Homegrown Terrorists Are Active In America

But it's about payback, not politics.

Posted Nov 19, 2015

As France mourns (and avenges) the recent assault on civilized society, the death toll continues to rise from an ongoing terror epidemic here in America.  This week in Florida, a woman, her five-month-old twin babies, and her father were systematically slaughtered by her boyfriend.  The mother was forced to hold her babies while the assassin shot them.  Then she watched as her father was killed.  She was shot last, but survived.  As with many acts of terrorism, the attacker also died during the attack. 

We call this domestic violence, but it was in fact a form of domestic terrorism.  The murderer, Gawain Wilson, terrorized and tortured his girlfriend psychologically before shooting her.  Perhaps he only intended to wound her, so that she would have to live with the deaths of her children and father. Apparently Megan Hiatt, the babies’ mother and Wilson’s girlfriend, was about to leave him.  A truck loaded with boxes was parked outside the residence. 

We’ve seen this before, and the same, obvious questions arise each time.  Why did she stay with him?  Weren’t there warning signs?  What was he thinking?  He was obviously distressed at losing her, but how could he love her and then kill her?  And why kill the babies?  And so on.

There were warning signs.  Wilson would fly into rages and smash items in the house.  Just two years ago he was convicted of strangling another woman (she survived).  As former prosecutor Gael Strack has observed, “"The minute you put pressure on someone’s neck, you are really announcing that you are a killer."  Yet Hiatt stayed—and had babies with Wilson just this year. 

Many experts have written about the paradox of women staying with men who abuse and sometimes kill them.  I’m not going in that direction with this article.  Instead I will discuss the phenomenon of men who kill the women and children that they love, usually committing suicide immediately after. 

Have you ever heard of catathymia, or the catathymic crisis?  Well, buckle your seatbelt.  We are about to enter Romance Land, where a wrong turn can lead you away from rainbows, hearts, and flowers and into a realm of demons and dragons.  

Imagine experiencing a profoundly negative, life-altering event—one that causes panic, anxiety, grief, anger, and/or despair all at once.  In addition to feeling emotionally overwhelmed, you might also feel helpless to do anything about it.  This can lead to endless rumination:  I must get a grip on this situation, but I can’t get a grip on it.  The combination of hitting rock bottom along with perceived powerlessness to bounce back can set the stage for an extreme reaction.

A catathymic crisis may occur when a person is so overwhelmed by powerful emotions that he or she cannot handle the stress or find any relief from it.  If the emotional crisis rises to the level of catathymia, the individual will experience a psychotic break with reality—what is sometimes called temporary insanity.  If that occurs, the person’s perception of things and events will become delusional.  A dissociative state (something like shock) will overtake the individual as a defensive numbing of the overwhelming emotions.  To a person in catathymic crisis, it will seem that he or she is outside the body, observing events as a bystander—even while methodically slaughtering loved ones. 

Below are some key characteristics that are specific to catathymic homicides:

  • Usually perpetrated by men against women (and sometimes family)
  • Victim evokes powerful, latent emotional conflicts in the perpetrator
  • Key motivation is centered around shame and/or feeling of sexual inadequacy
  • Homicide is irrationally perceived as only acceptable recourse
  • After homicide, perpetrator experiences feelings of immediate relief
  • Relief soon gives way to numbness
  • Perpetrator may expect to die during the event, to commit suicide afterwards, or to get caught/surrender. Evasion of the consequences is usually not a consideration in this type of homicide.

Here are a few other catathymic homicides you may have heard about:

  • John List of Westfield, New Jersey, killed his wife, mother, and three teenaged children in 1971.  He had failed at a succession of jobs and had been unemployed for some time, meanwhile continuing to dress for work and leave the house every morning to keep his family in the dark.  The Lists lived in a large Victorian mansion that List could not afford to maintain.  Deeply religious, he decided to send his family’s souls to heaven rather than face feelings of shame and inadequacy upon their discovery of the truth.  List disappeared until 1989, when he was captured following an America’s Most Wanted broadcast.
  • Darrin Campbell of Tampa, Florida killed his wife, two teenaged children, and himself.  The family lived in a rented mansion, which Campbell set afire just before killing himself.  Financial problems and inability to maintain the façade of a perfect, prosperous family man were said to be the motive.  Again, a husband and father in catathymic crisis would rather kill than face feelings or shame and inadequacy.
  • Remember the TV reporter and cameraman in Virginia who were shot while broadcasting live?  The assassin was a former co-worker, Bryce Williams, who claimed the victims harassed him.  The TV station had fired Williams because of his anger issues.  He previously worked for another TV station, which he sued for racial discrimination after being let go.  Williams committed suicide shortly after the attack, but not before faxing a letter to news media in which he stated, “I've been a human powder keg for a while ... just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”

Many cases of domestic violence and workplace murders can be traced to the killer’s catathymic crisis.   I suspect that some school shootings which are motivated by bullying can be linked to catathymia, but I haven’t seen any studies to this effect.  The prevalence of death at the hands of a domestic partner, co-worker, or school shooter are greater in this country than death by political terrorism.