WASHINGTON (AP) — Many of the suspects in mass attacks in the U.S. last year had experienced stressful situations, like losing their job, or had struggled with substance abuse or mental health issues, according to a Secret Service report released Thursday.
The cases highlight the importance for law enforcement that people report suspicious or concerning behavior to head off potential attacks, officials said.
The report, compiled by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, examined 34 attacks that killed or injured three or more people in 2019. A total of 108 people were killed and 178 were hurt.
Investigators found that nearly half of the suspects who had used guns had possessed them illegally, and about two-thirds of the people accused of committing the mass attacks had exhibited behavior that was concerning to others.
About one-third of the attacks were motivated by some type of grievance, the agency said.
“In these cases, the attackers were retaliating for perceived wrongs related to personal issues, issues in their workplaces, or domestic situations,” said Steven Driscoll, one of the report’s authors. Those included feuds with neighbors, bullying, being in debt or not being able to find gainful employment.
Seven of the 37 suspects had been motivated by some kind of extremist views, and nine showed interest in past incidents of mass violence, the Secret Service said. Some of the attacks were carried out by multiple suspects.
Connor Betts, who killed nine people and injured about 20 others at a nightclub in Dayton, Ohio, before being fatally shot by police last August, had “a history of concerning communications,” which included harassing female students in middle school and high school and had made “a hit list and a rape list in high school,” the report said. The 24-year-old also told other people he had attempted suicide and showed his girlfriend videos of a mass shooting, officials said.
In another case, a 16-year-old student opened fire at his high school in Santa Clarita, California, on his birthday, killing two students and injuring three others before killing himself. Some classmates said that in the months leading up to the November attack, he had been acting strangely and appeared depressed; others told police they saw him cracking jokes and described him as acting normally.
And in October, an 80-year-old man opened fire in the lobby of the senior apartment complex in which he lived in Vancouver, Washington, killing a resident and injuring two others, including his former caretaker, the report said. Investigators believe the man, Robert Breck, had a feud with the resident he killed and had tried to persuade his former caretaker to “become his mistress” but had been turned down, according to the report. Breck was arrested and later died of an illness while in custody.
In 24 of the attacks that were examined in the report, the suspects used firearms and at least 10 of those attacks involved suspects armed with guns possessed illegally.
Associated Press writer Colleen Long contributed to this report.