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PIERS MORGAN LIVE
"Inside the Mind of a Killer"
Aired August 23, 2013 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: This is PIERS MORGAN LIVE. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.
In a week that saw a frightening sight, children in Georgia escaping classrooms after a man burst into a school with an AK-47, many are asking how it can happen again. Luckily, no one was injured. We want to know why anyone would ever do something like this?
Tonight, some answers in a special PIERS MORGAN LIVE: "Inside the Mind of a Killer."
JOSHUA COOKE, MATRIX MURDERER: I really identified with what Eric and Dylan went through. They were my heroes.
COOKE: This stuff builds up over time.
NARRATOR: Sandy Hook.
COOKE: If I had an assault weapon, things would have been much worse.
NARRATOR: Why did they do it? Joshua Cooke says he has the answer. He is known as the "Matrix Murderer".
COOKE: I would see myself in that role.
NARRATOR: The teenager who picked up a shotgun and killed his parents in their suburban Virginia home.
Now, Joshua Cooke tells his story in an exclusive prison interview with Piers.
COOKE: I don't blame anyone but myself.
NARRATOR: The crime, the confession and a warning about the next Adam Lanza.
COOKE: These people were ticking time bombs.
NARRATOR: This is a special PIERS MORGAN LIVE: "Inside the Mind of a Killer".
MORGAN: Good evening.
It's been 10 years since Joshua Cooke did the unthinkable. On February 17th, 2003, the then 19-year-old picked up a shotgun, pointed it straight at his mother and father, and pulled the trigger, killing them both.
How could he murder his parents? And why did he do it?
For a decade, Joshua Cooke has kept the motive a mystery until now. For the first time, the killer dubbed the "Matrix Murderer" is speaking out about the crime that made headlines across America and put him behind bars for 40 years.
This is more than one man's story of crime and punishment. Joshua Cooke thought a lot about the massacres at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Aurora. And tonight, he wants to speak directly to troubled people who might be thinking about doing something similar.
He joins me for his first ever television interview. And I begin by asking him about that winter day in 2003.
MORGAN: You've had lots of time now to think about what happened on that day. Why do you believe you killed your parents?
COOKE: Well, that's a good question, Piers. I think I would have to say that it was a combination of things. I would have to say there was bullying, there was abuse, there were psychological factors -- psychological factors that I didn't know about until, actually, after I got incarcerated.
I found out that my biological parents were schizophrenics, and I wish I had known these things when I was younger, but I -- I didn't -- I didn't know. But, I'm not blaming anything or anyone else. I take full blame and responsibility for what I did.
I had a lot of age -- excuse me, rage, anger, hate -- hate to the world, hate to people who had hurt me and things like that.
MORGAN: You had been adopted by your parents at the age of about six or seven, with your sister, who was your biological sister.
Let's go back to the day of the crime. You were 19 years old. You were pretty obsessed with violent video games. And in particular, you were obsessed with the movie, "The Matrix."
Do you remember watching "The Matrix" repeatedly, watching these video games and the kind of effect it had on you?
COOKE: When I would watch "The Matrix," I would see myself in that role. I would see myself shooting the bullies and people who had hurt me in my life. And this movie was a type of a release of aggression, and it -- it actually, it made me feel better when I would watch it. So, I watched this movie hundreds of times.
I watched it so much at one point, that the tape worn out and I had to buy a new one. And, the video games were the same -- played the same part. Video games like "Grand Theft Auto," "BloodRayne," "Resident Evil," "Doom," "Quake," a lot of these shooter games.
When I would play these games, I just -- it did a lot for me mentally where I could release my aggression with these games. And I -- I could almost bring my fantasies to fruition. The way I would just immerse myself in these games, sometimes I would play them 12 to 15 hours a day without leaving my room. I would have food and all kinds of things stashed over -- in my room so I wouldn't have to leave.
I did that for all my high school years and into college. And I ended up flunking out of college because I was just -- that's all I did all day was play these games.
MORGAN: Because there are people who say that there can be no link between these violent games and the kind of shootings that we've seen as a -- as a result of people like Adam Lanza, who also played them and then committed the atrocity at Sandy Hook.
But I've always believed it would be very conceivable that you could turn to violence if you yourself were mentally unstable.
Do you believe now that that was the case?
COOKE: Well, to put it bluntly, I -- I know that there's something wrong with me in -- in my head. But like I said, I don't blame it -- what I did on anything -- anyone else. But I -- I do think many times in my life I have thought that I may have some form of schizophrenia. I had a psychologist one time diagnose me, this is after I got incarcerated. He diagnosed me with a form of simple schizophrenia.
That type has been discounted by -- by some doctors, but I think there is some -- some type of schizo there, but I don't know for sure. I've never had a full psychological workup or brain scan or things like that. I've always wanted that, but I've never had that.
So, it's -- it's definitely possible that I inherited some of these types of -- these type of illness.
MORGAN: You were fascinated by the Columbine killers, because they also claimed to have been bothered by bullies. You repeatedly watched a video that Harris and Klebold had made for a school project called "Hit Men for Hire" -- they were, of course, the Columbine shooters -- in which they talk about killing bullies.
How much was that playing on your mind, do you think, through this period leading up to what you did?
COOKE: It impacted me a lot. You know, this movie and that shooting are two things that, basically, they radically changed my life and I was never the same.
And they both -- in both movies, they wore black trench coats. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were associated with this group called The Black Trench Coat Mafia. And I really identified with that. I really identified with what Eric and Dylan went through -- not to say that they were, you know, any kind of good guys or heroes, but back then, they were.
For me, they were, unfortunately, it -- sorry -- I'm sorry to say that and it's sick, and I've had a lot of time to think about it and come to realize how wrong it was. But back then, they were my heroes. So I would look at them and I almost idolized them. And I wanted to be with them and be one of them.
And so, I got -- the thing with the black trench coat, I really -- it was really me relating to Neo, but also to the Columbine shooters. And that whole -- that whole scenario with the Columbine shooters and with Dylan and Eric in the -- in the trench coats, that all -- the trench coats symbolized my pain, my aggression, my frustration, even my homicidal and suicidal mentality at the time.
It was really a period of about four years between Columbine and when I got arrested.
And this time period was, I just got deeper and deeper into a hole that I couldn't get out of. And I just got more and more homicidal, and just basically my rage and my anger and my hate were just building up. It was a ticking time bomb and it just -- it was only a matter of time until it -- it exploded.
MORGAN: You heard Joshua Cooke say he was a ticking time bomb. Coming up, he talks about the moment he decided to murder his parents.
But, first, an extraordinary message from Cooke. He speaks directly to anyone who might have thoughts about committing a copycat crime.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOKE: If you're watching me, and you're contemplating multiple murder, mass murder, I want you to know something: I understand you. I've been where you are. I know -- I know how you've come to where you are mentally and why you're considering murder and suicide and things like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: This is a PIERS MORGAN LIVE special, "Inside the Mind of a Killer".
Joshua Cooke was 19 when he shot his mother and father 10 years ago. He says violent video games and movies like "The Matrix" fueled his rage and contributed to his homicidal thoughts. And he worries the same thing has happened to other killers and will happen again.
Joshua Cooke is serving a 40-year prison term. And now, in his first television interview, he tells me about the day he killed his mother and father and how easy it was to get his hands on the weapon.
MORGAN: You purchased a gun.
Do you remember where you got the gun and were you subjected to any kind of background check?
COOKE: Yes, I do remember. I bought the shotgun from a -- a Galyan's Sporting Goods Store in Falls Church, Virginia. And, there was a background check. I actually -- I was actually coming off from work. I was working at Jiffy Lube at the time. And, on my way home, I stopped by the store and picked it up.
They did a background check. The clerk showed me how to use the gun, because I had never held one before. And within an hour, maybe an hour or two, I was taking the gun home with me.
MORGAN: And what was your intention, when you purchased the gun, to murder your parents?
COOKE: Actually, it wasn't. At the time, I didn't know if I would do it. It had been running through my mind, but I didn't know if I really would do it or when or anything like that. But I had a lot of evil, violent, murderous thoughts running through my mind constantly.
But it was definitely a possibility that I could do it soon. I just didn't know for sure, you know?
MORGAN: But did your adopted parents, do you think, have any real idea of what you were going through in your head?
COOKE: They didn't know, really, what was going on. They had a small idea that, you know, I was a troubled kid and in some ways, they had kind of given up on me, especially in my high school years.
But, I used to ask my parents about my biological parents all the time and they would never tell me anything. And this was a great frustration to me. I always wanted to know who they were, what type of people they were, you know, anything, health -- health concerns they may have had. I never got to know any of those type of things. My parents wouldn't let me know.
So this is one thing I was really frustrated with them about. I remember my mom even telling me to shut up one time when I asked her about it.
MORGAN: They never mistreated you, your adopted parents?
COOKE: Well, no, my adopted parents, my father was -- he wasn't like that with me, but my mother, she would beat my sister and I a lot. And, there would be times, you know, this happens with kids, you know, you -- you wet the bed and things like that. She would come in the room and basically she would force our faces into the urine and make us sleep in the wet beds and smack us and call us disgusting and if you -- and there was a "Washington Post" article 10 years ago, and my sister corroborates that in the -- in the magazine that she went through the same thing.
We used to talk about it the day after. And it just happened often. So, and we were terrified of our mother. We were terrified of her.
So there -- with our mother, there definitely was a lot of abuse, with my adopted mother.
MORGAN: And on the day that you decided that you were going to kill them, you were playing various musical records. And the one that was key to this, was a song called "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" by Drowning Pool. It's from a song called "Bodies."
What was going through your head as you heard that music?
COOKE: Well, I -- I had been listening to the song for about a year nonstop. And I just knew that I just had so much hate and rage inside of me that I knew it was leading to murder.
So, the song "Bodies" from Drowning Pool was something that, again, similar to the video games, it made me feel better when I would listen to it. I would have these constant evil, hateful thoughts running through my mind.
MORGAN: I mean, there is some evidence that Jared Loughner, who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, and others, have listened to that song before committing appalling acts of violence. The band insists the song is about a mosh pit, not murder.
But again, as with the violent video games, do you think that violent musical, video and music can have a -- a profound and disturbing effect on people who may themselves be mentally unstable?
COOKE: I believe so, especially on the young mind. You know, a young person's mind is -- it's very easy to lead a young person's mind into things like that, and it's easy to influence, and you know, I can say that from experience.
What you see on TV and media and things like that, it can radically affect you if this type of -- if looking at it like this for extended period of time, it can really affect a young person's mind if it goes unchecked.
MORGAN: The moment that you decided that you were going to kill your parents, why did you decide that they had to die? And what then happened?
COOKE: That's a good question.
I was at a point in my life where I didn't care about anyone or anything anymore. And I wanted to die.
So, as I said before, I was thinking these murderous thoughts for a long time. And the day that it happened, I had -- I had actually helped my parents shovel the snow out of the driveway.
And, I didn't really feel right that whole day. And, I just knew that I wanted to die and I wanted my life to end, and my life as I knew it, back then, I wanted it to end. And I had a lot of hate for my mother and for my father.
So, at the end of the day, after I'd finished playing all these violent video games, I was sitting at -- on my bed, and I picked up the shotgun and I turned on the "Bodies" song and I looked up at "The Matrix" poster.
And I just decided that that was it. There was nothing left to my life. I just wanted to end my -- I wanted to end my life and theirs.
But, unfortunately, I really -- I really went through with it, and, you know --
MORGAN: You went down and you found your mother first and you shot her directly.
As you were doing that, what was the sensation that you were experiencing?
COOKE: Actually, I had no emotion at all. I was -- I was basically like a zombie. I just -- I went down the steps and I shot my mother. She was sitting in this chair at a computer. She had spun around and I shot her, and it grazed -- it grazed her chest.
And I turned and looked over at my father. He was at the other computer. And he dove under the table and I shot him about seven times underneath the table.
And I had -- I had no emotion at this -- at this time at all. It was just -- I was numb. And just -- there had been so many -- so many years of hurt from mother's abuse and bullying, rejection from girls, all types of things like that, I just -- I didn't care about anything anymore.
So, after I had -- after I finished shooting my father, I -- I went upstairs and reloaded. And I came back down at the top of the stairs above the basement. And my mother was standing there at the bottom of the steps.
And she looked at me and she had her hands like this at her chest. And she said, "What are you doing, Joshua? Why did you do this?"
And I loaded the gun, I pointed it at her face and I shot her in the face. I walked down the steps, I stepped over her body and I shot my father in the head one more time. And then, I walked back upstairs, set the gun down, I grabbed a Coke and drank it and then called the police. And I had no emotion this whole time. I just wanted to die and end everything.
MORGAN: Even at the moment that you'd realized you'd murdered both your parents, was there any kind of reality check or did you still believe that this was some weird, horrible, violent videogame that you were possibly enacting for real?
COOKE: Well, the things that went on that night, it really reminded me -- it did remind me of "The Matrix." I had seen that so many times. And the video games, I was -- I had really become desensitized to violence and blood, bloodshed and things like that.
So when -- when I was doing it, it was -- it really did remind me of the game a lot. I don't -- I don't know for sure I really would say that I felt like I was in the game. But it felt like it -- it almost felt like I was.
And, everything just reminded me eerily of all those video games I played for so long over the years. So, I know those games had an impact on me. So the people who say that they don't have an impact, they have an impact on a young -- on a young person's mind.
MORGAN: Chilling warning about the dangers of violent video games. When we come back, why Joshua Cooke says he knows what went on in the minds of the Columbine and Sandy Hook killers.
First, more of Joshua Cooke's urgent message to anyone who might think mass murder is the answer to their problems.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOKE: Maybe you've been abused like I was, or bullied in school, or been rejected by girls and maybe you're -- maybe you're addicted to these violent video games and things like that. But you don't know the pain that you're going to cause with this type of shooting.
You think you do, but you don't. And you got to think about your family. You got to think about your friends, how much it's going to hurt them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Welcome back to a special PIERS MORGAN LIVE, "Inside the Mind of a Killer."
Joshua Cooke planned to murder his parents. And on February 17th, 2003, that's exactly what he did. First, killing his father with a 12-gauge shotgun before reloading and executing his mother. We spent a lot of time on this show talking about guns and why I believe we need common sense gun control legislation. This is an opportunity to explore what's behind the gun.
Joshua says mental illness played a part in his crime. In his first ever television interview, he speaks out to other killers.
MORGAN: You see, Joshua, there will be many people watching this who will say all you're doing now is making excuses for what you did, that, actually, you were just a ruthless, cold-blooded killer and that it's convenient for you now to blame possible schizophrenia, video games, music, other mass shootings and so on.
What do you say to those people?
COOKE: Well, I would say that, whenever I talk to anyone about this, I always tell them that I don't blame anyone but myself. And I have no one to blame but myself. I don't blame anything or anyone else. We're all -- we're all held accountable for our own choices. We all have choices to make.
I'm not the only one who's gone through things in my life and played violent video games and things like that. All I'm saying is that these things do contribute and they accumulate. And especially with someone who may have psychological issues, like I know I've had, it just -- you could become a ticking time bomb.
MORGAN: If you had two biological parents who were diagnosed with schizophrenia, it seems extraordinary that you were not picked up as a potential risk.
But do you think the system, the mental health system in America should have picked you up earlier?
COOKE: Yes, absolutely, I agree. I've spent a lot of time thinking about that just in frustration and anger that I never got to know those things growing up my whole life about my biological parents.
I mean, you know, who wouldn't want to know that both of their parents were mentally ill, in and out of mental institutions and schizophrenics and things like that? That's something that I should have known from a very early age, and so I could have gone to the right types of professionals and doctors to get myself checked out. But I never knew growing up all those years.
So, it's a really big deal to me.
MORGAN: When you've seen the mass shootings at places like Aurora, in the movie theater with James Holmes, and also with Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook -- do you recognize, from everything that you've read about these two shooters, similarities in the way that, perhaps, you were thinking at the time that you committed your atrocity? COOKE: Absolutely. Whenever these happen -- whenever these incidents happen, there are several things that pop into my mind, because I've been there.
I know there was psychological issues involved. These people were not right, obviously, at least the majority of them aren't. They've had psychological issues. Maybe there's been abuse in their life, bullying in school for years, like I said, rejection from girls, that plays a part, violent video games. Nobody just snaps overnight and just decides, hey, I'm going to go shoot a whole school up or something like that.
That just -- it doesn't happen. This stuff builds up over time. These people were ticking time bombs. And, you know, I wish people had seen the signs in me beforehand, before I did what I did. But unfortunately, that didn't happen.
MORGAN: You were able to go and, as a 19-year-old, buy a shotgun and load ammunition and go and murder your parents.
Do you think that the easy availability of guns is also a big problem in America for disturbed young men in particular, like yourselves?
COOKE: Absolutely. That -- that is a big problem.
And, you know, one thing I -- I would like to address with -- what you brought up about, you know, the availability of -- the availability of guns, is with regards to assault weapons. If I had an assault weapon, things would have been much worse.
And I thank God I didn't have an AR-15 or some other type of assault weapon, because the way I was back then mentally, I would have gone to the mall that night or to one of my old high schools the next morning and killed as many people as I possibly could. But because I didn't have an assault weapon, that didn't happen.
So, I thank God I didn't have one of those things, and the gun does matter.
MORGAN: Obviously, you're going to be in prison for a very long time. You did a terrible thing that day, killing your parents.
If you had the chance to speak to them again -- which you never will -- but if you did have the chance, what would you say to them?
COOKE: Well, first, I actually do believe that I will see them again. I believe in redemption. I believe -- I believe in God. I really do believe I will see them again.
And when I see them, I know that we're going to be reconciled and we're going to talk it out and -- my parents were Christians. You know, they -- they made some mistakes. They had faults like every other parent does.
But I know I would tell them that, obviously, that I'm sorry, that I love them, that I want to thank them for everything that they did for me growing up and just -- and give them hugs -- hugs and kisses and just embrace them and then go from there. So, I mean, I look forward to that.
MORGAN: Are you -- are you now receiving any kind of treatment or medication for any mental health issues?
COOKE: No, I'm not. I mean, years ago, in 2004, I was on four different anti-depressants and I was talking to psychologists. They don't have any regular therapy here where like you have on the street, where you see a shrink once a week or something like that, but you can put requests in to see a psychologist.
But main -- the main thing that has delivered me from this type of thinking, this mentality, this type of evil mentality and the thing that's really helped me with my mental health is -- is my relationship with God. So -- and prayer.
Prayer works. And it -- it's really worked for me. And he's really put a lot of love in my heart.
So that's what's really helped me out, and I -- I don't think like -- like I used to years ago.
MORGAN: We heard a lot from Joshua Cooke tonight. It's important to know, his is just one side of this tragedy. We reached out to other members of his family. They did not reply to our request for response.
When we come back, we're going to ask three mental health experts what they think about this extraordinary case.
But, first, Joshua Cooke's final warning to anyone feeling the urge to commit a crime like this -- why he believes psychological help can make all the difference.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOKE: It's not just about you. It's about the others around you and people that love you. I just got to tell you that you got to get help. You got to get help.
You know, you really need to see a psychologist. And there's no shame in that. You really should get psychological help because you probably have some problems like I did.
And I just want to say, you know, give God a chance, you know? And just think about what I said.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOKE: Whenever these happen -- whenever these incidents happen, there are several things that pop into my mind because I've been there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Teen killer Joshua Cooke on the horrific mass shootings in America. Joshua Cooke, who murdered his parents when he was 19, says he understands what killers like Adam Lanza are going through.
But does he? Is there any way to stop another madman before it's too late?
Let's bring in my criminal mind experts tonight: James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University; Cheryl Olson, who's a coauthor of "Grand Theft Childhood" and co-founder of Center for Mental Health and the Media; also, Xavier Amador, forensic psychologist and founder of the LEAP Institute.
Welcome to you all.
Xavier, let me start with you.
What was your reaction to this interview? Very unusual to hear a young shooter like this, very much of the demographic that we have seen with so many mass shootings recently, being so apparently candid. What did you make of it?
XAVIER AMADOR, FOUNDER, LEAP INSTITUTE: I thought he was extremely candid with you. I think he took responsibility for what he did at the same time.
What really struck me and I have seen this in other cases involving people with serious mental illness, and it appears he has schizophrenia from previous diagnoses, is he's sort of cobbling together the story this many years later.
The prosecution theory that this was rage and anger, the defense theory this was mental illness, and yet, when you asked him, "What were you thinking that night?", he really didn't have an answer for you. He really didn't understand. I think that was a function of a broken brain, of inability to really understand what these impulses were that were leading him to pick up a shotgun and go and shoot his mother and father.
MORGAN: Cheryl Olson, it's an extraordinary thing to do, isn't it, to kill both your parents in this manner. He's not -- he's quite articulate, he's quite intelligent sounding, and yet, one day, he just randomly picks a gun up and blows both his parents away. What did you think of his justification or his excuse, if you like, he had been driven to this by watching "The Matrix" repeatedly, listening to the song "Bodies" by the group Drowning Pool and so on?
Are these just convenient excuses or is there real science to back up the fact that these can be a link to what these shooters do? CHERYL OLSON, CO-AUTHOR, "GRAND THEFT CHILDHOOD": The first thing you have to keep in mind is the number of people who play violent video games or watch movies like "The Matrix" and we don't see a whole lot of them hurting anybody, let alone killing both of their parents.
I did research when I was at Harvard Medical School focusing on children 13, 14, 15, years old, and I found that of the boys I studied, about two-thirds of them, and about almost a third of the girls as well were playing at least one mature-rated violent video game like "Grand Theft Auto" game on a regular basis.
MORGAN: James Fox, Joshua Cooke said that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were kind of heroic figures to him. We saw it again with Grant Acord, this young man arrested of plotting an attack on his Oregon school, a similar kind of hero worship for what happened at Columbine, perhaps an intent to copycat this.
How much of that is a problem with these shootings, where unstable young people, who perhaps are disenfranchised from society, want to make a stir for themselves, get in the headlines, become infamous?
JAMES ALAN FOX, PROFESSOR OF CRIMINOLOGY, NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY: Well, 99.9 percent of those who watch the news about Columbine or another shooting identify with the pain and the suffering of the victims, and pray every day that a Columbine will not happen in their school.
But a very small fraction admire and identify with the perpetrators. Their power -- they not only admire the fact they got even with all the bullies, but they're famous for it. So, I think it's very important that we distinguish between shedding light on a crime and spotlight on the criminal.
Now, I think you also said something very important: someone who is already unstable. A person who is content with their life and perfectly happy is not going to go on a rampage because they see someone else do it or they play a video game.
You have -- all the other conditions have to be there, then people like Klebold and Harris can indeed be a role model, in terms of how they express their proclivity towards violence.
MORGAN: Xavier, my belief has always been for anyone to do a kind of random act of mass shooting or slaughter, they've got to be mentally unstable. I mean, normal people who don't have a mental health issue simply don't do that, or am I wrong? I mean, is there just a state of pure evil? You can do it without being mentally unstable?
AMADOR: I get asked that question on the stand all the time in death penalty cases by prosecutors when I'm working for the defense. And they're saying, well, Dr. Amador, it isn't everybody mentally ill who kills somebody? The answer technically speaking is of course not. There are mentally ill people who don't kill people. And that's the majority of people with mental illness who are in treatment.
But -- look, in this case, something is different. And I think maybe 100 years from now, we will see something very different in the brains of people who kill in this way. And, in fact, there's research emerging around schizophrenia, untreated schizophrenia, and the kinds of racing thoughts, perhaps delusions, perhaps hallucinations that this young man had.
He was trying to drown out. He tells you in the interview, really, in a very poignant way that he was trying to drown out these murderous, relentless thoughts he was having by listening to that song. So, to say the song caused it is really I think confusing the egg for the chicken here.
MORGAN: And, Cheryl Olson, in terms of the video game impact, is it possible, as I have always believed it must be the case, that 99 percent of all young people that play these games, even if they play them relentlessly, are never going to have a problem, but for say a tiny fraction of people that do, who have a serious mental health issue like schizophrenia, it can exacerbate the kind of violence they're hearing in their head, that kind of thing, and it can make it worse and perhaps precipitate some kind of outrage.
OLSON: When I give advice to parents who are concerned about video games, one of the things I usually point out is, first of all, how common the use is, but also I'll say when I get concerned is the young people who don't have other influences in their lives, who are isolating themselves, maybe dropping things they used to enjoy, and focusing on some solo activity. It could be that they're immersed in violent literature or movies or games, but anything where they're moving away from positive influences and being alone with their own thoughts. I would worry about that.
AMADOR: I really agree with her. I agree with you, because the critical issue here is this young man was completely isolated. And what was he doing with all of his time, watching video games?
MORGAN: Yes. Let me bring in James Fox. You agree with that?
FOX: Yes, I think here, the video game playing is a symptom, not a cause. All the factors in his life, the fact that he didn't have success in school, didn't have success in relationships with girls, didn't have a lot of friends, that basically drove him toward loneliness and immersing himself with video games. So, video games was a reflection of his lifestyle, not a cause of his violent behavior.
You mentioned Lanza before. Adam Lanza was socially withdrawn, uncomfortable, and so he played video games throughout his entire life, day after day after day. That didn't cause the violent episode, it was caused by the very same factors that caused the violent episode. MORGAN: OK. Let's take a short break. When we come back, I want to talk to you about what Joshua Cooke said about assault weapons and why he thanks God he didn't have an AR-15 style assault rifle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOKE: If I had an assault weapon, things would have been much worse. And I thank God I didn't have an AR-15 or some other type of assault weapon, because the way I was back then mentally, I would have gone to the mall that night or to one of my old high schools the next morning and kill as many people as I possibly could.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MORGAN: Ten years after he murdered his parents with a shotgun, Joshua Cooke says he's a changed man. He's not the same person who killed his parents. That's what he says.
But should we believe him?
Back now with my experts: professor of criminology, James Alan Fox; Cheryl Olson, founder of Center for Mental Health and Media; and forensic psychologist Xavier Amador.
Javier, let me start with you on that. I mean, you can take him at face value and you can say, OK, you know, he believes if he had an assault weapons, he would have gone out and caused carnage. We'll never know the answer to that question. Clearly, something flipped in him to make him kill his parents. What do you think of the gun aspect of this?
AMADOR: I believe him. And, look, some things are prima facie, some things are just obvious. If he had had an assault weapon and he did what he did, it likely would have gone further, that that seems likely.
But the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. This is a guy who was not violent. He was violent one -- for how many minutes in his entire life was he violent? So in terms of predicting, is he a changed man or not, I don't think that's the real question, Piers.
The question is, is his illness controlled? Is he being treated in prison?
The man himself, if you look at the trajectory of his life, is not a violent man.
MORGAN: I mean, let me bring in James Fox here. What's fascinating about these recent shooters, if you look at James Holmes at Aurora or Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, and you go back to Tucson and others, is that these are young men -- as I said earlier -- disenfranchised, they feel, by society who flip and commit these outrages. He's another one, Joshua Cooke, who falls into that category.
Do you believe that they can just grow out of this, even if they have a condition like schizophrenia?
FOX: Well, to some extent, we do know that people are at the violent peak when late adolescence, early adulthood. And many of them do indeed grow out of it.
Let me however challenge this idea that Cooke would have done much more had he had an assault weapon. He killed his parents and then he called 911. It didn't matter what weapon he had. He wasn't going anywhere afterwards. Whether he had an assault weapon or a shotgun, he did what he did.
So, I -- it's easy for him to say, now, oh, sure, I would have done a lot more if I had an assault weapon. But he was going nowhere, called the police.
MORGAN: See, that's an interesting point, isn't it, Cheryl Olson, because he could just be saying that because he knows I have a position on assault weapons. He might be trying to ingratiate himself in some way into my head to make me more sympathetic towards him.
OLSON: I'm sure he's trying to make sense of this as well, and maybe trying to think about -- in some ways, say, well, it could have been worse. Maybe I'm not as evil a person as I thought I was.
One thing that really struck me, though, from some of the things that he said about video games is the idea of using games to get your anger out. And it seems like he wasn't entirely blaming the media, but also talking about how he tried to work with them, use the songs and so on.
In the research that I did, I had boys say it a lot. "I use video games to forget my problems, get my anger out." "I had a bad day at school. The teacher yelled at me because I forgot my homework, and so I went home and put in 'Grand Theft Auto' and the (INAUDIBLE) got a tank, ran over everybody and then I felt calmer and better."
I think to a certain point, sort of self-medicating with video games that way might actually be healthy. But there's obviously a point where it becomes perhaps a problem, making things even worse. And that may have been the case with this young man.
FOX: If violent people are drawn to violent entertainment, it doesn't necessarily make them violent. It's just that's what they enjoy.
So, it shouldn't surprise us that most mass shooters have some interest in violent entertainment.
MORGAN: Final question.
FOX: They are violent people.
MORGAN: Final question for all of you and just want a one-word answer.
Xavier, I'll start with you. Did you believe him?
AMADOR: Yes. I do.
MORGAN: James Fox?
FOX: About some things yes, some things no.
MORGAN: Cheryl Olson?
OLSON: I think -- as -- he said it the way he sees it.
MORGAN: Yes, I think that's probably the right answer.
Thank you all very much indeed. It's a fascinating insight, whatever it is, into the mind of somebody who killed his parents. You can't imagine something of that nature, but there it is.
Joshua Cooke himself told me he thinks psychological help could make a difference in cases like his, perhaps even save lives.
Xavier Amador, James Alan Fox, and Cheryl Olson, thank you all very much, indeed.
We'll be right back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My family came to America because we want a better life.
(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are 12 people in the family. When I got to Chicago, they put me into 9th grade. It's really hard the first day. You know, I'm totally lost.
BLAIR BRETTSCHNEIDER, CNN HERO: It's hard enough to be a teenage girl in the United States, so it's even harder to be a refugee teenage girl.
My name is Blair Brettschneider, and I help refugee girls find their place in America.
In my free time after work, I was tutoring different kids. One girl was really struggling.
How's it going?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Good.
BRETTSCHNEIDER: So good, nice to see you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had to do more because I'm a girl. I cook food for my family, go to laundry, take care of my brothers.
BRETTSCHNEIDER: We started going on field trips. We talked about college, and things started changing.
Are you getting excited for classes?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, yes.
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BRETTSCHNEIDER: We are.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're making great progress. I'm so proud of you, you know?
BRETTSCHNEIDER: Our mentorship program matches refugee girls from high school with mentors who work with them during the week.
You have to write an essay, right?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I want to write about my life.
BRETTSCHNEIDER: In walking down the street, they are just teenagers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to have my own salon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One day I'm hoping to become a nurse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to be a teacher.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I want to become a doctor or a nurse.
BRETTSCHNEIDER: What I see is what all the girls can accomplish and everything that they can do. That's really wild. It's the best.