On Sunday morning in a small town in southern Texas, Devin Patrick Kelley stormed into the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas armed with an AR-15 and shot and killed 26 parishioners, wounding 20 others. Kelley's deadly rampage was interrupted when a neighbor of the church reacted by grabbing his weapon and began firing upon Kelley. Another good Samaritan joined in and after a brief chase, Kelley committed suicide after notifying his father that he had been shot.
The early profile of Devin Patrick Kelley has emerged. In 2012, Kelley was court-martialed and spent time in prison for assaulting his wife and child which led to a bad conduct discharge from the Air Force. Through the years, Kelley was engaged in various scrapes with the police; most recently, he had been sending threatening text messages to his mother-in-law. Several of Kelley's classmates described him as a heavily-medicated loner who posted on social media about weapons and atheism. While details are still unraveling, some objective observations can be concluded.
Like many targeted violence incidents, the perpetrator focuses on a particular target to vent his anger. He seethes with anger at someone for causing his pain, being in complete denial that his own actions caused his demise. The perpetrator begins to make threats, in this case with text messages. The more direct the threats become, the more dangerous the perpetrator becomes. That is called narrowing the focus.
While human behavior is no exact science, there is a method to determine the threat potential of a person on a pathway of targeted violence. Dr. Manny Tau, a forensic psychologist who works closely with Talon utilizes three distinctive measurements to assess the level of threat a person represents:
- THREAT POSTURING-communicating threats via text, email, or orally to a target. Increasing specificity in targeting and/or methodology differentiates between those who make threats vs. those who pose to be a threat.
- PREPARATORY BEHAVIORS-an investment of time and resources into a malicious act, such as purchasing of weapons, stalking their target, making specific plans.
- REHEARSAL FANTASIES-obsessions and fixations with themes of malice; the perpetrator plays out the violent scenario in their mind, they focus on violent incidents and frequently discuss violent acts.
In that regard, there is little difference between a terrorist and the lone person who acts out a violent act. They are both angry and have identified a target to vent their anger towards.
So, can targeted violence be prevented? Many believe that if we make firearms illegal, violence will dissipate or stop. But consider the jihadist who used a truck in New York City to mow down and kill bicyclists out for a ride, or the brothers in Boston who used homemade items off the shelf of a grocery store to plant a bomb at the Boston Marathon to kill and maim. The 19 terrorists that hi-jacked four passenger jets used box cutters to control their victims while crashing the jets into their intended targets. These are examples of alternate weapons of choice, so instead of focusing on making firearms illegal, we need to examine and train folks to detect aberrant and dysfunctional behaviors that indicate a person has a propensity for violence. We need to admit there is evil in this world and it is perpetrated by those who lack empathy and are extremely angry and acting out.
We also collectively need to support laws and our first responders who take proactive measures when a person or persons begin to make threats as well as making aggressive posts on social media. We need to have a method of deterring people we deem “at risk.”
It would also be beneficial if we toned down angry rhetoric that now permeates political discourse in our country. In Switzerland and Israel, citizens are urged to take weapon-training and carry weapons. In those countries, for example, it is not surprising there is no history of mass targeted shootings.
Until we change our society and become more caring, empathetic, and situationally aware, these horrendous acts of violence will continue.
Talon provides “Targeted Violence Prevention & Active Threat Response Training” for groups, companies and corporations. Please contact us to schedule a training session.
Talon also is a representative for “Leatherback Gear”,
, a bullet-proof backpack designed to save lives in a traumatic situation. Please contact us for additional information.
Ron Williams, CFS
United States Secret Service-Retired