From The Sunday LondonTimes June 6, 2010 Mind of a killer: anger,
paranoia and misery Derrick Bird was probably seeking revenge for
everything that had gone wrong in his life

Jack Levin DERRICK BIRD's murderous rampage was, in many respects,
reminiscent of other shooting sprees on both sides of the Atlantic.
The chances are that Bird blamed all his woes ? economic and personal
? on other people and decided to get even with them through the barrel
of a gun.

Many of his victims were apparently shot in the face at point blank
range, suggesting that Bird felt no guilt. Instead, he regarded his
victims as villains who had conspired against him and deserved to die.

Like most other mass killers, Bird used a firearm, targeting
individuals he knew well, including a family member and fellow taxi
drivers. What is different from most other mass shootings is that Bird
opened fire in 30 different locations rather than in one or two.

True, Bird is not the first mass killer to drive from place to place
searching for victims.

Richard Baumhammers, an unemployed immigration lawyer who lived in
suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylania, despised black people, Jews and
immigrants. On April 28, 2000, after killing his next-door neighbour,
he set her house on fire and then drove around within a 20-mile area
searching for anyone who might be an immigrant or a non-white.

In addition to his Jewish neighbour, Baumhammers shot dead an Indian
man, a Chinese man, a Vietnamese man and a black man.

But such acts are rare. Only 16% of all mass killings occur in public
places targeting strangers at random. Most are family or workplace
rampages in which victims are carefully selected for their perceived
role in making the killer?s life miserable.

Or the rampage may occur at a school, where the killer seeks to get
even with students who have humiliated him, leaving him feeling
worthless. The April 2007 massacre of 32 students and faculty members
at Virginia Tech was perpetrated by an undergraduate who had been
bullied every day through his middle and high-school years.

His massacre was designed to get revenge, but it also was planned to
show his fellow students that he was a dangerous and powerful person,
not someone you could easily ignore. In the midst of his killing
spree, the killer took a break to post terrifying photos of himself to
NBC News, where they were released to the public.

Most mass killers suffer chronic depression and a heightened inability
to cope with frustration, even if their friends and relatives are
unaware of their psychopathological state.

They externalise responsibility for their problems in life, blaming
everybody but themselves for their misery. If they were healthier
psychologically, they might change only their philosophy or short-term
objectives and live with the results. If they blamed themselves, they
might commit suicide.

The more random the massacre, however, the more likely it is that the
killer is not only depressed but also delusional. He may hear voices,
be paranoid in a clinical sense, and suffer from a profound thought
disorder that leaves him convinced there is a conspiracy against him
involving not only particular individuals but all of humankind.

As a result, he seeks revenge against co-workers and family members ?
and total strangers. If a killer lives to go to court, he might plead
not guilty by reason of insanity. One of the most notorious British
mass murderers, Michael Ryan, shot dead 16 people in Hungerford,
Berkshire, in 1987. Like Bird, Ryan shot a member of his family ? his
mother ? as well as acquaintances and strangers.

There are, of course, millions of depressed people who wouldn?t dream
of killing anyone. They may have close friends or relatives who can be
counted on for support and encouragement, people who will get them
through the hard times.

By contrast, most mass murderers are socially isolated. They may have
moved to another town for the sake of a job, be reclusive in their own
community, or have a personality that makes asking for help all but
impossible. Their relatives and neighbours may therefore see them as
quiet or aloof, or as loners, but not as potential mass murderers.

On top of everything else that goes wrong in their lives, most mass
killers who are depressed and psychologically alone suffer one or more
catastrophic losses before they open fire on their victims. It seems
that Bird feared he was about to lose both his money and his liberty.

There is also the question of whether he was influenced by other
killers ? something that may become apparent once police examine his
computer and other materials.

Bird would not be the first killer to be inspired by previous
massacres, even if they occurred months or years earlier. In May 1988
Laurie Dann, a 36-year-old woman from suburban Glencoe, Illinois,
opened fire in an elementary school, killing one boy and injuring five
other pupils. Five months later, James Wilson, 22, from Greenwood,
South Carolina, shot to death two eight-year-old pupils in an
elementary school there. When police went to his apartment they
discovered a photo of Dann, as featured on the cover of People
magazine, hanging on the wall by his bed.

Another copycat rampage occurred in October 1991, when 35-year-old
George Hennard drove his pickup through a plate glass window at a cafe
in Killeen, Texas, where dozens of customers were having lunch. He
then opened fire, killing 23 people.

When the police looked through the possessions in his home nearby,
they found a videotape that Hennard had just watched showing the 1984
massacre of 21 people, committed by James Huberty, at a restaurant
outside San Diego, California. Both killers targeted customers as they
ate their lunches and both used a rifle.

There is no way to stop all mass killings. No matter how much help we
are willing to give to our troubled friends and neighbours, no matter
how effective our psychiatric services, no matter how difficult it is
to obtain a weapon, there will always be exceptional cases that result
in multiple homicides.

Sadly, occasional mass murder may be the price we pay for living in a
country where personal freedom is valued.