Inside the Mind of the Active Shooter

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On April 16, 2007, Seung-Hui Cho, an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech, became infamous for perpetrating the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history. After his first two murders, he returned to his dorm room, and in between the first round and the next 30 murders followed by suicide when he was cornered, Cho was calm enough to collect and mail a package including videos and a manifesto to NBC news.

In the material he sent to NBC, he gave a glimpse into the thoughts of one active shooter. In a video, Cho said that the massacre could have been avoided: “You had a hundred billion chances and ways to have avoided today. But you decided to spill my blood. You forced me into a corner and gave me only one option. The decision was yours. Now you have blood on your hands that will never wash off.”

Those charged with providing safety and security to public or to private organizations must try to understand active shooters — they must come to know the adversary. Motives are sought, but in devastating mass murders, those motives often seem inadequate. For example, police found a note in Cho’s room in which he criticized “rich kids,” “debauchery” and “deceitful charlatans,” which is no different than the resentment of many a bitter and resentful person who is not at risk of committing horrific crimes. Stating that others “forced” him to do it rings equally hollow, and is not a rare feeling for many an immature child or adult.