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The Minds, Lives, and Motivations of Mass Attackers

Following a school shooting or ideological attack, we often wonder if there were warning signs that we missed. We think we know what a typical shooter looks like, but do we really? Is there even such a thing as a “typical” shooter?

Who are these people, and what are the psychological dynamics driving their behavior? What is going on behind the scenes prior to an attack? What factors mitigate risks, and when do they deserve a closer look? What are the psychological barriers to reporting or investigating suspicious behaviors?

“The truth is that there is no profile. School shooters are not all bullied, they are not all loners, and they are not all obsessed with violent video games or firearms. Sometimes they commit random attacks against strangers, sometimes they carry out narrowly focused attacks against specific people, and sometimes there are both random and targeted victims.”  –Dr. Peter Langman, PhD.

Though mass shooters are not all cut from the same cloth, over decades of research Dr. Langman has uncovered persistent patterns in the types of people who commit these attacks. The Western Region Homeland Security Advisory Council is bringing Dr. Langman, a leading expert on this topic and author of the books Why Kids Kill (2009), School Shooters (2015), and Warning Signs (2021), to share his findings about perpetrators of mass violence: who they are, what drives them, and what warning signs to look for.

Dr. Langman will use real case studies to illustrate pathways to violence, protective factors, and reasons that suspicious behaviors are often overlooked. He will share tips on “insider references” to look out for (for example, “1488” scribbled on a student’s notebook is a bright red flag) and how to assess threats. The full day conference will focus on school shooters in the morning and broaden to other types of perpetrators in the afternoon. There will also be ample opportunity for Q&A.

The conference will be held at UMass Amherst. It is free of charge and open to the public, and is particularly geared to those working in law enforcement, K-12 schools, higher education, hospitals, public health, mental health, first responders, and other public-facing disciplines.

Registration is required. Click here to register. Participants are encouraged to order lunch through the registration form or bring their own lunch to minimize interruptions to the content.

Please be advised that this conference will address sensitive topics, including some graphic language and details.