"The shooting becomes a statement of whom they want to be," Welner adds. "These are crimes in which the perpetrators aim for immortality and spectacle and see the shooting as their crowning achievement. After that, nothing else matters, including living."Problematic profiling
Experts profile the typical mass murderer, serial killer or spree murderer as a white male. Occasionally, a gunman who doesn't fit the stereotypical or statistical profile will emerge, which attributes to the difficulty of profiling a suspect, according to Thornsley.
Sociologist Joseph Gasper with Johns Hopkins University agrees. "Even though individuals exhibit certain behaviors prior to a shooting, attempting to profile a shooter can be problematic," he says.
It is difficult to profile young people in particular, Gasper adds, because they are still developing emotionally and psychologically. In the case of the Virginia Tech massacre, profiling could be misleading because of many similarities among college students.
"If you look at some of the profiles, you'll find the characteristics included in the profile are really the characteristics of a very large number of students," he says.
Issues surrounding challenged masculinity are also connected to how lethal violence is viewed in America, according to Gasper. "Images in the media show men being portrayed as extremely masculine and glorified for committing random violence," he says. When videotapes are reviewed after shootings, Gasper adds, it seems as if the suspect is acting out something they saw in a movie.
"For the vulnerable, I think those kinds of images in culture and the media provide the template for carrying this out," he says.
Welner believes masculinity is all too frequently culturally defined in the United States by the capacity to destroy, and this occurs in various parts of the world as well. "There are other countries also in which masculine identity and success are tied in to the notion of a warrior icon," says Welner.
He explains the difference between the suspects whose goal is to kill from suspects who just have an affinity for guns. For example, Welner says in a very security-conscious country such as Israel, where heavy arms proliferate, mass shootings of this kind do not happen. Welner attributes this to the differences in a person's sense of identity, accomplishment and masculinity, one that does not derive from the capacity to destroy others for the sake of destroying.The socially inept shooter
Relationship problems and a history of rejection are also contributing factors to the shooter's motives, according to Gasper. Many school shooters feel they are disconnected from society. But no matter how these problems have affected the shooter, it has an impact on them from a social standpoint.
"They have no social outlets, and bullying certainly contributes to that," Gasper says.
Being viewed as a "real man" is important to adolescent boys and young men, according to Gasper.
"Young men who are less gender-conforming are often the target of repeated bullying and harassment, the content of which is often homophobic," he says.
When a suspect's manhood is in question, Gasper explains, the effects could be devastating. The shooter will often seek ways to recapture his manhood by joining outcast groups or joking around in class; other times, behavior escalates to lethal violence.
Gasper relates this to the Virginia Tech massacre. "Cho's stalking behavior may have been a link connecting his masculinity issues to his murderous rampage," he says. "His classmates reported that he was bullied and made fun of him for his shyness and how he walked. Neither of these characteristics conforms to society's stereotypes of masculinity," Gasper says.
"I believe the stalking incidents may have been seen in his mind as a way of making sure that no one got the wrong idea about his manhood," says Gasper. "When stalking failed to recapture his manhood, his problems likely escalated because he felt more desperate and turned to mass murder and suicide as a final solution."