Thursday, July 26

Copycat Criminal Action - "Think About It"

Copycat Criminal Action

By: Carl Chinn

On December 5th, 2007 – 19-year-old Robbie Hawkins killed 8 innocent shoppers then took his own life in the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska.

Two days later, a young man named Matthew Murray wrote in a public blog that, “it looks like one of the nobodies just became a somebody”. Two days after that and other references to Robbie Hawkins, Murray killed 2 at a Youth With a Mission facility, then traveled to our church where he killed two more before being stopped by security responses and killing himself in the hallway.

I will never forget something that happened at the end of a very long day at Focus on the Family in 1996. Four of us had been held hostage by an angry gunman from 1:30 PM until 3:00 PM that day. After the gunman surrendered late that night I accompanied the bomb squad to sweep the building looking for explosives. The last thing I was called upon for on that long day was to return to the crime scene with investigators to look over things near to where the gunman had positioned himself for 5 ½ hours.

Investigators were trying to sort out things that belonged in the area from things the gunman would have brought with him. “This yours?”, the investigator asked with a grin. He held up a Walkman and with his gloved hand popped it open to reveal a cassette soundtrack from “Natural Born Killers” -- a 1994 movie well known to have spawned many criminal acts.

When I encourage others to pay attention to copycat and media inspired crime, my fervor is encouraged by experience. Whether it is a significant anniversary or recent media frenzy, there are some on the bubble of emotional breakdown who will trigger over it.

The shooting at the Aurora movie theater affects us all.

Think About it:
  • After Marilyn Monroe’s leap to her own death on August 5th, 1962 there was a spike in national suicides. That August had 200 more suicides than average (a 12% increase). This is known as the Werther Effect based on the association of media and suicide seen first following the 1774 release of the book, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”. Since many spree killers also intend to die, this phenomena is one to be aware of after any significant attack.
  • “The Copycat Effect” is a book by Loren Coleman which addresses the association between media and criminal actions.
  • There will be follow up acts. Please be vigilant (but not over-the-top paranoid) at your organizations during this season.

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