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Virginia Tech Gunman May Be Classic "Spree Killer"

There isn’t much known about the man who perpetrated the worst mass school shooting in North American history. But if past tragic events are any indication, he may well fit the classic pattern of a ‘spree killer.” 

Unlike the more familiar, serial killer – who can strike repeatedly for months or years – spree murderers go out in a blaze of glory, taking as many people with them as possible before either being shot by authorities or killing themselves when they’re surrounded.

There is often a trigger for their behaviour, although it might not always be readily clear to those who know them.

Divorces, break-ups, troubles at work or school, arguments with a parent or spouse, concerns over money or illnesses are among the causes that turn up over and over.

And in every case, there’s a smouldering anger that grows like a pressure cooker, until it finally explodes.

The targets often include former co-workers or students.

But in some cases, like at Dawson College in Montreal last fall, the loners take their revenge on people they don’t even know.

In general, those who go ‘off the deep end’ are trying to get back at some perceived injustice in society, one that can only be corrected through a payment in blood.

U. of T. psychiatrist Dr. Mark Berber claims the kind of person who commits such terrible acts could suffer from a range of disorders.

“A person … may be coming from a very dysfunctional, abusive background. Number two, they may be just psychopaths with no social conscience. And number three they may be suffering from a serious mental illness.”

To those who know the killers, the final rampage often comes as a complete surprise, with no real warning.

Others may drop hints about their feelings towards society, although few believe them capable of violence until it’s too late.

Marc Lepine, the man who gunned down 14 women at Montreal’s L’Ecole Polytechnique in December 1989, hated feminists. He let all the men go before he started firing.

Most people don’t remember James Huberty’s name, but they’ll never forget what he did.

In 1984, he moved to San Diego but promptly lost his job as a security guard, a classic trigger.

He told his daughter that ‘society had its chance’ and when his wife asked him where he going one July morning, he replied, ‘hunting humans’.

She didn’t take it seriously until he turned up in a nearby McDonald’s restaurant and began firing randomly at the patrons inside.

The siege lasted 77 minutes, killed 21 people and left 19 wounded. He was finally shot and killed by a SWAT team marksman.

Seven years later across the country, it happened again.

A known woman-hater named George Hennard celebrated his 35th birthday on October 15, 1991. The next day he drove to a Luby’s Cafeteria restaurant in Killen, Texas and crashed his truck through the window.

He then emerged from the mangled wreck with a rifle and began shooting, shouting, “This is what Bell County, (Texas, his home), did to me.”

When police arrived and started firing at him, he ducked around a corner and turned the gun on himself. But he apparently completed what he’d set out to do. The final grim toll was 24 dead in a rampage that lasted all of ten minutes.

While spree killers are deadly because of their unpredictability, they can also be carriers of their frightening philosophy.

In many cases, one incident seems to inspire another, sometimes hundreds of miles away, a real fear after the incident in Virginia.

The most famous instance came in 1999 in Littleton, Colorado, when Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 14 students and a teacher and left 23 others wounded at Columbine High School.

They’d been planning even more carnage including bombing the school, where they’d been bullied and treated like outcasts. They rampaged for an hour, before killing themselves.

Exactly eight days later, the violence moved north, when a 14-year-old boy who said he’d been ‘inspired’ by Columbine, brought a rifle to school in Taber, Alberta. The youngster shot two students, killing one, before he was subdued.

Unlike most spree killers and perhaps because of his youth, he was captured and sentenced. He would eventually wind up in a Toronto-area halfway house, sparking protests amongst residents.

But it’s not just North America where the madness takes hold.

The worst such spree killing took place in 1982 in Korea. When police officer Woo Bum-Kom had a fight with his girlfriend, he got drunk, went to his headquarters, raided the armoury and began knocking at houses.

When those who answered saw a cop on their stoop, they opened the door. That was their final mistake.

The killer would shoot anyone he saw or detonate a grenade to take out an entire family. He’d then move on to the next house, working his way through five separate villages in an eight-hour spree.

He eventually grabbed three people and blew them and himself up, as the terrible siege finally ended.

In all, an incredible 57 people lost their lives in the rampage, the worst spree killing in recorded history.