Why Did the Las Vegas Shooter Target a Country Music Festival?

We have heard all kinds of things about Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock -- he was a gambler, a multimillionaire, he liked poker. The list goes on and it's hard to make sense out of what would lead a person to kill so many people. But as Brent Turvey so wisely states: "In the rush to examine a criminal’s behavior, it is not difficult to become distracted by the dangling carrot of that criminal’s potential characteristics and forget about the value of understanding his victims.”

Why did Paddock choose this particular venue for his mass murder? Did he alone choose it? Others have speculated that he had help or that he was given orders by someone else. Even ISIS has taken credit for the killings. What is going on?

It's hard to say, but one thing is probably true: Paddock didn't choose this group randomly. There must have been something about these people or this group that he specifically targeted. (Interestingly, the Washington Post reports that Paddock was a country music fan and went to concerts.) Turning to other psychologists who study mass murder, here is what Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, PhD, says about the minds of these killers:

Too many people are at a loss to understand such killings. They can’t comprehend the deep pitted hatred that fills the black hearts of these multiple murderers. A shooting or mass event shocks the public which doesn’t spend its time dreaming of murder. However these killers do just that. Every waking moment is focused on their deviant desires. By rote, they practice over and over in their minds how they will destroy as much life as possible. They live and breathe an inevitable revenge. Fueled by continuous anger, they prepare for their destiny. That is how they see it. Every mass killer I interviewed said they always knew they would kill. In a way it is a self fulfilling prophecy.

Whatever method they choose to execute their plan, they practice ad nauseum. They go to the location they want to attack. Once there, they watch. They want to memorize the patterns of the people at the location. They want to see who is there and where they go. What is normal for this area? Yes, killers profile too. They need those patterns so they can predict the behavior of their targets. When they can anticipate how a victim will react, they can cut off escape routes.

Weapons are obtained, and very often, they tell someone of their goal. Though they are deadly serious, the threat is blown off. People have a hard time believing that this person could do such a thing. Or, the person is too frightened to say a word. Thus, the behavior and words do not get reported. And the plan continues.