Mass killers often have mental health issues -- but this is not the only factor

This New Year's Eve, a 50-year old German man diagnosed with schizophrenia drove a car into several groups of people in Bottrop and Essen, injuring 8.

Daria Sukharchuk
Daria Sukharchuk NewsMavens, Central & Eastern Europe
Mass killers often have mental health issues -- but this is not the only factor - NewsMavens
German Police, YouTube

Why this story matters:

The man, as it was soon confirmed, wanted to "kill foreigners". He also had a mental health diagnosis.

As Britta Banneberg, a criminologist, explains in the article recommended below, attackers like this one act under their own delusions -- but these delusions are fed by the hateful prejudices existing within our society. This means that while many such people are still responsible for their acts (as is the man from Bottrop, who is now facing trial), our society's responsibility doesn't end with punishing them.

It is important to understand that widespread hate speech in our societies does have real, and sometimes, deadly consequences.

As does the coverage of terrorist attacks, which sometimes, inadvertently, gives the attackers a certain dark glamour that can work as a trigger for those prone to violence.

It also means that the more vulnerable groups of society- such as people of colour, or women, are more likely to be targeted by such spree killers. In fact, women often are their first targets -- spree killers are often prone to domestic violence. And sometimes the women are the target of their mass killings- as it was in Toronto last year, when a self-proclaimed "Incel" drove a van into the crowd, killing 10 people.

Details from the story:

  • On New Year's Eve, a 50-year old German man deliberately drove his car into several groups of people in the town of Essen and Bottrop (North Rhein-Westfalia). He injured 8 people.
  • He deliberately attacked people of colour whom he deemed "foreign". 
  • After he was arrested, it was discovered that he was a diagnosed schizophrenic, who believed that Germany was suffering from "too many foreigners", and he wanted to rectify that.
  • About a third of spree killers over 25 have a psychiatric diagnosis, and 90% of all spree killers are men.
  • It is more likely that a man like this will turn against one of the more vulnerable groups (women, people of colour, Muslims)
  • It is possible to predict if a man is prone to violence by closely observing his behaviour in public and on social media, as they are prone to hate speech.
  • Another fact not listed in this article: American criminologists confirmed that mass shooters are very likely to commit domestic violence.

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at