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Characteristics & Types of Mass Murders

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Mass murders are defined as 3 or more people killed in the same place at the same time. There are many characteristics that make up a mass murder and the person who commits them. Mass murders can be either organized or unorganized. The people who commit them generally have traits in common such as a history of abuse and usually possess certain physical, psychological, social, emotional, and sexual traits. There are also different motives behind every murderer. Murders use a variety of different methods that include shooting, explosives, kidnapping, and chemical weapons. Finally, capital punishment is a sentence that all mass murderers should receive. Mass murderers are a danger to society and should not be allowed to continue with their lives after committing their crimes.

There are two main types of mass murders, organized and unorganized. Within organized mass murders, there are disciple, family annihilator, pseudocommando, disgruntled employee, and set and run killers. The first type, disciple killers, follow a leader. Examples of this are Charles Manson and his cult, which he persuaded to kill for him. Disciple killers kill because a leader has convinced them to. They will often not die at the scene of the crime like other types and will usually not know the victims. Family annihilator killers will kill their entire family at one time. They may even kill the family pet at the same time.

These family annihilators are mostly the senior member of the family, and almost always end their own lives when they are finished with their killing spree. Stephen Sueppel killed his wife and four children in 2008 by beating them with a bat. Pseudocommando killers gather large amounts of weapons such as firearms, grenades and body armor. They plan for a long time and “something in his world is not correct, and he will ‘teach the world a lesson’ by his behavior” (Holmes). Stephen Paddock, the man responsible for the Las Vegas shooting, is a perfect example of this. He used many weapons for this and had planned for a long time.

Disgruntled employees are angry at a workplace after being fired or asked to leave work for various reasons. They return to their workplace with the motive to kill coworkers and supervisors who, in the killer’s opinion, have done something wrong. The last type of organized killers is a set and run killer. This person plants something such as a bomb or poisoning and then leaves. They get very far away before their actions have the chance to harm anyone (Holmes). The Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 illustrate this perfectly. The Tsarnaev brothers set bombs and were able to escape the crime scene before the bombs detonated. There are also unorganized killers which can include scenarios such as gang violence that is not planned ahead of time, it is a crime of opportunity. The types of killers are often closely related to traits that they possess.

Mass murders often have a history of abuse such as psychological, societal, emotional, and sexual. and they also generally fit certain physical characteristics. It can be difficult to identity a mass murderer based on traits alone due to the fact that many people fit these characteristics and will likely never commit a mass murder. Physically, “the majority are white… they are usually older than the typical murder, often in their 30s and 40s” (Kleinfield). The reality of this is that most people who are in their 30s or 40s and who are also white will never commit a mass murder. Psychologically, mental illness is a common theme that mass murderers possess. Dr. Duwe found that out of “160 cases of mass public killers… 61 percent had a serious mental health disorder” and “that only 7 percent of people with a diagnosed mental illness might do anything violent in a year” (Kleinfield). This shows how a majority of killers are mentally ill, but most mentally ill people are not violent.

Many killers are also socially awkward and don’t fit in with society. Elliott O. Rodger was known to not have many friends at all and he was diagnosed with a developmental disorder. He later went on to kill 6 people and injure 14 others (Kleinfield). Many killers also suffer from emotional abuse. An example of this is, Omar Marteen who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Florida. Some killers can become violent out of sexual frustration. Elliott Rodger was frequently rejected by women and this is part of the reason he became violent. All of these traits together can add up to a normal person becoming a killer. Every killer has a different motive for their actions.

There are 5 main motives for mass murder which are power, revenge, loyalty, profit, and terror. The first motive, power, is often, but not always, committed by a pseudocommando. These types of killings happen because a killer wants to exert power over their victims. They often have an obsession with power symbols, such as assault weapons. An example of this is Julian Knight, who “launched an armed assault on pedestrians in Melbourne, Australia” and killed 7 (Fox, 31). In revenge killings, the murderer’s goal is to get even with people they feel have done something wrong.

This is common with family annihilators and disgruntled employees. Revenge mass murders can also be motivated by “a grudge against an entire category of individuals” such as race or gender (Fox, 32). Loyalty killers believe they are protecting their victims from something. An example of this is James Colbert “who strangled his wife out of jealousy, and then killed his three daughters to keep them from becoming orphans” (Fox, 32). Profit motives involve killing people because it will gain the killer something. This can be seen if a group of robbers kills all witnesses, so nobody can know what truly happened in the robbery.

The final motive, terrorism, happens because the killer wants to send a message. One example of this is the 2015 shooting at the San Bernardino Department of Health office. A couple shot 14 people and injured 22 others to send a message about radical Islam. The method that a killer uses can be related to their motive.Mass murders are frequently committed by shootings but there are other methods in addition to this. Focusing on terrorism, Security Service MI5 states that, terrorists can use explosive devices, shootings and close quarter attacks, kidnappings, missiles and chemical warfare. Explosive devices can range from suicide bombers, car bombs, to bombs that are planted in a building. Shootings are the most well-known type of attack and are frequently used by terrorism groups.

Kidnappings are also frequently used by terrorists. A group will kidnap multiple usually innocent people and then execute them all at once to show their power. Chemical weapons are an extremely deadly method that is thankfully, not used often. This can involve spreading poisonous gas over a large area and affecting many people at one time. People who commit these terrible actions can often be eligible to be sentenced to the death penalty. Capital punishment can provoke strong arguments of ethics and morals for each side. One side of the argument believes that if a person kills several people, then they should be executed themselves. This is the most logical solution because that person has proved they cannot be a responsible member of society. The opposing side of the argument believes that sentencing someone to capital punishment makes the jury and judge just as guilty as the person being convicted.

Many people are opposed to the death penalty until they are affected by a capital crime. When a loved one is murdered, this can provoke strong feelings from their family. Often these families want to pursue the most extreme sort of punishment the law allows, which is often the death penalty. Regardless of morals, capital punishment is proven to deter crime. One study “found that each execution led to a significant reduction in the number of homicides.” To be more specific, each execution led to at least 8 fewer homicides committed and at the most, 24 fewer (Rubin). This proves that capital punishment is effective at deterring other homicides from occurring nationwide. Therefore, one criminal losing their life can save the lives of 8 to 24 possibly innocent people from losing their lives due to being a victim of homicide.

The death penalty should be kept in place due to the extreme cost that it takes to keep a prisoner for life versus executing them. For state ran prisons, “the average annual operating costper State inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day,” and federally ran prisons were just slightly cheaper at $62.01 per inmate each day (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs). This adds up to $1.1 billion spent on operating prisons in the year 2001 alone. This is an enormous amount of money that tax revenue is going towards. Many people are not happy with paying this much money to keep prisoners who have committed capital crimes. Spending “approximately $22,000 a year” on an inmate that is convicted for a capital offense does not make financial sense (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs).

There are moral arguments to this, but it is not possible to argue that this large amount of money is being spent in a way that does not have to be.Some elements of the justice system do not currently use the best methods for determining whether or not a person receives the death penalty, but it is not discriminatory towards minority groups. This is not corruption, it is simply not using the best practices. Some states such as Arizona have aggravating circumstances in their laws. These are circumstances within a crime that can elevate it from a non-capital crime, to a capital crime. There are 14 aggravating circumstances which include gang connections, prior serious offenses, or if anyone else’s life was put in danger besides the person murdered (“Sentence of Death of Life Imprisonment”).

The death penalty should not be taken lightly and qualify for too many crimes. These aggravating circumstances can be stretched to cover almost any murder, making almost any murder eligible for the death penalty and this should not be the case. There needs to be a very specific set of crimes that are eligible for capital punishment. Some argue that the capital punishment system is racist because of the percentages of different races that are sentenced to it. There have been many studies sponsored by opponents of the death penalty to attempt to prove that it is discriminatory towards minority groups. Almost “all the studies of post-1972 capital sentencing show no evidence of race-of-defendant bias” (Scheidegger). One major reason for this is “the unpleasant but undeniable reality in America today that the urban centers with high black populations also tend to have higher crime rates and particularly higher murder rates” (Scheidegger).

Certain groups committing more capital crimes will lead to these groups having higher sentencing rates to capital punishment. In conclusion, mass murderers are a danger to society. There are many types of murders with the main categories being organized and unorganized. The people who are responsible for these acts often have traits in common such as a history of abuse and possess certain physical characteristics. There are also many motives behind these crimes and they can often determine the method that is used. Regardless of how killers commit their crimes, they should be sentenced to the death penalty. Society can prevent these murders from happening with education. The public should know the general description, and warning signs of a mass murderer. If more people are educated on this subject, then the crimes may be able to be stopped due to early detection.

Works Cited:

  1. Fox, James Alan, et al. Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. SAGE Publications, 16 January 2018.
  2. Google Books.Holmes, R.M., S.T. Holmes. “Understanding Mass Murder: A Starting Point.” Federal Probation, vol. 56, no. 1, March 1992, pp. 53-61.
  3. Kleinfield, N.R., et al. “Mass Murderers Fit Profile, as Do Many Others Who Don’t Kill.” New York Times, 3 October 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/us/mass-murderers-fit-profile-as-do-many-others-who-dont-kill.html.
  4. Rubin, Paul H. “Capital Punishment Is a Deterrent.” Greenhaven Press, 2005. Http://link.galegro up.com/apps/doc/EJ3010036253/OVIC?u=victorvcl&sid=OVIC&xid=7fda9e4d.
  5. Scheidegger, Kent S. “Disparity in Death Penalty Rates Is Not Evidence of Racial Bias.” Greenhaven Press, 2015. http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ3010955217/OVIC?u=vi ctorvcl&sid=OVIC&xid=5b877687.
  6. “Sentence of Death of Life Imprisonment.” Arizona State Government. https://www.azleg.gov/a rs/13/00751.htm. Accessed on 12 September 2017.
  7. “Terrorist Methods.” Security Service MI5. https://www.mi5.gov.uk/terrorist-methods. Accessed on 20 September 2018.
  8. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs. “State Prison Expenditures 2001.” June 2004, https://static.prisonpolicy.org/scans/bjs/spe01.pdf.

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