October 25, 2018. Our program
featured Bill Tonkin who is retired from a thirty-plus year career with the FBI. His presentation was prompted by the increase in the frequency of violence in the United States that is caused by active shooters. These are crimes that occur in public and work spaces.
There were 30 such crimes in 2017 which is a record high. A study of 60 of these cases revealed a number of common threads. 77% of shooters planned their crime for a week or longer. They averaged 3.6 “stressors” in their lives in the year preceding the crime. Stressors could be related to finances, health, personal conflicts, employment, or many other factors. These stressors might be real or perceived.
Observable behaviors associated with the shooters include inappropriate reactions, violent media usage, impulsive reactions, changes in job performance, substance abuse, making threats, and changing interests in firearms. Many of the shooters manage to leak information about their plans. For young people, these behavioral changes are more easily seen by teachers and peers than by parents. Many of the shooters are suicidal and do not survive the crime making it difficult to determine the motive. The stress that ultimately triggers the violence may be minimal but is the last of many straws. The shooters often carry grievances from real or perceived slights.
Bill sees this increased level of violence as the new normal, but he believes that we are not without hope. Education in public forums and schools can lead to an increased understanding of these crimes, and a better chance of recognizing suspect behavior before it is too late.