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Experts discuss the psychology and motivation behind mass shootings that end with suicide

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Posted at 2:27 PM, Apr 18, 2022

Newtown, Connecticut.

Roseburg, Oregon.

Las Vegas, Nevada.

Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Thousand Oaks, California.

Those are just a few of the dozens of mass shootings in the United States, which, like the FedEx tragedy in Indianapolis, ended with shooter taking their own life.

Following many of these mass shootings that end with suicide, we tend to hear the question: "If the shooter was going to take his own life, why didn't he just do that to begin with, instead of killing so many innocent people?"

Dr. Edward Hirt is a professor in the IU Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, who specializes in social psychology, social identity and mood effects.

He shared his perspective on "suicidal murder" — a term used in the FBI's reports, determining the motive behind Brandon Hole's rampage at the Indianapolis FedEx facility.

Dr. Hirt explains, "If you think about someone really having suicidal ideation and deciding 'I'm seriously contemplating ending my life. What was the purpose of my life? What was my meaning? What was the reason for my existence?' And I think many of us are searching for that in our lives."

Columnist Petula Dvorak writes for the Washington Post.

She focuses on several topics related to mass shootings, including a link to suicide.

"In a few of those cases of suicide," Dvorak says, " We see someone who wants to look for a bigger way to exit this world, to send the world a message. That's a uniting factor. Pain. And wanting the world to feel that same pain and understand that same pain."

The FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit concluded though Brandon Hole no longer worked at the Indianapolis FedEx facility, he was not motivated by revenge and wasn't trying to advance an ideology.

Rather, the FBI report said: "The shooter decided to commit suicide in a way he believed would demonstrate his masculinity and capability while fulfilling a final desire to experience killing people."

Dvorak says this is a motive we see quite often — men, who are struggling with their place in society.

She says in these cases, the male assailants may be struggling to assert their masculinity in a society that is quite different from the place where their fathers and grandfathers grew up.

Both Dr. Hirt and Dvorak stress there are warning signs to watch for.

In her research, Dvorak says she learned many suicidal mass shooters shared a common trait.

"A lot of mass shooters had some kind of record of domestic violence and that shows a person who is struggling to assert themselves, struggling to find power," Dvorak says.

Such was the case with Brandon Hole, who investigators say, had frequent suicidal thoughts and had on multiple reported incidents, physically abused his mother.

"I think as a community," Dr. Hirt advises, "we have to be more attentive to people around us and realize that a lot of people are struggling but not dismiss it as just something that's not my problem."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health the suicide prevention lifeline is available around the clock at 1-800-273-TALK. You can also text "IN" to 741741.

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