A nightmare thought for any parent is the concern that their own son could turn out to be one of those young men who get hold of guns and become a mass murderer. Frightening also is the thought that the quiet kid down the block could end up on a killer path.

If such a thought has ever crossed your mind, here’s a checklist of signs that could indicate a possible at-risk young person.

If this profile fits your son, or someone you know, look into finding help.  Talk therapy can make a big difference. 

In addition, a therapy professional is trained to notice signs that one of their clients is decompensating, that is, taking a turn for the worse. In that case, psychiatric hospitalization or some other more intensive intervention can halt a downward mental spiral. The goal is to prevent young people from consolidating and implementing “an answer” to their personal problems that involves doing harm to others as a grand finale exit from life.

Here’s the list:

1. Isolation: no friends, no work or studying project.  The Virginia Tech killer, the Columbine killers, the Aurora cinema murderer all as kids had been “woodworkers,” that is, kids whom friends, neighbors and teachers described as blending into the woodwork, shy, causing no trouble, and having few friends.

2. Recent loss: A loss of a girlfriend, of a job, or of any steady element in his life can push a vulnerable young man over the edge.

3. Drawings of things blowing up, or of dismembered bodies, may signal a young man who harbors bottled up  anger that could eventually come out in an aggressive act.

4. Violent online interests: A boy or young man who spends time on websites about explosives, who plays hours of violent games, or who is drawn to violent movies merits attention. Interest in shooting actual guns can be a warning sign as well.

5. History of having been bullied: Even a single bullying incident can induce lifelong vulnerability to hurt, insults and loss.

6. Change in personality, especially toward more angry, withdrawn or odd: says odd things, seems more isolated than normal, talks about getting back at people, preoccupied with a project he won’t talk to you about, suddenly more energized after he has seemed depressed.

Please feel welcome to add your thoughts to the Comments kids who may need someone to talk with.  The Comments thus far have been terrific. I would like this article to become a cooperative venture.  The more sensitive we all become to the signs that signify a kid who may be at risk for heading down a mass murderer pathway, the more safe all of us become.  Prevention surely is preferable to trauma and tragedy.


Susan Heitler, Ph.D. is a Denver clinical psychologist and author of multiple books including The Power of Two and the interactive website based on that book, PowerOfTwoMarriage.  The book and the website teach how to communicate in a relationship for couple success.

You are reading

Resolution, Not Conflict

Can People With Borderline Personalities Succeed In Life?

A letter from a medical professional with BPD who has seen both sides.

Home Is Where You Feel Safe. How Emotionally Safe Is Yours?

What makes a home feel like a safe harbor? What dangers can lurk?

Want to Feel More Upbeat? Here Are 8 Natural Antidepressants

Try this formula to ease mild to moderate depressed moods.