Analysis conducted by the Central Florida Intelligence Exchange (CFIX) has found that 79% of mass shootings since 2011 have been perpetrated by individuals with “demonstrated signs of continuous behavioral health issues and mental illness.” In a July case study titled “Acts of Violence Attributed by Behavioral and Mental Health Issues“, CFIX analyzed 14 mass shooting incidents that occurred between 2011 and 2013 and found that only three of the shooters had no history of mental illness.
The study, which focuses primarily on “violence perpetrated against healthcare providers and emergency responders” particularly “by patients with behavioral and mental health issues”, also discusses the correlation between mental health issues and mass shootings. According to the CFIX analysts, across the country “the numbers of mass shootings involving perpetrators with behavioral health issues have noticeably increased” with 79% of mass shooting occurrences between January 2011 to May 2013 involving perpetrators that exhibited “continuous behavioral health issues” and “mental illness”. In the same period, the only mass shootings found to have been committed by individuals with no previous history of mental health issues were the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which is described as a hate crime, and the “work-related” shooting spree perpetrated by Christopher Dorner in early 2013. Another incident in New York which involved a man named Kurt Myers killing several people at a car wash and barber shop in March 2013 has no known motive, though speculation centered on the shooter’s money problems.
The analysis provided by CFIX is useful for understanding the connection between mental health issues and senseless acts of large-scale violence, though the analysts’ conflation of mental disorders and mental illness leads to some conclusions that may not be warranted. For example, Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, had been reportedly diagnosed with mental disorders including Asperger syndrome that are fairly common and do not constitute mental illness. These issues are further complicated by the fact that many perpetrators of mass shootings suffer from mental illness throughout their lives, though are never formally diagnosed. Due to the fact that many perpetrators of mass shootings commit suicide or are killed by police during the incident, this diagnosis often never occurs leaving only vague statements from friends and family members about the perpetrator’s history of unusual behavior.
A list of the perpetrators of mass shootings that were found by CFIX to be linked to “mental illness” is included below with a brief synopsis of the shooters’ actions and history of mental health issues.
Mass Shootings Attributed to History of Mental Illness
- Jared Loughner; January 8, 2011; 6 killed, 13 injured – Loughner went to an event with U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson, Arizona and killed six people, including a U.S. District Court Judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl. Loughner was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was initially ruled incompetent to stand trial.
- Eduardo Sencion; September 6, 2011; 4 killed, 7 injured – Sencion killed 4 and injured 7 in and around an IHOP restaurant in Carson City, Nevada using a Norinco Mak 90 semiautomatic rifle illegally converted to fully-automatic mode. Sencion was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia at age 18.
- Scott Evans Dekraai; October 12, 2011; 8 killed, 1 injured – Dekraai went into Salon Meritage hair salon where his ex-wife worked in Seal Beach, California and opened fire with several handguns killing 8 in the salon and injuring 1 in the parking lot. Dekraai had been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder in September 2008.
- Jeong Soo Paek; February 21, 2012; 4 killed – Paek walked into a spa owned by his sisters’ families, killing his sisters and their husbands with a .45-caliber handgun before killing himself. Paek had a history of mental health issues according to court filings and had been described as suicidal in the years leading up to the attack.
- One L. Goh; April 2, 2012; 7 killed, 3 injured – Goh, a former student at Oikos University, a Korean Christian college in Oakland, California, stood up in a nursing classroom while class was in session, ordered classmates to line up against the wall, and opened fire with a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun killing 7. Goh was later diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by court-appointed psychiatrists.
- Ian Lee Stawicki; May 30, 2012; 5 killed, 1 injured – Stawicki walked into Café Racer in the University District of Seattle, Washington and opened fire with two .45-caliber handguns, killing four patrons and wounding the café’s chef. Stawicki’s father later said his son suffered from mental health issues throughout his life and may have been manic depressive.
- James Eagan Holmes; July 20, 2012; 12 killed, 58 injured – Holmes used a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle, Remington tactical shotgun and two Glock 22 handguns to kill 12 and wound 58 during a midnight premiere screening of The Dark Night Rises at the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes was seeing a psychiatrist at the University of Colorado prior to the shooting who later reported that he had made “homicidal statements” and said he a was a threat to others. Holmes reportedly asked other students at the University of Colorado about dysphoric mania, a mental disorder characterized by simultaneous symptoms of mania and depression.
- Andrew Engeldinger; September 27, 2012; 5 killed, 3 injured – Engeldinger opened fire with a Glock 19 9mm pistol killing 6 and injuring 2 at his workplace Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis, Minnesota after being fired. According to his parents, Engeldinger had a history of undiagnosed mental illness.
- Adam Lanza; December 14, 2012; 27 killed, 2 wounded – Lanza killed his mother, then took several firearms in his mother’s car to Sandy Hook Elementary School where he killed twenty children and six employees of the school with a semi-automatic Bushmaster XM15-E2S rifle. Lanza had behavioral problems throughout childhood and was said by family members to have a personality disorder. Lanza was reportedly diagnosed with sensory processing disorder as a child and family friends claimed that he had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
- William Spengler; December 24, 2012; 3 killed, 2 wounded – Spengler killed his sister, then intentionally set their house on fire, firing an illegally-acquired Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle at firefighters responding to the scene, killing two and injuring two more. Spengler was convicted of manslaughter in 1980 after murdering his grandmother with a hammer and had spent years in a correctional mental health facility.
- John Zawahri; June 7, 2013; 5 killed, 4 wounded – Zawahri killed his father and brother after setting their house on fire, then hijacked a passing car, forcing the driver to drive him to Santa Monica College where he killed 3 more people and wounded 4. While attending high school, Zawahri had communicated to a classmate his desire to hurt other students and was later admitted to UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute for a brief period of time.