Nearly two thirds of suspects accused of carrying out mass shootings and attacks in the U.S. in 2017 suffered from symptoms of mental illness. And in 25 percent of the cases, the suspects had been "hospitalized for treatment or prescribed psychiatric medications" prior to the assaults, a new Secret Service report found.
An analysis of 28 mass attacks, which claimed the lives of 147 people and injured nearly 700 more across the country, found that 100 percent of attackers had been plagued by at least one significant stressor in the last five years. The vast majority of them — 79 percent — had engaged in threatening or suspicious communications that raised concerns from others before carrying out their attacks, according to the National Threat Assessment Center report on Mass Attacks in Public Spaces published Thursday.
The study found several other commonalities between the 28 attackers: All were male, 71 percent had a history of criminal charges, one-third had a history of domestic violence and two-thirds had an overall history of violence.
While the attackers ranged in age from 15 years old to 66, the majority — 54 percent — used illicit drugs or abused substances like alcohol and marijuana. More than half of the men appeared to have gone through financial hardships in the last five years and 82 percent of the attackers "exhibited behaviors that were indicative of aggressive narcissism," including rigidness, hostility, or extreme self-centeredness, the Secret Service said.
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A profile of the men also found nearly half were motivated to carry out the attacks due to a personal grievance, real or perceived, related to his workplace, home or other issues.
"Our behavioral research on incidents of targeted violence has shaped how we conduct threat assessments as an agency," said Frederick Sellers, a spokesman for the Secret Service’s Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information. "We use multiple sources to gather and analyze information to assess concerning behaviors and identify mitigation strategies in support of our protective mission.”
The study’s findings come in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre at a Florida high school, and will likely fuel growing concerns of people with untreated mental health issues having access to guns.
Despite repeated warnings to school and law enforcement officials that he was a violent threat, Nikolas Cruz, who is accused of killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, passed a background check to purchase an AR-15 rifle.
School officials and a sheriff's deputy were so concerned about Cruz’s mental stability, they recommended he be forcibly committed. The recommendation was never acted upon.
Such an involuntary commitment would appear on a background check, creating a high obstacle if not a complete barrier to legally obtaining a firearm, authorities say.
Mental health issues also plagued Texas church shooter Devin P. Kelley. In 2012, Kelley escaped from a civilian mental health center where he had been placed by the Air Force for treatment, according to Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek. He had also reportedly been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he was stationed, and was accused of planning to carry out death threats against his military superiors. Stefanek said she could not confirm those details.
Kelley had a history of domestic violence. He was given a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force after pleading guilty to assaulting his first wife and stepson.
On Nov. 5, he fatally shot 26 people and wounded 20 others at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Investigators said the attack appeared to stem from a domestic dispute Kelley was having with his mother-in-law, a member of the church who wasn't present that day.
It was was one two church shootings in 2017 the Secret Service analyzed. Other attacks examined in the report took place at schools (4), open spaces (9), transportation systems (3), and at businesses (13).
The report noted these attacks "violated the safety of the places where we work, learn, shop, relax and otherwise conduct our day-to-day lives."
One of those places was a baseball field, where a gunman opened fire on congressional Republicans during a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia. According to his wife, 66-year-old James Hodgkinson began experiencing financial problems in 2016 and told his family he was going to Washington, D.C., to "protest" and "talk about taxes."
On June 14, Hodgkinson sprayed a baseball field with at least 70 rounds of bullets, seriously wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and injuring several others before he was shot dead by Capitol Police.
After the shooting, Suzanne Hodgkinson said her husband was once a fun-loving man who changed after a long illness in the 1990s. She told The New York Times he would throw dishes at her, yell at the television and went "bananas" after Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election. James Hodgekinson also had a long record of arrests, including battery and domestic battery, but bought guns legally.
"He was running out of money. He was not employed at the time of the event, and he was looking for some local employment. He was married for 30 years, and it appears that that marriage was not going so well,” FBI Assistant Director Tim Slater said at the time. "It was just a pattern of life where you could tell things were not going well."