Ron Martinelli, Ph.D., CMI-V, BCFT, CFA
Forensic Criminologist/Certified Medical Investigator
Copyright © 08-27-15
In the wake of a number of recent high-profile active shooting incidents, politicians, media pundits and talk show political hosts have taken to the airwaves to decry these horrendous incidents. Politicians, news anchors and talk show personalities ask why these senseless shootings happen.
Law enforcement investigators and forensic specialists such as me are continually involved in piecing together each unique incident. Forensic investigations including “psychological autopsies” of the personalities of each shooter so far reveal profiles of deranged and/or emotionally disturbed people who have been presenting with symptoms of psychotic, agitated, angry and other abnormal behaviors for some time.
Based upon small windows of information provided by those who either had close contact with, or have investigated the backgrounds of each shooter, there is little doubt that there exits a core psychological profile of individuals who have presented with sufficient communication, physical, behavioral and psychological cues to have warranted an investigation and involuntary mental health commitment intervention.
I will offer that after watching and listening to those either reporting or opining on these tragic incidents; many of the politicians, political pundits and media personalities who have offered their opinions as to why these incidents occur just do not understand the underlying issues.
The most recent cold blooded executions of WDBJ reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward near Roanoke, VA were perpetrated by Vester Flanigan aka Bryce Williams, who fits the psychological and behavioral personality profile of those I refer to as “Ticking Time Bombs.” The executions of Ms. Parker and Mr. Ward were preceded by the active shooter mass killings committed by Dylan Roof (Charleston, SC), Jared Loughner (Tuscon, AZ), James Holms (Aurora, CO), Adam Lanza (Newtown, CT) and Christopher Dorner (Riverside/San Bernardino Counties, CA), and Anders Behring Breivik (Norway). All of these killings can forensically be explained as the explosions of ticking time bombs that most assuredly are/were mentally disturbed and/or psychotic individuals.
As a former violent crimes detective and now a forensic criminologist specializing in crimes of violence – many of which are perpetrated by mentally disturbed people, I have often thought of myself as a bomb technician. Like other police officers, I spent my career diffusing suicidal and mentally disturbed “human bombs” before they could hurt themselves or others. Now I spent my time investigating how these bombs are manufactured and why they “explode.”
I ask you to consider that America and other nations are populated by an increasing number of human ticking time bombs. The majority of these “bombs” I identify are those people who present with intermediate to severe mental health problems such as Jared Loughner, James Holms, Adam Lanza, and Anders Breivik.
Other bombs who do not overtly exhibit obvious mental health disorders; still suffer from long-time emotional/psychological trauma which ultimately transitions to anger and culminates in uncontrolled explosive rage. This is also the psychological and behavioral profile that seems to be forming for our newest killer Vester Flanigan. Another excellent example of this type of an acutely detonating time bomb was evidenced in the “blue on blue” violence of former LAPD cop and later cop killer Christopher Dorner.
“Flicker Moments” and “Trip-wire Events”
The mentally disturbed bomb displays a lit fuse that is usually visible to those around them. The fuse takes a while to burn before the bomb explodes. The mentally unstable ticking bomb personality generally provides warnings of its pending explosion. Such is the case with mass murderers Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza. People who knew them have now come forward to state that they were not only aware of their mental illness and pent up rage; but were concerned for their safety.
Incidents where the agitated ticking time bomb warns you that they about to explode are referred to as “flicker moments.” Even sane but emotionally unbalanced recent cop killer Christopher Dorner, who was a terminated Los Angeles police officer provided warnings that he was about to explode before he went on his murderous rampage.
If you pay close attention, you will learn that Vester Flanigan most certainly exhibited his own “flicker moments” of intense anger and rage towards the public and his colleagues at the various news stations where he was briefly employed. Flicker moments provide “red flags warnings” of emotional instability.
A big problem in our society is that people either fail to recognize the flicker moment warning. Worse yet, people recognize the warning, but take no assertive steps to intervene. This has been the case in most of the aforementioned cases I have described.
A psychological autopsy into each killer’s personality will more often than not identify a “trip-wire” or precipitating event that caused the killer to explode. In Sandy Hook Elementary School mass murderer Adam Lanza’s case it was most likely his realization that his mother (who was his first victim) was intending to have him committed. In Christopher Dorner’s case it is now known that his wire tripped after he had unsuccessfully exhausted all of his administrative remedies to his litigation over being fired by the LAPD and his military time had run out. This appears to be the case in Vester Flanigan’s planned murders of the WDBJ reporters.
The problem is that although human bombs like Loughner, Lanza, Holmes, Breivik, Dorner and Flanigan can often be identified; observers rarely call a bomb technician so the bomb can be isolated and defused. Worse case scenarios involve timely notification, but a technician who is either unwilling or unable to intercede. Such were the cases of Loughner in Arizona and Lanza in Connecticut.
“Copy Cat” killings are usually a result of a trip-wire event
Following a high-profile serial killing or mass murder incident, we must always be ready for the second shoe to drop. This refers to “copy cat” killings that inevitably pop up soon after a tragic event has hit the airwaves. Copy cat murders occur when the mentally unstable individual’s wire is tripped. Similar to a minefield on the battlefield, the “concussion blast” of a mine exploding often leads to the other mines around it detonating. An excellent example of this phenomena occurring is new information that Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza may have deliberately selected the elementary school as his “killing field” to compete with Norway’s mass murder Anders Breivik’s body count. In Vester Flanigan’s rambling email manifesto to ABC news, it is clear that he was impressed with and psychologically affected by Dylan Roof’s mass shooting of church goers in Charleston, SC. I believe that his killing of the WDBJ report was a copy cat killing on a smaller scale. Many things can cause the ticking time bomb personality to detonate; an anniversary of a stress event; something they see on TV; some perceived slight; the person falling off their psychotropic medication regimen. The list is endless.
Commitment to implementing mental health intervention strategies is what works!
The problem we are experiencing in the U.S. and abroad is a direct consequence of our inability to commit ourselves to a proactive intervention strategy of: (1) teaching people how to recognize those around us who are experiencing emotional/psychological trauma in their lives and are presenting with emotional disorders and psychosis; (2) having in place mental health intervention strategies; and (3) committing our law enforcement, social and mental health resources to taking immediate steps to intervene using present and objectively reasonable statutes to identify, isolate, and treat – even involuntarily if necessary – those who demonstrate that they are gravely disabled, a danger to themselves and a danger to others.
Our nation’s embarrassing failure to act to intervene for public safety
Our failure to proactively address our nation’s serious and growing mental health program is obvious at the state and federal levels where there is far too much political posturing and finger pointing; but no commitment to action and intervention.
A theme we repeatedly see with multiple and mass murders are the lethal combination of a mentally disturbed ticking time bomb and a firearm. If you want to see an excellent example of government’s failure, one only needs to know that while there are presently over 20,000 psychotic individuals in California alone who are on court orders and state Department of Justice records who cannot possess firearms; apparently none of those people have ever been checked on by law enforcement authorities to ensure compliance with those orders.
Apparently, our federal and state governments have no money, or commitment to intervene on behalf of thousands of seriously ill and dangerous mental health “ticking time bombs” who threaten families, the general public; and comprise over 12% of all law enforcement contacts and perhaps over 40% of all officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths? Are we kidding?!
What are we prepared to do, now?!
Posturing over gun control and political and media hand-ringing rhetorically pleading, “What can we do?” is for the naïve and weak-minded. This problem will take real leadership and a motivated populace to stand up and be counted by demanding action from the local, state and national political representatives to take assertive and monetary actions to mitigate our growing mental health crisis.
Finally, remember that every day, everyone you meet is battling something.
About the Author:
Dr. Ron Martinelli is a retired violent crimes detective and the nation’s only forensic criminologist/police expert who is also a Certified Medical Investigator at the physician’s level. He directs the nation’s only multidisciplinary Forensic Death Investigations & Independent Review Team. Dr. Martinelli specializes in high-profile officer and civilian death cases, violent, crimes, mental health disorders and psycho-medical emergencies. He is a contributing expert and writer to a number of national news outlets and police and forensic magazines.