Harming Animals and Massacring Humans: Characteristics of Public Mass and Active Shooters Who Abused Animals

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Researchers have extensively studied the tendency of certain violent criminals to hurt or torture animals, primarily focusing on domestic abusers and serial killers. However, little is known about the extent or nature of prior animal abuse among active shooters and public mass shooters. Public mass and active shooters essentially represent a single offender type: they are people who commit rampage attacks in public places and attempt to harm multiple victims beyond a single target. The only difference is that “mass” shootings are traditionally defined as cases resulting in the death of four or more victims, while “active” shootings have no minimum threshold. This study aimed to identify all publicly reported cases of active and mass shooters who engaged in animal cruelty, describe the nature of their violence toward animals and humans, and examine how they differ from other perpetrators without this history. Overall, this study found 20 cases of offenders with a publicly reported history of animal abuse. Comparisons between offenders with and without this history indicated that animal-abusing offenders were more likely to be young and White, less likely to die at the crime scene, and more likely to kill and wound a large number of victims. While this finding supports the idea that animal abuse might be a warning sign for a small but deadly minority of mostly youthful offenders, it is likely not a robust signal of future shooters in general because animal abuse is rarely reported in this population of offenders at large. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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Behavioral Sciences and the Law

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pre print, post print (12 month embargo)

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