The Coroner who examined the body of Connor Betts, the 24-year-old man who shot and killed his sister, her boyfriend and seven others, before he himself was shot and killed by police in downtown Dayton earlier this month, was found to have cocaine, Xanax, alcohol and anti-depressants in his system, raising more questions about the role that mental health – and specifically, substance abuse – played in one of the latest high-profile mass shootings, according to the Washington Post.
He was also in possession of a bag of cocaine at the time of his death, per NBC News.
Mixing Xanax, a popular prescription benzodiazepine, with alcohol is known to cause blackouts in recreational drug users, which can sometimes lead to seriously negative consequences.
The release comes less than a week after the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office released the preliminary cause of death report for the victims,
- Megan K. Betts, 22, gunshot wounds to right forearm and chest.
- Monica E. Brickhouse, 39, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
- Nicholas P. Cumer, 25, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
- Derrick R. Fudge, 57, was killed by gunshot wounds of the torso.
- Thomas J. McNichols Sr., 25, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
- Lois L. Oglesby, 27, was killed by gunshot wound of the head.
- Saeed S. Edris, 38, was killed by gunshot wounds of the torso.
- Logan M. Turner, 30, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
- Beatrice N. Warren-Curtis, 36, was killed by gunshot wounds of the torso and right arm.
- Connor S. Betts, 24, was killed by multiple gunshot wounds.
As two researchers who published their findings in the LA Times earlier this month pointed out, after studying the lives of mass shooters over the past few decades, they distilled a few characteristics that many mass shooters shared. Remember, drug abuse is an indicator of trauma and the possibility that one might be in crisis.
First, the vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying. The trauma was often a precursor to mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety, thought disorders or suicidality.
Second, practically every mass shooter we studied had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting. They often had become angry and despondent because of a specific grievance. For workplace shooters, a change in job status was frequently the trigger. For shooters in other contexts, relationship rejection or loss often played a role. Such crises were, in many cases, communicated to others through a marked change in behavior, an expression of suicidal thoughts or plans, or specific threats of violence.
Third, most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their motives. People in crisis have always existed. But in the age of 24-hour rolling news and social media, there are scripts to follow that promise notoriety in death. Societal fear and fascination with mass shootings partly drives the motivation to commit them. Hence, as we have seen in the last week, mass shootings tend to come in clusters. They are socially contagious. Perpetrators study other perpetrators and model their acts after previous shootings. Many are radicalized online in their search for validation from others that their will to murder is justified.
Fourth, the shooters all had the means to carry out their plans. Once someone decides life is no longer worth living and that murdering others would be a proper revenge, only means and opportunity stand in the way of another mass shooting. Is an appropriate shooting site accessible? Can the would-be shooter obtain firearms? In 80% of school shootings, perpetrators got their weapons from family members, according to our data. Workplace shooters tended to use handguns they legally owned. Other public shooters were more likely to acquire them illegally.
And much research has been done on the corresponding rise of antidepressants and mass shootings. Many mass shooters, as it turns out, have taken SSRIs at the behest of their doctors.
- 1989: Joseph T. Wesbecker walked into his former employer Standard Gravure Corp and shot 20 workers, killing nine. He had been taking Prozac for a month. This shooting led to a landmark case, where the survivors sued the makers of Prozac, Eli Lilly. Wesbecker used a semiautomatic Chinese AK-47-style firearm, a 9mm pistol, and a .38 Special snubnose revolver – all of which he purchased legally, passing his background check.
- 1995: Jarred Viktor was 15 when he was prescribed Paxil. Ten days after starting it, Viktor stabbed his grandmother 61 times.
- 1996: At 18, Kurt Danysh murdered his father just 17 days after being prescribed Prozac by his family doctor, who failed to do even one psychological test. During his police confession, Danysh told police the medication made him feel odd, “I just act differently. I don’t have the energy or personality I used to. I spend half the time in a trance.”
- 1997: Luke Woodham stabbed his mother, then traveled to Pearl High School, where he was enrolled, using a .30-30 to shoot two students and wound six others; he was stopped by his assistant principal (aka a good guy with a gun) who used his own .45 ACP handgun to force Woodham’s surrender.
- 1998: 15-year-old Kip Kinkel shot both of his parents, then carried a 9mm handgun, .22 rifle, and a .22 pistol to his Thurston High School, where he murdered two classmates and injured 22 more, all while taking Prozac.
- 1999: Eric Harris, 17, with Dylan Klebold, killed 12 students, one teacher, himself, and wounded 23 others during the Columbine school shooting; he had been prescribed Zoloft and then Luvox before he used a 12 gauge shotgun received through a straw purchaser and a 9mm TEC-DC9.
- 2001: Christopher Pittman, a 12-year-old, was prescribed Zoloft, which caused him to become agitated, jittery, and experience tactile hallucinations; Pittman told psychiatrist Dr. Lanette Atkins that he heard voices telling him, “Kill, kill, do it, do it.” He took a .410 shotgun and shot his grandparents, then burned their house down.
- 2001: Andrea Yates drowned all five of her children. She was taking Effexor and was suffering from delusions about satanic possession. The murder of her children led Effexor to list homicidal thoughts in the medication’s side effects. Although it’s a rare side effect, manifesting in one in 1,000 patients, over 19 million prescriptions were written and filled in 2005. That’s an estimated 19,000 people suffering from homicidal thoughts because of the medication.
- 2005: 16-year-old Jeff Weise was taking 60 mg/day of Prozac, the highest dosage for adults, when he shot his grandfather, his grandfather’s girlfriend, murdered 10 students at Red Lake, Minnesota, and wounded 12 more, before shooting himself. He was armed with a .40 caliberpistol, .22 pistol, and a 12 gauge shotgun.
- 2008: Steven Kazmierczak was prescribed Prozac, Xanax, and Ambien, a sleeping medication, three weeks before walking into Northern Illinois University, killing six people and wounding 21, with three pistols (one chambered in 9mm and two in .380 ACP) and a shotgun. Kazmierczak had stopped taking the antidepressant “because it made him feel like a zombie.”
- 2009: Two weeks after starting Lexapro, Robert Stewart walked into his estranged wife’s work at Pinelake Health and Rehab, and opened fire. He killed eight elderly patients and wounded three others. He doesn’t remember the incident.
- 2012: James Holmes, also known as the Batman Movie killer, was taking sertraline when he walked into the showing of The Dark Knight with two .40 caliber pistols, an AR-style .223 rifle, and a 12 gauge shotgun, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others. In his personal notebook, which he sent to his psychiatrist the same day as the shooting, shows that as the medication decreased his anxiety, he lost his fear of consequences. As the dosage became higher, his thoughts became more obsessive and psychotic.
- 2013: At the time of the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Aaron Alexis was a civilian contractor working at the yard and was prescribed trazodone, a serotonin antagonist and reuptake inhibitor (SARI) that works much like an SSRI to increase serotonin levels in the brain. He killed 12 people and injured eight others.
- 2014: Ivan Lopez was a 34-year-old U.S. soldier who shot 15 of his comrades, killing three of them, at his base in Fort Hood, Texas. He was undergoing mental health treatment through the Veterans’ Administration, which is known for over-prescribing medication. The VA confirmed that Lopez was taking antidepressants (the VA only uses SSRI antidepressants) during the time of the shooting and his subsequent suicide.
- 2015: From the moment it occurred, the Charleston Church shooting has been deemed an act of white supremacy, a race crime against blacks. But two years after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people and injured another, the court released documents that show it was more mental health than hatred that led to the murders. The documents confirmed he was taking antidepressants.
- 2016: Arcan Cetin, who was just 20 years old, walked into the Cascade Mall where he shot and killed four women, one just a teen, and shot one man, who later died at the hospital. Records show that Cetin was under the care of a psychiatrist and taking medication for depression and ADHD, including Prozac.
And the list goes on.
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