Get­ting in­side the mind of Las Ve­gas killer

We need to delve deep into the psy­che of Pad­dock to un­der­stand why he com­mit­ted such an act, says Ian Gar­gan

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Worldwide - MYS­TI­FIED GRIEF: A woman mourns at a makeshift memo­rial in Las Ve­gas

OVER the past week we have looked on with dis­be­liev­ing eyes and seen the true de­struc­tive power one per­son can wield against fel­low hu­man be­ings.

The man from Las Ve­gas, known by fam­ily and friends to be kind and friendly, used an arse­nal of au­to­matic weapons to gun down in­no­cent con­cert­go­ers.

Stephen Pad­dock’s brother de­scribed the killer as a ‘kind, bur­rito-eat­ing, ev­ery­day kind of guy’.

Pad­dock was a wealthy ac­coun­tant who lived in suburbia, had a re­la­tion­ship with a fe­male part­ner and went about his busi­ness with­out much at­ten­tion. He had no his­tory of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and wasn’t on po­lice radar in any way. He bought the weapons legally and no­body sus­pected his cat­a­strophic in­ten­tions.

When dis­cern­ing what might drive crim­i­nal be­hav­iour, a risk pro­file is cre­ated with in­for­ma­tion about crim­i­nal his­tory or ex­treme be­hav­iours rel­a­tive to the in­di­vid­ual’s ‘nor­mal’ rou­tine. Though Pad­dock had no crim- inal his­tory, his fa­ther was an adept bank rob­ber who fea­tured on the FBI’s most wanted list. The fam­ily his­tory could be a risk fac­tor: there are also the­o­ries sug­gest­ing crim­i­nal be­hav­iour is ge­netic.

Pad­dock was also risk prone — he loved to gam­ble. Tak­ing risks made him feel ex­cited, aroused emo­tion­ally and con­tent. This be­hav­iour would also have con­trib­uted to his suc­cess as an en­tre­pre­neur. These as­pects of his per­son­al­ity would not have sounded alarm bells for the au­thor­i­ties, but look­ing back would sug­gest Pad­dock could have had psy­cho­pathic or so­cio­pathic traits.

Pad­dock dis­played pre­med­i­ta­tion in his prepa­ra­tion. He didn’t pur­chase the weapons all at once. A ho­tel room was booked that gave him a clear view of the out­door con­cert pop­u­la­tion. He fixed cam­eras near the ho­tel room so he could mon­i­tor any in­tru­sion on his ac­tiv­ity.

A mo­tive eludes us. The in­dis­crim­i­nate at­tack on peo­ple he didn’t know ap­pears to have had no rhyme or rea­son.

I have pon­dered over the week about the ‘why’. A num­ber of rea­sons may have been present, in­clud­ing dys­func­tional men­tal pro­cess­ing, anger, dis­il­lu­sion­ment with his life, a his­tory of abuse (in which his own sense of iden­tity had been com­pro­mised dur­ing early de­vel­op­men­tal years) or just ir­ra­tional be­hav­iour, rooted in some­thing so trite as a dis­like for peo­ple or coun­try mu­sic.

Every as­pect of his per­son­al­ity must be ex­am­ined with an open mind about what drove such be­hav­iour.

Men­tal health chal­lenges are not syn­ony­mous with nega­tive be­hav­iour. Pa­tients who are de­pressed or anx­ious are of­ten vul­ner­a­ble, cop­ing to over­come their emo­tional chal­lenges to func­tion — of­ten very highly — dur­ing ev­ery­day life. They are not more likely to cause de­struc­tion to oth­ers — quite the op­po­site, re­mov­ing them­selves from the com­mu­nity at large and some­times only hurt­ing them­selves in some way, to cope with dif­fi­cul­ties un­der­stand­ing their own mind’s machi­na­tions.

But psy­chosis, usu­ally an acute episode in­volv­ing a per­cep­tion of im­paired re­al­ity, can con­trib­ute to be­hav­iour that is not con­sis­tent with nor­mal daily liv­ing. So, if psy­chotic, the in­di­vid­ual can abruptly per­ceive oth­ers as a threat, or see dan­ger where there is none, or be­come very an­gry where usu­ally they would be calm. These episodes are of­ten fleet­ing. Pad­dock’s metic­u­lous plan­ning for this at­tack was not acute or fleet­ing.

A for­mer FBI of­fi­cial told NBC News Pad­dock might have been in “phys­i­cal or men­tal an­guish,”

An­other said the shooter dis­played “men­tal health symp­toms”.

“[His girl­friend] said he would lie in bed, just moan­ing and scream­ing, ‘Oh, my God,’” one of the of­fi­cials re­called.

Pad­dock was pre­scribed an anti-anx­i­ety drug in June, and em­ploy­ees at a Star­bucks near his Reno home re­call him be­rat­ing his girl­friend in public.

These traits may have caused sig­nif­i­cant in­ner tur­moil for Pad­dock over many years, caus­ing him to bury in­cli­na­tions to en­gage in so­cial be­hav­iour.

Sto­ries about scream­ing in his sleep and public dis­plays of frus­tra­tion with his part­ner may have been fea­tures of se­vere in­ner con­flict.

While he wanted to be­have in a way that sup­ported his suc­cess­ful public life, an in­ner covert de­struc­tive en­ergy was clearly brood­ing.

Anger at the world, re­lat­ing to a dif­fi­cult and abu­sive de­vel­op­ment by a pri­mary carer or role model, may have fos­tered se­cre­tive be­hav­iour that was aso­cial.

This may be true of Pad­dock, but his near­est and dear­est never seem to have re­alised this about him.

A psy­chopath can hide anger and ma­nip­u­late the world so oth­ers see them in a par­tic­u­lar way. On the out­side the per­son seems charm­ing, in­tel­li­gent and suc­cess­ful but on the in­side there is loathing and a steely de­ter­mi­na­tion to reek havoc through the de­struc­tion and demise of oth­ers. This may have been true of Pad­dock.

But it has also crossed my mind that this could be an ir­ra­tional at­tack with no mo­ti­va­tion, from a man who per­ceived him­self to have made no dis­cernible im­pact on the world around him, never gain­ing at­ten­tion of oth­ers and be­liev­ing that his life had been mean­ing­less.

An ir­ra­tional act of mur­der would pro­vide a def­i­ni­tion of his life, a way to un­der­score his ex­is­tence.

Be­ing vul­ner­a­ble to an ir­ra­tional at­tack makes us feel fright­ened. What scares us even more is the re­al­i­sa­tion that some­one may have no rea­son to want to hurt us, may not even have a rea­son to jus­tify their own be­hav­iour — they just want to do some­thing that makes them feel life has mean­ing — even if that is when they de­cide end­ing an­other per­son’s future could do that.

The psy­chol­ogy be­hind Pad­dock’s be­hav­iour may never be un­der­stood. But it could also be new, open­ing up more of the mind to study and un­der­stand so that we can have an­other as­pect of hu­man per­son­al­ity to fear and guard our­selves against. Ian Gar­gan is a foren­sic psy­chol­o­gist and med­i­cal doc­tor. His book ‘The Line: What Would it Take to Make You Cross It? is pub­lished by Gill

GUN­MAN: Stephen Pad­dock

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