Dec 13, 2012

Mass murder is the new flavor of American suicide

It’s time to add mass murder to the annual “means of suicide” statistics list. There’s more collateral damage when compared to hanging, bridge-jumping, self-inflicted gunshot wound, overdose, poison and wrist-slicing, and so much drama in the act itself, you don’t even need to leave a note.

The only way to stop these murders is for the general public to step up and learn to prevent suicides.

As these incidents are developing, clues and hints of distress and trouble accumulate around a person. We see problems related to how the person is thinking, failure to succeed at work or school, trouble in life, loss of a girlfriend, or other experiences of  shame and guilt. We also notice expressions of  hurt or resentment. When a critical point is reached (and sometimes after surprisingly careful planning) the person takes action. It is at the action stage that suicides and violent attacks diverge. An attacker strikes out against an institution, person or group, or even against random people. The action is a statement.

We are learning that the Portland mall shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts had a life that lately reeked of failure, depression, fantasy, drinking and more. He quit his job at a sandwich shop,  and sold all of his belongings. He gave up his dream of becoming a firefighter. He broke up with his girlfriend. He dropped out of community college. He made up a fantasy plan about buying the shop where he worked. He lied about inheriting a large sum of money.  He was supposed to move to Hawaii but didn’t, saying he missed his flight because he got drunk (if there actually was a flight). He had a Facebook cover photo that said “Cancelled.” He wrote  on his Facebook wall: "I may be young but I have lived one crazy life so far." Once easy-going and sociable, he dropped out of sight this past year. His phone was disconnected. He was evicted from his apartment in July. His Oregon driver’s license was suspended. His commercial driver’s license was suspended. He wrote that he was an adrenaline junkie who enjoyed shooting.

There are parallels between Roberts and the Sikh Temple shooter Wade Page, whose final hate drama episode took place just up the street from the restaurant where his ex-girlfriend worked. 

Page’s military career ended in 1998 when he refused treatment for his drinking. By 2000, then age 29, Page’s beliefs about an impending holy war were fixed. In 2000, Page sold everything he owned and went on a cross country trip attending festivals and shows. In 2001, he couldn’t hold a regular job because he drank so heavily that he would pass out and miss work the next day.  In 2003, Page was having trouble paying his bills, irritating his friends and evidently wearing out his welcome. He moved back to Fayetteville, where he worked at a Harley-Davidson dealership for a year and a half. The dealership fired Page because he refused to obey orders from female co-workers. According to his former boss, Page showed a volatile side when women tried to tell him what to do. He worked as a truck driver from 2006 – 2010. He was fired after a DUI offense. His home was foreclosed on in January 2011. He moved to Milwaukee in 2011, where he moved in with a girlfriend. He was hired as a temporary night shift worker in a local factory in February. Page and his girlfriend broke up in June 2012. Page stopped showing up for his job in mid-July. His landlord said he owed back rent when the attack happened in August, about a block from where Page’s ex-girlfriend worked..

What everyone can do to prevent attack-suicides

In most of these situations the only possible intervention is below the level of our formal systems. 

Prevention is the responsibility of family, friends, co-workers and neighbors. Even if reported, emergency responders can't act forcefully if the risk is not immediate and serious. Sometimes the police or a crisis team might be able to make a safety check visit to a person's home.

The best thing anyone can do is to support their friend. This helps prevent feeling isolated and helps build resiliency. You are unlikely to ever know if the steps you take to support a friend have prevented a suicide or interrupted a developing course of violence. You want the person to become more resilient and successful, so that the outcome is positive.

Try to have a brief chat in a public place but out of earshot of other people. Ask the following questions one at a time, in order. Practice the questions out loud. Yes, this is awkward. You can use your own words, but follow the pattern. Listen to the person's answer. People benefit simply by knowing they have been heard.

-- What have you accomplished since the last time we talked?
-- What are you facing?
-- Who are your allies?
-- What is your plan?

As you listen, be on the lookout for suicide risk factors. These include prior violence, substance abuse, a failure of addiction or mental health treatment, difficulty verbally expressing feelings, stress, extreme discouragement or recent shameful loss, no ability to make effective plans, trouble relating to other people's feelings, the onset of schizophrenia or another major mental illness, and lack of sources of support.

If you start to feel worried, offer to connect your friend to a more formal source of help. You may have the single most important opportunity to help your friend. If you detect tunnel vision and a sense of diminishing options, or the person talks about suicide, or expresses a lack of hope, ask the person directly about thoughts of suicide. Suicide is much more likely than violence directed against other people. Ask directly using these words: "Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

If you sense that the person is becoming suicidal, stay with the person. Try to persuade them to seek help from their doctor or visit an emergency room. Offer to help them get in contact with a crisis hotline by calling 1-800-273-8255 or dialing 911.

Effective suicide prevention training is available online through the QPR Institute at and from many community groups.


Clackamas Town Center shooting: Friends say it’s hard to imagine Jacob Roberts as a killer. (n.d.). The Oregonian - Retrieved December 13, 2012, from

Elias, M. (2012). Sikh Temple Killer Wade Michael Page Was Radicalized by Army Base’s “Thriving Neo-Nazi Underworld”. AlterNet. Retrieved from

Ex-friend says temple shooter Wade Michael Page was a “loner”. (2012). Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

Lohr, D., & Lohr, D. (2012). Wade Michael Page Timeline: Key Dates To Sikh Temple Shooter Investigation. Huffington Post. Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

Motives of Portland mall gunman Jacob Tyler Roberts remain a mystery to family, friends, police. (n.d.). NY Daily News. Retrieved December 13, 2012, from

Oregon mall shooting suspect not the “violent type”: ex-girlfriend. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2012, from,0,6711130.story

Sikh Temple Killer Wade Michael Page Radicalized in Army | Southern Poverty Law Center. (2012). Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

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US Sikh temple shooter was a white supremacist. (2012). Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

Wade Michael Page: Excessive drinking cost Sikh temple shooter his military career, civilian job. (2012). Washington Post. Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

What brought Wade Michael Page to Milwaukee? (2012). Retrieved December 6, 2012, from

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