In Cold Blood

Three psychologists ponder the mental state of the DC sniper.

By Colin Allen, published on October 1, 2002 - last reviewed on January 23, 2015

As the sniper remains on the loose in the greater Washington, D.C.,
metropolitan area, the question many are asking is simple: Why would
anyone shoot ten innocent and seemingly unrelated people? As experts
continue to theorize about the mindset of a person capable of such acts,
their hypotheses vary slightly but remain astonishingly similar: The
killer is not psychotic, but rather rational in his thinking. Here, three
mental health experts weigh in.

• "He is not someone who is psychotic," says Mark Levy, M.D.,
FAPA, a forensic psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor of
psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco. Instead,
Levy believes that it would be more accurate to classify the shooter as
someone suffering from "severe depression with psychotic features, such
as delusional preoccupations and obsessions."

• "The shooter is sane and he is smart," Tony Farrenkopf,
Ph.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist in Portland, Oregon.
Farrenkopf doesn't agree that the killer is depressed, but instead views
him as antisocial and possibly paranoid. He may have a warrior fantasy,
Farrenkopf surmises, or feel as if he is on a military mission, so he
would be classified as a "cold-blooded, calculating person."

• "I don't think that it's psychotic behavior, nor is he
depressed," says Lucy Papillion, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist based in
Beverly Hills, California. "I think that he is just angry at the entire
human race." Papillion believes that the sniper is attempting to find
retribution for negative events in his own life. "He thinks that he can
get rid of [his anger] through the gun," she says. "Of course, that won't