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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The first Code Maroon reached the backlit phones and computer screens of students and faculty at
12:29 p.m. on Aug. 13. By then, the heavy chorus of weapon fire was already echoing across Fidelity Drive, less than half a mile from the intersection of George Bush Drive and Wellborn Road.At the end of the bloody half-hour firefight, three people were dead, including Constable Brian Bachman, civilian Chris Northcliff and shooter Thomas Caffall.
Caffall wasnt the only headline in the bloody summer of 2012. The nation looked on in horror at Aurora, Colo., where James Holmes strolled into a movie theater with an M&P15 assault rifle and left 12 moviegoers dead and 58 wounded in his wake. In quick succession came the shootings at the Sikh Temple in Milwaukee, the Empire State Building and the Minneapolis sign
manufacturing plant.
For students, faculty, staff and community members, it would have been all too easy to turn off the evening news and brush away the sting felt by the tragedy. However, Caffall wrenched away any harbored hope of ignoring the issue of guns and mass shootings in this country.
On that day, Bachmann approached the house of Caffall at the 200 block of Fidelity Drive a few minutes after noon, in order to serve an eviction notice. Caffall had lost his job some months ago and told family members he planned never to work again. After a tense conversation on Caffalls front porch, the situation futher escalated when
Caffall produced a firearm and opened fire.
The ensuing firefight between law enforcement, first responders and Caffall resulted in more than 100 discharged rounds. Caffalls death brought an end to the chaos, but not before the deaths of Bachmann and Northcliff, and survivor Barbara Holdsworth suffering critical injuries. The flurry of bullets and sirens ended with three dead and a community altered. So extensive and sprawling was the area canvassed by the shooting that Lt. Allan Baron of the University Police Department said the investigation is still ongoing.
In a statement released after the shooting, University President R. Bowen Loftin said the incident left the University deeply saddened.
This is a sad day in the Bryan-College Station community, Loftin said. My thoughts and prayers, as well I am sure of the entire Aggie community, go out to the families and close friends of those who died so tragically, those who were injured and anyone else personally impacted by this senseless act of violence.
No matter a persons political affiliation, a level of vitriol is released into the air any time the hot-button subject of firearm rights is broached. With each camp deeply entrenched in their own opinion, the polarizing nature of the debate guarantees a cultural stalemate. Neither side of the fence has anything in mind other than the protection of American citizens. But how should a modern America approach its guns?
Caffall in context
Placing A&M within a larger context of other recent American shootings is a tender, layered matter. Amid the similarities between the local shooting and other high-profile shootings, the most obvious point may be the most significantly binding: legally obtained firearms were employed in the shooting and killing of innocents. The scope may not be as large as Aurora though it is impossible to quantify the pain inflicted in such incidents.
FBI crime classification reports define a mass murderer as an individual who kills four or more people, not including himself, in a single incident. But there is a similar degree of senselessness in the act. Because Caffall was killed in the shootout and unable to stand trial, it is impossible to determine if the act was premeditated or one of impulse.
Grouped in this way, these
headline-making shootings between Aurora on July 20 and Minneapolis on Sept. 27 have a staggering effect.
But has there been a marked, measurable increase in these shootings? Or, the nations attention having collectively turned to the subject after Aurora, is this presumed spike a case of heightened sensitivity and alertness to the matter?
James Alan Fox, professor of criminology at Northeastern University, is known as The Dean of Death for his extensive research on mass murders. Fox, in a recent blog post published on boston.com, contends that though no one can deny that the summer of 2012 has seemed especially horrific, the not-so-tiny flaw in all of these theories for the increase in mass shootings is that mass shootings have not increased in number or in overall body count, at least not over the past several decades.
The clustering of mass murders is nothing more than random timing and sheer coincidence, Fox said.
However, he said the lack of any upward trend should not stop individuals from trying to find causes and solutions for extreme violence.
Larry Burton, an expert on workplace violence and professor at Bryn Mawr University, disagrees. In an interview with U.S. News & World Report after a recent shooting at a school in Baltimore, Md., Burton said 2012s shootings have been noteworthy.
This appears to be what will be one of the worst years ever in terms of homicides at work, worship and obviously in terms of school shootings, Burton said. Something is going on that is generating such a spike in these cases.
Jack Bodden, resident A&M professor in abnormal psychology, said though he couldnt attest to whether a spike in mass shootings has taken place, there could be an element of monkey see, monkey do that is in play.
There may also be a weird kind of competition between [shooters]much as in a video game, Bodden said.
Media representations
In any given shooting, only a few people have any real contact with the shooter. The rest of the populace depends on mass-mediated representations given through news anchors, reporters, bloggers, public statements made by officials and sometimes, family members or neighbors of the perpetrator.
Caffalls stepfather, Richard Weaver, said his stepson was crazy as hell and called him a ticking time bomb.
He had been ill, said Linda Weaver, Caffalls mother. It breaks our hearts that his illness led to this.
Caffalls Facebook page was taken down shortly
after the shooting, but not before providing a look into the quasi-personal world of Thomas Caffall.
Guns pervaded the page. Caffall posted pictures of his weapons, which included a vintage Russian rifle he called his new toy. His inspirational people included famous snipers and gun manufacturers
from history.
There is consistency in the representations of mass shooters across media platforms. If someone was to remove the names from the descriptions, it would be difficult to differentiate between a portrayal of Caffall and one of Holmes, who has been similarly painted as mentally ill.
Nearly every mention of Wade Michael Page, the shooter in the Sikh Temple massacre in August, has made mention of his white supremacist roots and racist ideology. Family members of Andrew Engeldinger, the disgruntled Accent Signage employee who opened fire in his Minneapolis workplace in September, mentioned a family history of schizophrenia in interviews. A neighbor of Jeffrey Johnson, the August Empire State Building shooter, said he must have snapped.
Mental illness is a frequent buzz word in these descriptions. The question inherent in the discussion is whether mass shooters are as ill as they are portrayed or whether these exoticized representations made these individuals seem more different than they were.
Bodden said its possible for both options to be simultaneously true.
The media typically does use strong language to describe mass shooters, Bodden said. In some cases it may be clinically accurate, but more often the language simply reflects our fear and revulsion over the act itself.
What makes a mass shooter?
I doubt seriously that we would find any shooter to be free of significant psychopathology, Bodden said.
Some research suggests the correlation between mental illness and violence may not be as strong as the public may think. Support for that theory lies in a consensus report published in 2006 by the Institute of Medicine titled Improving the Quality of Health Care for Mental and Substance-Use Conditions.
The contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, the report read. The magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population.
Scientific American supports this, finding that the severely mentally ill account for just three to five percent of violent crimes. Both of these studies examine violence in sum rather than a narrower look at mass shootings.
Burton isnt convinced. He said the nations elevated rates of gun violence is due in part to mental illness, but focuses his criticism on governmental policy.
We do have a breakdown in our mental health system, Burton said. Tens of thousands of patients in the past few years [were] released due to budget cuts. Then theres the availability of weapons and ammunition. You could argue that plays a part.
For the sake of argument, if one supposes the correlation between mental illness and violence can be clouded, there is one link between mass murderers that isnt so easily diminished: loneliness and the lack of significant personal relationships.
Bodden said he has observed this common theme as a factor in the shaping of a
mass shooter.
These pathological loners have few or very weak connections to others, Bodden said. They have never felt cared for and so they lack the capacity to feel for or with others.
He described these killers as injustice collectors.
They seem to hold onto insults, slights, teasings, nurturing them until they bloom into full-fledged hatred, Bodden said. I would say the single biggest difference between a mass shooter and a normal person is the shooters lack of empathy and lack of close relationships.
Bodden said the public isnt always aware of the extent of this difference.
The thing most people fail to appreciate about mass shooters is how fundamentally different their perceptions of the world really are and how autistic their thinking processes are, he said.
Johnson was described as a quiet, animal lover. Family of Engeldinger said he had no known friends. Caffalls mother and stepfather said he quit his job months prior to the shooting and planned never to re-enter working society. Holmes and Page carried similar loner stigmas. The pattern is consistent among the major perpetrators of the summers shootings.
Caffalls shooting in College Station wasnt the same as Holmes in Aurora or Pages in Milwaukee. Simplifying these acts by lumping them together is demeaning for the families of victims who become a number in a body count or a marker on a timeline of violence.
But by examining the makeup of these killers and by situating the College Station shooting within a national context, this community can begin to make sense of one fated
August day.

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