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Experts Explore the Mind and Motivation of a Mass Killer

The 23-year old Virginia Tech gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, has been described as a troubled loner. A clinical psychologist and a behavior analyst discuss the profiles of people who commit major crimes.

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    We turn to Stanton Samenow, a clinical psychologist based in Alexandria, Virginia. He's the author of "Inside the Criminal Mind." And Paul Viollis, he's CEO of Risk Control Strategies, which provides security consulting for corporations and educational institutions. He's the author of "Avoiding Violence in our Schools."

    Mr. Viollis, so we just heard in Gwen's discussion raising the notion of a profile. Is there such a thing as a common profile for a mass killer or, more specifically, for someone who does it in a school setting?

    PAUL VIOLLIS, Author, "Avoiding Violence in Our Schools": Yes, Jeff, there certainly is. There's absolutely no question about that. The behavioral characteristics that are typically associated with a person that perpetrates acts of violence at school are extremely consistent across all lines.


    And what would they be? How would you describe them?


    Typically, this type of person is someone that's found as a loner, more or less the quintessential outsider, someone that's never accepted, someone who has a difficulty accepting criticism.

    This person finds himself in a position where he's constantly searching for attention, constantly searching for inner control. And if it escalates to the extent that he cannot find that, it builds to a sense of powerlessness. And when that happens, typically violence is imminent.


    Dr. Samenow, do you see a common profile here?

    DR. STANTON SAMENOW, Author, "Inside the Criminal Mind": There are features in common. And several of them are — this is a person who not only wants to be in inner control, but he tries to control other people.

    These are people who are very difficult in interpersonal relationships, although to others they may appear accomplished, they may appear talented. And these are people who do not announce their intentions usually in advance.

    Sure, after the fact, you may be able to find certain features, but these are people who think in extremes. They're number one or they're nothing. And any little detail of life that doesn't go their way, it's like sticking a pin in the balloon. Their whole self-image is on the line.

    Thus, in a rejection, say, from a girlfriend, the loss of a job, you have anger that metastasizes like a cancer. And the one thing too much is that pin in the balloon, and the person is going to show he's somebody rather than nothing.


    Is there anything we know about, in the cases you study, about common background, common experience, or is it completely an individual matter?


    Absolutely no commonalities in terms of ethnic group, education, socioeconomic background, family make-up. These individuals can come from all walks of life.