned him. This is similar to the actions of George Hennard, perpetrator of the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, that left 23 dead. Well before his crime, Hennard complained to the FBI about being the target of a “conspiracy of white women.” While carrying out the attack, Hennard shouted that it was his response to what the women of his town “had done” to him.

Compounding this latest tragedy, Rodger’s family had reported his disturbing videos to authorities. In short, those closest to Rodger knew there was something wrong and took what they believed were appropriate measures. Still, those measures were insufficient to stop another mass killing.

See below a post I wrote during my graduate studies addressing the 2011 Tucson mass shooting. In it, I reference Anatomy of a Massacre, a book I wrote on the 1991 mass shooting at Luby’s Cafeteria, America’s worst such attack until the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech.

“Mass Killers and Communication”

Posted January 13, 2011

Mass killers are communicators. They communicate their anger, their disconnection from reality, their progress toward violence. They communicate vividly and frequently. They find audiences who receive and understand their messages. And despite their prodigious output of warning signs and pronouncements, mass killers go unchecked. This is the ultimate lesson of the attack in Tucson that killed six people and wounded 13 including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

In 1993, I wrote Anatomy of a Massacre, a true-crime book about what was then the worst mass shooting in American history: George Hennard’s attack on Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, TX, October 16, 1991, that left 23 dead. Hennard was a communicator, as was Jared Loughner, perpetrator of the Tucson mass shooting.

Hennard exhibited bizarre, threatening behavior in the lead-up to his crimes. He stalked a family–Jane Bugg and her daughters, Jill and Jana–who lived down the street from his parent’s home where he was living alone. Jane’s complaints to local police brought no official action. Hennard made his own complaints to law enforcement. He reported to the FBI that “a secret group of white women” had formed a nationwide conspiracy against him. He made a pilgrimage to the site of the San Ysidro McDonald’s where James Huberty set the previous mass shooting victim record at 21. He voiced his hatreds, paranoia and speculation about killing people to those around him. His physician father openly deemed him mentally ill.

Still, nothing happened to stop Hennard. He drove his pickup truck through Luby’s front window at lunch hour, exited the vehicle, and began firing on the building’s occupants with two 9mm pistols. Five minutes later, several police officers engaged Hennard in a gun battle. Twelve minutes later, he was dead in the restaurant’s back hallway. Twenty-three innocent people had been fatally shot with approximately 40 wounded.

Hennard communicated the outcome of Oct. 16, 1991, to anyone who would pay attention. Huberty communicated his instability and intent as well. So did Charles Whitman, the sniper atop the University of Texas tower, who killed 16 people in 1966. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the mass killers at Columbine High School, documented their threats and early dangerous acts online. Seung Hui Cho, who exceeded Hennard’s death toll by killing 32 at Virginia Tech, was a known menace to family, students, teachers and authorities. Nidal Hasan, murderer of 13 at Fort Hood not far from the location of Hennard’s attack, recurrently expressed extremist views and sent intercepted e-mails to terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.

And now we hear the all-too-familiar story of Jared Loughner, his ominous behavior, his outbursts, his YouTube video speaking of genocide. In Comm 4144 at University of Denver, we are currently studying communication models. Emulating flow charts, they track the path and effect of communications. Repeatedly, the communication model for mass killers is:

Source–>Message–>Receiver–>Tragedy

It’s time for a new model.

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About jasonkarpf

Public Relations. Marketing. Writing. Adjunct Instructor.
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One Response to Mass Killers and Communication, May 24, 2014

  1. Well said, Mr. K! It is indeed time for a new communication model. Thanks for sharing!

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