12/14/12. A quiet town in Connecticut. Shock and grief again. Why? As a forensic social worker, my primary responsibility is working with criminal defendants who have been found incompetent to stand trial. Most are not violent offenders. Most are mentally ill or intellectually limited. Many are products of dysfunctional or toxic social environments. Sometimes I sit in a little room with stone-cold killers. Many of them present little different from any manner of family, friend or neighbor.

Researchers profile a variety of identified types of mass killers, which are more common than serial killers but harder to evaluate because their own death is typically factored into their method.

Most are young adult males. Fifty percent are significantly depressed and have, seemingly paradoxically, high versus low self-esteem. Most cases involve symptoms of personality disorders versus mental illness. They lack empathy and impulse control, have low tolerance for frustration and externalize blame for their problems to others.

They perceive their situations as more of an acute strain than most of us; a catastrophic loss or mistreatment, usually in a relationship or job situation. Frustration builds to rage and a process of justification culminates in punishment of anyone implicated in his misery or even anyone associated or in proximity. They do not just snap. They deliberate, justify and execute. If mental illness is the case, it is typically a global paranoid persecutory delusion.

Early warning signs are identified but also occur in individuals who adjust and find peace. Children and young adults who are typically physically aggressive, impulsive, seem to lack empathy for others, are withdrawn and hold in their core emotions are at risk for a progression of maladaptation. Family and professionals can strive to instill in them a sense of responsibility for and control of their actions. We can empower them to communicate their thoughts and feelings, teach realistic expectations and goals and to have empathy for others.

Stan Rynott

forensic social worker