Was Munich Gunman Inspired by U.S. School Shootings?

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A candle with the words 'Why?' written upon it is placed next to flowers near the Olympia shopping mall, where Friday's shooting rampage started, in Munich, Germany. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

The 18-year-old German-Iranian gunman who killed nine people and himself near a Munich shopping mall on Friday owned a book on American school shooters, according to German authorities. The connection stokes fears about how killers sometimes find inspiration in such material, even scholarly works.

The book, Why Kids Kill—Inside the Minds of School Shooters, by psychologist Peter Langman, was published in 2009. On his website, Langman says the book "goes beyond derogatory labels and simplistic explanations, providing a comprehensive psychological analysis of school shooters." The 10 shooters he analyzed include those behind the Columbine High School and Virginia Tech massacres.

Speaking with Newsweek, Langman says he learned on Saturday that authorities said they found his book in the room of the Munich gunman. "It's very disturbing. I write the research I do to gain insight into perpetrators so we can better prevent such attacks, get people the help they need, understand what puts them on the path to violence," he says. "I don't know if he was reading the book to find a role model to follow or if he was looking for some understanding of his own personality."

The book is available in several languages and foreign countries, including Germany, where its title translates to Amok in the Head.

The Munich gunman, could be the latest killer to find inspiration in earlier shootings. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter possessed materials related to the 1999 Columbine massacre, according to investigators from that incident, and the man who killed two Virginia journalists in 2015 had written a manifesto about the Charleston church shooting earlier that year. Later in 2015, the Umpqua Community College shooter reportedly posted online about the Virginia gunman: "Seems the more people you kill, the more you're in the limelight."

Caren and Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting, run a campaign called No Notoriety that urges the media not to name mass shooters so that they don't inspire copycat killers. The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University, which conducts active shooter training for first responders, has a similar campaign, called Don't Name Them.

"This is just a theme that continues on and on and on and on and on," says Tom Teves. "If the media hadn't promoted from Columbine forward constantly these people, he would never have thought to go get the book."

Teves says the fact that a German teen would have a book on American school shooters shows the media's reach: "He's studying these murderers because we've made them into antiheroes."

Researchers at Arizona State University have found that 30 percent of mass killings they studied had been inspired by previous mass killings, and 22 percent of school shootings had been inspired by previous school shootings.

Besides the 2010 book, Langman wrote another book on the subject, School Shooters: Understanding High School, College and Adult Perpetrators, and also maintains a website SchoolShooters.info that has a database on 133 perpetrators and 57,000 pages of documents.

Langman defends naming and analyzing the shooters, as long as it is in an appropriate way. "As a researcher, I want to know who it is so I can dig into the case and use it as a way to gain insight," he says. "When we designed the site, we specifically avoided making it sensationalistic…. It's a scholarly site, it's low-key."

The website also has mental health and prevention materials, including those on how to spot warning signs. "Any information can be used by anyone for whatever purpose," he says, "but it's really there for people working to prevent such attacks."