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January 8, 2013
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Vail Symposium looks 'Inside the Mind of the Mass Murderer'

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Why, oh why, would someone walk into a movie theater or school with a gun and open fire?

Revenge. Mass murderers want to get even with society, said Jeff Kass, author of "Columbine: A True Crime Story, a Victim, the Killers and the Nation's Search for Answers."

"If it sounds crazy, that's because maybe it is. In the case of a school shooting, school is the society they know," Kass said.

Kass, Jeff Mariotte and Dr. Patrick Fox will be part of a panel discussion that will examine the mind of mass murderers, why they do it, and how to prevent it.

Here's some irony. Kass, a writer and reporter in Denver for years, is working with Bloomberg News covering this week's preliminary hearing for accused Aurora theater shooter James Holmes. Kass will leave that courtroom to hotfoot to Vail for Thursday's panel discussion.

How many is mass murder?

The FBI says mass murder is the killing of three individuals within a sequence of events.

"Once the die is set, it could be minutes or at the most hours before the event runs its course," Fox said.

In this country it's generally targeted violence, someone that person knows, Fox said. There's some source of stress - personal or professional - there's alcohol, and a gun.

"They think 'the world has not been kind to me and I'm not going to be kind to it,'" Fox said.

It usually begins with a 911 call reporting that someone has shown up with a gun. It ends when both the victims and the perpetrator are dead, Fox said.

Media plays some role in generating notoriety for mass murderers. So does access to guns.

"People don't do this sort of thing with a bow and arrow, or a samurai sword," Fox said.

A mass murderer's reasons are personal and justifiable, at least they thing they are.

The Irish Republican Army's car bombings in Great Britain fit the description, Fox said.

Timothy McVeigh said wanted to avenge the feds' raid on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. He had no connection to Koresh, but on the one-year anniversary his Oklahoma bombing targeted a government building.

Had the police not caught McVeigh he could have done the same thing again, Fox said.

Byran Koji Uyesugi killed seven people in the Honolulu Xerox store where he'd been passed over for promotion.

Virginia Tech student Cho Seung-Hui killed 32 people and wounded 17. Six others were injured jumping from windows to escape.

The list, unfortunately, goes on and on.

Columbine, 1999

Columbine remains arguably the most prominent school shooting, Kass said.

All shooters leave clues, Kass said. Some are easier to read than others, but red flags for Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold popped up all over, Kass said.

Two months before the shootings in a creative writing class Klebold wrote a violent essay about shooting "preps." In Klebold's essay, the gunman wore a trench coat, was 6 feet tall and left handed, Kass said.

Klebold's teacher flagged that essay as extremely violent and improper. She followed up with his parents, but his parents dismissed it as just kids being kids, Kass said.

"I would say in a post-Columbine world that essay would not fall through the cracks again," Kass said.

A year before Columbine, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office had a draft affidavit to search Harris's home. They didn't follow up on it, Kass said.

Later, investigators found threats on his computer and had possibly linked Harris to a pipe bomb found in a field nearby.

"Essays and pipe bombs are things that will, and should get you checked," Kass said.

Columbine was horrible, but Harris wanted it to be much worse.

Harris and Klebold planted two propane bombs in the Columbine cafeteria. The plan was to detonate them and kill hundreds of people, then gun down survivors as they fled the school.

Harris hoped to dwarf the Oklahoma City bombing.

Why does it continue?

As the Columbine story ran its course, questions kept nagging Kass.

"Why are school shootings continuing?" he said. "Ten years before the Columbine school shootings, nothing like that was on the radar."

Since Columbine, the United States has seen 31 school shootings. And the thing is, they happen in suburban small towns, Kass said.

"Traditional theories of juvenile behavior do not explain school shooters, that they've had it tough because their parents were drug abusers, or they were impoverished. They come from comfortable middle class homes," Kass said. "It's not a solution, but they see it as one."

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or rwyrick@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 8, 2013 09:29PM Published Jan 8, 2013 09:27PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.