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Inside the Brain of a Mass Murderer

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 3 2

95% Are Male

Mass murderers generally get a gun and attempt to kill a lot of people.The usual profile for mass murderers, is that around 95% are men and they are often alienated, depressed loners.  Sometimes such killers have brain injuries to the frontal lobe, or other brain areas, like the limbic system. Others, like Russell Weston and probably James Holmes, plummet into the abyss of paranoid schizophrenia; a condition which generally shows abnormal brain gray and white matter, and dysfunctional brain glucose metabolism.

Theatrical release poster(106393)

Russell Weston was 41 in 1998, when he went on a shooting rampage at the Capitol Building in Washington. And James Holmes a gifted neuroscience graduate, lived in a booby-trapped apartment with the same guitar hero song playing on a never-ending loop, before he launched his horrific assault, at a midnight showing of the film The Dark Knight Rises, on July 20, 2012.


Shattered Peace

Anders Breivik, shattered the usually peaceful Norway in 2011, when he massacred around sixty-eight teenagers at a political youth camp. Breivik was a right-wing conservative, who scored high on religiosity. He claimed that he was a member of the Knights Templar and spent almost ten years planning his heinous deeds. Breivik's lawyer, supposedly called his infamous client 'insane', which is a possibility, as Brevik was a body building freak who took steroids and stimulants, both of which can cause psychosis. However, while initially Breivik was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, later it was concluded that he was not psychotic during the attacks, or psychotic during a psychiatric evaluation. He was however an extreme narcissist. 

Cho Seung-Hui, who was responsible for the carnage at Virginia Tech in 2007, also showed narcissistic character traits when evaluated, but there are other elements in his profile which are also common to many mass killers, such as: emotional disturbance, drug abuse and depression. Another important factor according to forensic psychologist, N. G. Berrill, who is professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, is that those who become lone, mass killers, are often victims of violence or marginalised in some way.

Shunned Loners

Mamba Pistol

The Port Arthur Massacre which took place on 28 April 1996, was the horrible handy work of another marginalised and strange young man called Martin Bryant. This murderous shooting spree took place at Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, a historic site and former convict settlement . With his blonde, blue-eyed angelic looks, Bryant was described by his teachers at school, as distant and unemotional. He was however also the victim of severe bullying by other children. As a small child he used to wander and so his mother resorted to tying him up with a pile of toys to the veranda 'like a dog' as one report said. It is not surprising that he had slow speech and left school essentially unable to read or write. One has to ask, where could this young man with obvious social and intellectuals disabilities fit? He was maligned and bullied and unsuitable for most jobs. While nothing can excuse mass murder in any way, we should also ask ourselves as a society, are we not also in some way to blame, when marginalization and bullying are simply allowed to occur?

Martin Bryant

Bryant is currently serving 35 life sentences, plus 1,035 years without parole in the psychiatric wing of Risdon Prison in Hobart, Tasmania.

Sanction To Murder

While individuals like Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao or Stalin are also often labelled mass murderers, they are of a different variety from the isolated, marginalised and possibly psychotic lone gunman variety. All of the above, were essentially part of a belief, or political system, steeped in dogma, and their murderous rampages were supported and condoned by others and the state. The lone mass murderer is often isolated, cast adrift from society and seething with rage at his powerlessness, with a sense of having nothing to lose. People who have no place, or value in society, or feel they have nothing left, can slip into delusional states, creating their own alternate reality, where they become heroes and importantly, get revenge for the harm, or marginalization they believe they have suffered. 

As a society, perhaps the first thing we need to do is limit the access to guns, then think about how we can encourage a more inclusive society, with emphasis on integration and communication, rather then resolving issues with violence. Also, perhaps we should be more alert for warning signs in individuals who are becoming isolated and full of rage, so that therapy can be instigated. Surely this would be a better approach, then allowing a bloodbath to occur and then locking the gunman up, at tax payers expense for the rest of his life......if he survives which most don't, as generally they commit suicide.




Sep 17, 2012 7:18pm
Great article. I concur, the society always puts full blame to these individuals so that it washes its hands off the blood and blame. And then invariably punishes them, locks them up and forgets the problem (along with the guilt), never doing anything to prevent it. I firmly believe that crime by and large is primarily socially spawned. Our societies reward a "dog eat dog" mentality and then wonder why some of the weaker or more sensitive dogs that are left in the gutter bite back. Why indeed?

If we had a decent education the main goal of which was not to turn us into money cows but teach us how to be better human beings, then there would be no prison or psychiatry ward left in the world.
Sep 17, 2012 7:49pm
Thank you for your comment. I really do think that we can do better as groups and as a society, to be more inclusive and to help those who have problems, before those problems spin out of control and cause a lot of harm.
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  1. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1612694-1,00.html "Inside a Mass Murderer's Mind." Time Magazine. 2007.
  2. Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro "Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia." Sydney Morning Herald. 2009.

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