Owensboro Psychologist Answers Questions about Las Vegas Shooter
The field of forensic psychology is fascinating to me. In fact, my whole family has always been interested in this particular science.
And when something happens like the Las Vegas concert massacre, I'm intrigued about motive.
Why did the shooter do what he did?
But this time around, it seems to be a little more complicated...at least from my VERY lay point of view.
The suspect, Stephen Paddock, who killed himself after the shooting and just before SWAT teams burst into his Mandalay Bay hotel room, doesn't seem to have a very lively background with regards to what you might expect from someone who would perpetuate such a heinous act.
So I sent some questions to Owensboro behavioral psychologist Dr. Lionel Phelps about this particular situation and some general questions about how a forensic psychologist begins to piece together a profile on a killer:
How would a forensic psychologist approach a Stephen Paddock--someone who, according to family accounts, has a seemingly ordinary history?
A forensic psychologist applies the knowledge of human behavior to legal matters. In this instance, there would be an attempt to understand this person’s state of mind at the time of these events and prior to that.
How does a forensic psychologist begin to approach any given situation like a mass shooting? What sorts of things do you look for?
Forensic psychologists attempt to provide helpful information to law enforcement, courts, and other agencies involved in these traffic events. This could be sharing research and data on the characteristics of types of perpetrators. This was an example of a mass murder and there are two types: classic and family. Family mass murders are more common and involve known family members or relatives. This recent shooting is an example of a classic mass murder and often the perpetrator kills himself during or immediately following the event. These types of killing evoke a lot of media attention and sometimes that may be what the perpetrator wanted. There is little empirical research on mass murder and there are many myths and misinformation, such as that these individuals always have mental illnesses. Sometimes they lack a criminal background or the presence of a mental illness or may have an undiagnosed mental illness or personal disorder.
Is it too easy to say this guy was psychotic just because of what he did?
Psychotic disorders involve delusions or hallucinations or both. Typically it’s difficult to conceal these types of symptoms because of their acuity. Often the family or those close to the person is aware of these symptoms. It’s very challenging to function normally with a psychotic disorder and they are rare, occurring in less than 1 percent of the population.
Has it been your experience that the possibility exists that psychosis DOESN’T have to play a part in behavior like the Vegas massacre?
I think antisocial personality disorder or sociopathology play more of a role in perpetrators who kill others rather than psychosis. Often those who are experiencing psychotic disorders are more fearful of others and prefer isolation and are not as outwardly aggressive toward others as they are made out to be. Antisocial personality disorder and sociopathology are entirely different things. Those with ASP may not show remorse or guilt with others. They may be manipulative and violate social norms without a second thought. They may or may not engage in criminal behavior. Similarly, with sociopaths or what some refer to as psychopaths, there is impaired empathy, and disinhibited egotistical traits. Sociopaths are rarely seen in mental health settings due to their functioning levels and ability to manipulation others.
Do you believe that there MUST be a reason for doing something like this? And how do authorities go about learning that reason?
Researchers sometimes never fully uncover the reasons for an individual’s behavior. Nevertheless, there will be attempts to recreate this person’s mind frame prior to the shooting, but nothing is certain. Interviews with those close to him will reveal the most information and hopefully provided the necessary clues to understand what led this person to do such a thing.
How can pinpointing reasons for such behavior help prevent future events like this one? Or do you believe it might not be possible to prevent attacks like these just by knowing what to look for? (I ask because I believe that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.)
One of the areas of research in forensic psychology is criminal behavior, including mass killings. They are never the same, but sometimes share common characteristics. One goal is to understand what we do know and provide training and assistance to law enforcement agencies, courts, and mental health providers in early identification and recognizing warning signs from individuals who may eventually become perpetrators. We want to prevent awful events like these.
It has come to light that Stephen Paddock’s father was wanted by the FBI from 1969 to 1977. Benjamin Paddock was "diagnosed as psychopathic, has carried firearms in commission of bank robberies" and "reportedly has suicidal tendencies and should be considered armed and very dangerous." Could something like that genetically predispose an offspring to commit violent acts, even if it doesn’t happen until that person is 64 years old?
There is little research examining genetic and environmental contributions to sociopathic traits, but we speculate both are involved. A person may have the genetic traits and potential for sociopathic behavior, but never act upon it. In the other hand, others may not possess these traits, but due to their environment and exposure to violence and harsh life experiences, they develop a desensitized behavior pattern. Either or both could be involved in this particular situation.