EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Following the Aug. 3 mass shooting at the Walmart near Cielo Vista Mall, when Patrick Crusius drove to El Paso to commit a racist attack, the community still finds itself asking simple questions with complicated answers.
While we’ll never have answers to take away the pain, terror, and nightmares, information is available to educate people on pre-attack behavior that can prevent future massacres.
On Wednesday, FBI Special Agent Valerie Venegas detailed pre-attack behaviors of active shooters in the U.S. and explained the general planning and preparation processes that lead up to an attack.
The FBI conducted a study from 2000 to 2013 to help identify characteristics of active shooters and found no way to readily identify based on demographics alone, which reinforces the argument that there is not a specific shooter profile. Rather, the FBI and the community must be aware of specific behaviors that could add up to an attack.
“We can’t say that shooters fit a certain cookie-cutter profile,” said Special Agent Venegas.
“What we can say is that we do know that these shooters take time to plan and prepare for the incident.”
Venegas explained active shooters seldom attack randomly. Months (and sometimes years) of planning and preparation go into the execution: selecting a location, purchasing weapons and ammunition, writing a manifesto.
Hatred takes time.
The study found that 77 percent of shooters spend at least a week planning the logistics of their attack and 46 percent spent at least one week procuring the necessary materials.
The degree to which a shooter meticulously prepares for an attack contradicts the notion that shooters are “crazy” or “unhinged.”
“We need to get out of the mindset that this happens from one minute to the other, they don’t. Our research is telling us otherwise,” Venegas said. “Our research is telling us that some people take months to almost two years to plan these incidents.”
Venegas explained the difference between mental health — the quality or condition of one’s psychological state — and mental illness, which must be diagnosed. The FBI has verified that 25 percent of the shooters studied were diagnosed with a mental illness. Of that population, only three were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.
More often than not, shooters have mental health concerns rather than diagnosed mental illness.
The FBI’s research suggests that many shooters experience at least 3.6 stressors within a year leading up to an attack. Stressors can include mental health problems, loss of a job or relationship, death of a loved one, and more.
These stressors often lead to disturbing behavior others should be aware of and report if necessary. The FBI says most shooters exhibit at least four to five concerning behaviors over time before an incident and that early mitigation can help prevent future acts of violence.
Examples of concerning behaviors include changes in personality, unusual posts on social media, anger / physical aggression, declined work or school performance, and violent media usage.
The rage that goes into a mass shooting often stems from a grievance the FBI says causes the shooter distress or resentment that is not based in reality.
For Crusius, racism against Hispanics whom he believed threatened his America was more than fleeting irritation, and became grossly distorted.
An infected wound.
The FBI says a gnawing sense of injustice creates the need to “correct” the grievance.
Whereas planning is primarily internalized by the shooter, the preparation requires activity. Venegas says shooters spend 54 percent less time preparing for an incident than planning for it, which is the time when red flags can be seen.
“When someone is taking the active action of purchasing the weapons, of purchasing the camouflage gear, the vests, the ammunition — somebody is going to notice,” she says.
If concerning behaviors are observed, the FBI urges community members to report it to law enforcement.
While it’s uncomfortable to confront troubling behavior and convenient to turn a blind eye, it’s important to recognize and report it.
El Paso knows all too well what happens when it isn’t.