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'New York Times' Study Finds Common Patterns in 'Rampage Killers'

Aired April 20, 2000 - 1:04 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: The fury of the Columbine shootings forced a new look at what triggers rampage killings. For their part, the parents of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris have offered little insight into why their sons exploded in rage, but a new study has found a common pattern in rampage killers.

Here's CNN's Eileen O'Connor now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Violent video games, an obsession with guns, a lack of acceptance at school. All are seen as some of the reasons behind school shootings like the one in Colorado. But a new study indicates the clues to these rampage murders may lie elsewhere.

FORD FESSENDEN, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think that the most surprising thing we found was the extent of mental illness that we -- among the shooters.

O'CONNOR: Ford Fessenden coordinated a study by the "New York Times" looking back over 50 years at rampage killings like Columbine. The "Times" profiled 102 killers who claimed 425 lives, injuring another 510.

FESSENDEN: The response that has -- that we've seen so far has been a sort of traditional criminal justice kind of response, a -- better security at schools. What we found is that this is often the perpetrator's first crime of any major proportion, and those sort of traditional criminal justice responses may not be effective.

O'CONNOR (on camera): And while these kinds of killings are often described as sudden, the "Times" study showed, out of 100 cases reviewed, 63 involved people who had made threats of violence before.

So why does a society so frantically searching for answers seemingly ignore what some experts say is the obvious cause?

KAY REDFIELD JAMISON, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHIATRY, JOHNS HOPKINS MEDICAL INST.: There's a tendency to deny that which is frightening, that which is misunderstood, that which can be subtle.

O'CONNOR (voice-over): While most other homicides have declined, these types of killings are on the rise, leading experts to blame three factors: cutbacks in care for the mentally ill; the availability of more lethal weapons; and the around-the-clock coverage the murders receive. making copycats more likely. And some point to the age of the young men involved in shootings at Columbine, West Paducah, Kentucky and Springfield, Oregon as a contributing factor.

JAMISON: Most of the severe psychiatric illnesses are illnesses of youth. They hit young. The average age of onset of bipolar illness is about 18, 17 years old, schizophrenia about 19 years old.

O'CONNOR: Such mental illness, experts stress, is treatable if society is willing to spend the time and money needed.

Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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