Posts Tagged ‘school shooting’

He’s ranked as a Major, and serves as Deputy Chief of Police and Director of Threat Management Services at Virginia Tech University. He was hired after the awful situation when a shooter took the lives of 32 people, mostly students, before taking his own life. This is truly the dark side of what we deal with in our professions, but Virginia Tech made a bold move and hired one of the best persons in the world to make sure they avoid anything similar in the future — Gene Deisinger.

Gary: Gene, this was a Sigma -- Deisingerbig move to Virginia from the Midwest. Where were you before?

Gene: I was the Deputy Chief of Police and managed threat management services at Iowa State University when Virginia Tech first contacted me for assistance. I had been teaching threat assessment for the past 15 years, in fact I go to teach in Australia later this summer. When Virginia Tech contacted me, I was flattered to be asked to join their team and we quickly came to an agreement.

Gary: Talk about sending a message. Hiring you was a real message to the public that they weren’t messing around. What do you think is the minimum level of training to do what you do?

Gene: I would say a decade of training and experience in threat assessment.

Gary: So what is your process in threat assessment?

Gene: We do a full contextual analysis which includes analyzing the subject of concern (personality, background, behavior, etc.), vulnerability of the target, environmental conditions, and precipitating events that can trigger an escalation of violence. We gather relevant information from a variety of sources (e.g., interviewing the subject of concern, as well as other employees or students, and review public records including the internet, etc.). We then implement a plan to mitigate risks in each of the domains of analysis, and then do ongoing monitoring and re-evaluation, and go back and start it over. It is actually a complex process with a lot of moving parts.

Gary: Whoa, I always thought of threat assessment as looking at the Menninger Triad, state of mind and…?

Gene: I think that is the mistake most people make. They consider threat assessment to be the same as forensic work of assessing individuals and dangerousness, and that is part of it, but the more important work is designing a full system and feedback loops for on-going threat assessment and management. Sometimes you do not even see the individual to assess them for the situation.

Gary: You mean indirect assessment?

Gene: If you are talking a dangerous assessment where you are looking at the current state of mental health and so forth, you may want to see the individual, but an overall threat assessment would involve assessing is this person going to react to the situation, environment and, cues from others and a whole bunch of dimensions that you don’t actually need to see the individual to assess. You may find it more useful to talk to key people in the person’s life, look at previous mental health concerns, level of education, colleagues, most recent action, any plans or fantasies of plans.

Gary: So what you are saying is that most of us see threat assessment as looking at the individual who might take an action, and you see it as much more global and contextual.

Gene: Absolutely. In addition to the characteristics of an individual that contribute to the risk, it may also come down to policies or poor management causing anger, or a political decision that angers radical groups in a country, or even a controversial medical treatment being performed and the environment being right for an action by an actor unknown at the time, such as in abortion clinics in the 70’s and 80’s. Threat assessment is much larger than just assessing an individual’s dangerousness.

Gary: Okay, where do you get the training for this?

Gene: Marisa Reddy Randazzo and I have a group called SIGMA Threat Management Associates <>). We do training and consultation for educational institution, private corporations, governmental entities, mental health professionals and individuals. But there are many other excellent practitioners such as Reid Meloy and Kris Mohandie who have conducted research and published broadly. Start with primers from the Secret Service like the Exceptional Cases Study or Safe Schools projects. Turner and Gellis’ book is a great reference. Cawood and Corcoran have a great book that covers the process nicely. All these are references to know where you are going with this topic and begin to really understand threat assessments. We have many good resources listed on our website.

Gary: Many people don’t think of the Secret Service as doing much more than protecting the president.

Gene: They are a leader in the threat assessment field because they are analyzing and managing threats all the time. They protect persons who are high profile targets, and guns and binoculars are not enough to protect someone people want to kill. Threat assessment grew out of our desire to keep people safe and make ways to see things we were blind to with just binoculars. It’s a relatively newer part of our science and it is growing exponentially each year.

If you enjoyed this interview, sign up to receive updates for more posts on the latest in police psychology and stress management.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D. ABPP

For books by Dr. Gary S. Aumiller got to or

Join me on Facebook or Linkedin (see sidebar)

Share this Article:
Hunting the American Terrorist

Hunting the American Terrorist

I was particularly interested in the lone terrorist because I was in Phoenix this January visiting friends when Jared Loughner shot and killed six people, injuring 19, in nearby Tucson.  There has to be a way for mental health professionals to see this coming.   I wanted to look into the phenomenon of the lone terrorist for this blog and decided to start with a person who is part of The Society and has defined the lone terrorist, Dr. Kathleen Puckett. Here are some interview questions I asked.

Gary:  How did you get into this study of the lone terrorist?

Kathleen:  I was working for the FBI and they had hit a dead end with trying to locate the Unabomber so they decided to give up on the profilers and called my partner and I in to start a new task force and take a fresh look at the situation.  The Unabomber went underground for almost six years and didn’t kill anyone so he was not fitting the patterns of a serial killer.  The people working on the case said he was either in prison or dead, but then he showed up again.

Gary:  That sounds like a pretty daunting task.  How did you approach the project at that point?

Kathleen:  We figured that everything they were doing up to that point was leading them no place so we had to go in and do things differently.  We got carte blanche from the Director of the FBI, and we went back and looked at all the scenes, all the victims and everyone involved.  What we realized were the victims were totally unrelated and symbolic of something or some institution.

Gary:     The Unabomber was given up by his brother, was your investigation successful?

Kathleen:  We had thousands of leads that we were looking into and Kaczynski was on the list.  We would have gotten to him, it just steered us there quicker when we got the leads from his relative.  As soon as we saw the writings, it just popped in us.

Gary:  What else did you do to study the lone terrorist?  I saw you on a TV show for McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing?   Did you study others?

Kathleen:  I took to studying the ten biggest lone terrorists in the past years.  Kaczynski, McVeigh and Nichols, Eric Robert Rudolph…

Gary:  The Olympic Bomber?

Kathleen:  Yes.  And a number of other facilities for abortions in the south.  I studied the lone terrorists and found some very common attributes.  First, all had desired to leave a mark on the earth.  They wanted to make an impact.  Their victims were symbolic, not individuals to them. None really resisted arrest, yet they did work for escape.

Gary:  McVeigh was driving away in a car without a license plate?

Kathleen:  But he was driving away.  He would have escaped and probably killed again if the cop didn’t see he lacked a license plate.  He wanted the death penalty.   He didn’t care what the victims thought about the bombing, in fact told them to “get over it” instead of showing empathy.

Gary:  Real psychopathic response.

Kathleen:  More than psychopathic.  The lone terrorist has no social connections.  Not like Bin Laden who is the most well known terrorist with a purpose, these people have no social connections.  In fact, many of them were turned down by radical right wing groups because the groups felt they were crazy.  I remember McVeigh was look for friends and tried to join with the Michigan Militia and they thought he was too nuts and didn’t want to have anything to do with him.

Gary:  Interesting.  So these people are really disconnected?  What about the Arizona killer, Loughner?  He was disconnected from everyone.

Kathleen:  But he had a definite target person and he believed the government was controlling the world through the use of grammar.  Notice he was found incompetent to stand trial.  The lone terrorists tend to be able to help in their defense.  They may be crazy, but they are competent and there is sort of a logic to their thinking.  It is a small distinction, but one that need to be made.  Loughner actually knew who his target was in advance.  The lone terrorist doesn’t care who his target is as long as they are symbolic.

Gary:  And what about school shooters.  Can they be seen as lone terrorists?

Kathleen:  Most school shooters identify their targets and even know some of them, so they really don’t fit this pattern.

Gary:  Wow.  It is a whole new way of thinking about terrorism.  I understand you went to an auction of the Unabomber stuff?

Kathleen:  Yea.  He was ordered to give restitution to his victims so they auction off his stuff online.  Do you realize the hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses are now at $20,000 and the auction isn’t over yet?  I guess people collect all kinds of things.

Gary:  Could be a museum of the macabre, also.  Kathleen, where can people get more information on this fascinating distinction?  You have a book somewhere, right?

Kathleen:  Yes.  It’s called Hunting the American Terrorist: The FBI’s War on Homegrown Terror.   I wrote it with Terry Turchie  in 2007.  It is published by History Publishing Company and it is in digital format also.

Gary:  Thank you very much Kathleen.”

If you enjoyed this interview, sign up to receive updates for more posts on the latest in police psychology and stress management.

Gary S. Aumiller, Ph.D.  ABPP

For books by Dr. Gary Aumiller go to or


Share this Article: