Suburban Terror

Inside the mind of the sniper from the burbs of Washington D.C.

By Colin Allen, published on October 1, 2002 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

After being dropped off for school by his aunt, a 13-year-old boy
was shot in the abdomen by an unseen gunman on Monday, October 7, in
Bowie, Marlyland. Many fear the shooting is connected with seven others
that occurred last week in neighboring towns in the area north of
Washington, D.C. In their search for the sniper, police are relying on
psychological profiling to better understand and predict what's going
through the sniper's mind.

"He feels an enormous rush of power as he picks off these people
anonymously," suggests Mark Levy, M.D., FAPA, a forensic psychiatrist and
assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of
California at San Francisco. "It compensates for an inherent sense of
weakness and helplessness." Based on the current belief that there is no
connection between the victims, it seems the sniper is trying to make
others feel as he does: Impotent.

Criminal composites suggest the shooter is male, white and in his
mid-twenties to forties. Snipers generally have poor interpersonal
relations but do not stand out in the crowd. On the surface, they seem
psychologically stable. "This is a guy who blends easily," Levy says. "He
is probably quite innocuous. He's in a fairly paranoid state of mind, but
he's not necessarily psychotic." A shooter such as this one has generally
experienced a series of losses, personal rejections and financial
setbacks that bring on isolation. And while he appears very rational in
accomplishing his shots, "his thinking about what he is accomplishing is
most likely delusional," Levy continues.

This type of mindset makes Levy worry that when captured, the
shooter will very likely commit suicide. His apprehension at being caught
would collapse the power gained through the random murders. "These people
are usually quite depressed," says Levy.

For more information on Mark Levy, click on his Web site at