Guest Commentary - The Problem of "Mass Shootings"

by Placerville Newswire / Jan 04, 2020 / comments

[Jon Hendrickson]

Some time ago, El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson posted a link to the TED talk by Dr. Peterson which grabbed my attention because of my interest in the subject matter, as described below.  I have also had extensive conversation with El Dorado County Undersheriff Randy Peshon concerning the Sheriff's Office's proactive response to mental health crises.  It turns out that a majority of individuals who involuntarily enter the mental health system do so through contact with law enforcement, which has become, by default, a principal mental health first responder.  Herewith is an introduction to my perspective on the subject.

Jillian Peterson, Ph.D. is a forensic psychologist and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.  In this TEDx presentation, she outlines actual research into the "why" of mass shootings.  Her focus in this talk is on school shootings, a small minority of which turn out to qualify as "mass shootings," as defined by the FBI.  The definition of "mass shooting" used by the FBI is one in which four or more people die in a single occurrence.  Among Peterson's findings is that not only have the various intuitive responses to mass shootings failed to prevent or mitigate subsequent mass shootings, but because they do not recognize and consider the underlying causes, the imposed "solutions" can actually make matters worse.  As an example, every one of the school shootings she studied were, in fact, suicides or attempted suicides.  While Peterson cautions that there is no specific "profile" of a school shooter, the signs and signals accompanying an impending suicide are the same as those describing a school shooter.  So, it seems the strategies that can be brought to bear against the epidemic of suicide, to the extent they are effective, would have the same effect on the number and severity of school-related murder-suicides.

Here is what Dr. Peterson has to say about the matter:

The modern era of school shootings began on January 17, 1989 when Patrick Edward Purdy used an AK-47 rifle to fire 105 rounds into the yard at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California.  5 students, all of Southeast Asian ancestry, were killed.  30 more students and one teacher survived gunshot wounds.  Before, or instead of, being taken into custody, Purdy ended his own life at the scene with a pistol he had very recently purchased.  There was a connection to El Dorado County, which would have brought the matter into my sphere of attention as the County's liability claims third party administrator even if I had not resided in Lodi at the time.  Lodi is just a few miles from where the incident occurred  and while it was a national story at the time, it was an even bigger local one.  Purdy was arrested in 1987 in South Lake Tahoe for illegal discharge of a firearm and evaluated at  the County's Psychiatric Health Facility.  Surviving family members alleged in a subsequent lawsuit the County failed to provide a warning to the Southeast Asian community of the potential of violence directed at it by Purdy.  The County was defended by its medical malpractice insurer and eventually dismissed from the lawsuit without payment.  By all accounts, Purdy was a "hot mess" psychologically, abandoned and rejected by his parents and other family he attempted to adopt in their stead.  He was a damaged, mentally ill, isolated and angry man of the same type described by Dr. Peterson.

The conclusions of a report of the Cleveland School killings prepared for then California Attorney General John Van de Kamp focused on, among other things, Purdy's racial hatred of Southeast Asians, his access to high-powered firearms in spite of his documented mental health issues and Purdy's suicidal ideation culminating from a lifetime of abandonment and rejection by his family.  Based on the factual recitation, the lesson chosen at the time to be learned from the event can be boiled down to one of the main conclusions:  "While it is possible that Purdy could have been deterred at least temporarily from his ultimate ending by the mental health and criminal justice systems, that idea is highly speculative.  It appears certain that once Purdy had decided to die and to take as many others as possible with him, only major restrictions on the firepower he could bring to bear on his intended victims would have made a difference in the outcome."  This conclusion and recommendations it supported began a cascade of all manner of governmental bans, restrictions and impediments to firearm access, hardening of targets and restrictive security measures.  These restrictions have not abated, nor has the incidence of mass shootings.  So, it's no great stretch to conclude that what intuitively should prevent these events, just doesn't work.

30 years, and several hundred repetitions later, it's possible rational methods and ideas can finally start getting hold of the actual problem so that real progress can be made in reducing the severity of what has become a national epidemic.  And schools are not alone in their exposure to the danger.  Suicide is no longer just a symptom of depression.  When you combine depression with anger, hatred and use and abuse of psychotropic medication, anywhere people congregate is a potential target.  And by congregate, I mean two or more people.

Here is what the Report provided to the California Attorney General said about this event:

Here's what I personally know about this kind of violence and one of the main reasons I have an interest in its root causes.  Although this particular murder-suicide does not qualify as an FBI-defined "mass shooting", there were more than a dozen witnesses to this event who were all "participants" to the extent their varied reactions were the result of the event.  I saw evidence during a debriefing of these participants a week later that there are, indeed, wounds which can't be seen.

I was one of the "bystanders" mentioned by Mr. Hanner in his excellent account of this event.  I watched as Klay Monday exhibited kind of an excited dance as he quickly approached Kevin Eldredge and fired five rounds point blanc into Kevin's chest.  But to this day I don't remember seeing Kevin fall.  I was also one of the people who called 911 to report the event while it was occurring.  Of course, Kevin was already dead by that time and while I was on the cell phone with Stockton PD (at that time, cell phones were hard-wired into our cars and I was in the parking lot in front of the range at the time), one of the other members of our .22 Bullseye League came out to tell me Monday had shot himself in the head on his second try.  I didn't know Kevin, but it turned out his dad was the guy who mowed our lawn and kept calling me trying to get me to sell my '52 Cushman scooter to him.  I was also living in Lodi at the time.  So, I felt some connection with him.  This shooting, and the need for Monday to take someone with him on his trip to eternity, has ever since informed my skepticism in listening to each subsequent account of a "mass shooting."  The only real difference between the pistol range shooting and the Cleveland School shooting or any of the subsequent more well publicized events, whether in a school, movie theater or concert venue, is one of scale.  After almost every well-publicized mass shooting, in which the shooter either dies or is captured before he dies, I am stunned at the lack of recognition that these events are all suicides as much as they are murders.

I have read post-mortem psychological autopsies of suicide or suspected suicides which appear to be accidents and reports about the reports.  One theme stands out to me:  After every well-publicized suicide, there is a statistical uptick in the number of similar suicides for about two weeks, a number of them being for all intents and purposes copy-cat suicides.  These can take the form of solo vehicle and aircraft accidents, suicide by cop or whatever instrumentality is available, but the effect is well documented.  Assuming mass shootings are mainly suicides, it stands to reason the same copy-cat effect occurs with mass shootings.  It's not possible to recognize that and not realize the media are complicit in the perpetuation of these events.  Politicians, employees of big government, big pharma, almost any other individual or organization you can imagine with a vested interest in any aspect of this problem who is not focused on identifying actual, research-documented causes of these events is complicit in their perpetuation.  Research, conclusions and recommendations of the type made by Dr. Peterson have been getting more attention for the last 10 years or so, but massive forces of inertia are working against them.

My sense of the main takeaway from Dr. Peterson's talk is that the problem she describes is identifiable by the people closest to those who pose the greatest risk to themselves and the rest of us.  Success in preventing these kinds of horrific events depends on connecting those people with others with the resources to deal with them.  At bottom, the admonition "see something, say something" is the key to a culture-driven solution to suicide and, by extension, murder-suicide, also known as "mass shooting."

Here is a link to the organization offering Mental Health First Aid at  When you "see something," it helps to know what you can do and how to "say something."