Criminal Justice professor talks about preventing mass shooters

Dr. Jessica Craig was invited to attend the event presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

DENTON (UNT) – Dr. Jessica Craig, University of North Texas College of Health and Public Service assistant professor of Criminal Justice, took part in an event presented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Behavioral Analysis Unit regarding threat management issues pertaining to how they approach active shooter threats. Dr. Craig was invited to attend the event – called “Preventing Targeted Violence” – as a former FBI citizen’s academy participant.

 “The talk was presented by an FBI Special Agent who works in the Behavioral Analysis Unit and personally investigated the case of Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old male who committed mass homicide in 2014,” Dr. Craig said. “The SA had read all of Rodger’s journals, watched all videos that were posted online and interviewed family members and acquaintances to figure out the ‘why’ behind the crime.”

Craig says the SA provided examples of what’s known by the FBI as “leakage and legacy token” in relation to mass shootings.

“Leakage refers to an inadvertent sharing of feelings by a potential offender as their emotions have become too much—think of them posting a video where they rant about an alleged affront,” Craig said. “The legacy token is a work that the offender creates on their own so the world knows why they did it. While leakage is a warning sign, once a legacy token is posted, it is often too late to stop the individual from carrying out the act.”

 The second half of the FBI presentation focused on how individuals and communities can help prevent—not predict—targeted violence and highlighted two types of violence: affective and predatory.

“Affective is emotion-driven and often occurs behind closed doors—this is the hardest to prevent. Predatory, on the other hand, is violence that is planned and prepared for,” Dr. Craig said. “As the SA noted, ‘the good news is it may be observed by someone else.’”

While there is no set profile of a mass shooter and no single behavior predicts an incident, the SA said it is based upon a multitude of factors and conditions, as shown by a 2013 study published by the FBI. The study showed that approximately 85 percent of shooters did not have an adult criminal record prior to the attack and that only 25 percent had a known mental illness, namely depression.

“That is not to say the attackers were otherwise mentally well,” Dr. Craig said. “The SA made a distinction between mental illness and mental wellness.”

Dr. Craig says she spoke with the SA after the presentation to learn more about the educational background of agents so she could share the information with UNT students striving to join the FBI Behavior Analysis Unit.

“The SA said that it was less about having a specific background and more about dedication. Specifically, they had worked for the FBI as a SA in other capacities for several years,” Dr. Craig said. “They had worked in several different areas of the FBI, from crimes against children, to cybercrime, to counterterrorism, and worked with several homicide taskforces over the span of their career. They also worked long hours and volunteered in areas unrelated to their specific work responsibilities to show they were interested and dedicated to understanding these offenders.”

Dean Neale Chumbler says HPS is fortunate to have Dr. Craig on faculty.

“She is a talented scholar and great ambassador for HPS in that she conducts innovative research and is a committed instructor,” Dr. Chumbler said. “Her connection with the FBI is vitally important.”