In today’s world, mass shootings have become all too common. The situation is sickeningly familiar — a troubled individual gets ahold of a weapon, finds a crowded area, and wreaks havoc. Often, it is hard to diagnose the motivation behind such heinous crimes. Why would anyone have such little disregard for human life? Although questions like these are far from answered, looking at past criminal defense cases has given researchers some insight into warning signs of such shootings.
One common theme seen repeatedly in serial killers appears to be animal abuse. As a child, one might pull a dog’s tail or step on an ant farm out of curiosity or mere mischief. However, for most children and their parents, these are teachable moments. You tell your child that such actions are unacceptable, as we need to have empathy for all living things. Typically, in most cases this is the end of any further violence. Yet, unfortunately in some children such behavior is repeated, often getting worse and worse each time. Such deliberate and recurring cruelty is a major red flag. Although difficult questions to face, parents must ask themselves: “Why is my child behaving like this? Is this behavior normal amongst kids their age? What can I do to resolve this?”
Most psychologists feel that such animal abuse stems from serious emotional turmoil. Often, this escalates into much more extreme cases of violence, and ultimately — tragic mass shootings. Research has shown that troubled children are much more likely to treat animals cruelly, as if their lives’ have no worth. On average, only 5% of children in the United States have intentionally hurt an animal, whereas in mental health clinics this number jumps to an astonishing 10-25%. This behavior likely stems from trouble in the home, as children who have been either physically abused, exposed to domestic violence, or both, are at a significantly higher risk. Research found that amongst abused children aged 6 to 12, 60% of them had abused animals. These statistics are incredibly worrying, and must be remedied to the best of our abilities in the future.
Fortunately, as a result of these studies linking animal abuse to serial killers, change is happening. This has primarily taken the form of cross reporting between child protective services and animal welfare groups. These organizations are training with one another, teaching employees how to recognize and properly report any incidents of human and animal cruelty. Further, individuals convicted of animal abuse are being mandated to receive counseling by many states. Hopefully, these preventative measures will serve to dramatically reduce the number of serial killers in our society.