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Why Maryland shooter's gender is so confounding

Criminology is the scientific study of the nature, causes and prevention of criminal behavior. It is an ever...

Posted: Sep 23, 2018 12:15 PM
Updated: Sep 23, 2018 12:15 PM

Criminology is the scientific study of the nature, causes and prevention of criminal behavior. It is an ever-evolving discipline continually raising as many questions as it provides answers. And with emergent threats constantly presenting themselves as contemporary challenges, law enforcement and homeland security professionals must constantly adapt to modern hazards.

So when 26-year-old Snochia Moseley arrived for her temporary job shift at a Rite Aid distribution facility Thursday morning, no one could have predicted the tragedy that was about to unfold. According to the Harford County Sheriff's office, Moseley shot and killed three innocent people and wounded three others before ultimately fatally shooting herself. Moseley's depraved actions left the experts who track these things undoubtedly shocked and perplexed.

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Moseley's actions broke a number of barriers, but not the type that first-of-their-kind overachievers typically strive for.

Snochia Moseley does not fit the profile those of us in law enforcement expect with a more typical mass murderer or active shooter. Though experts disagree on exact numbers and percentages, they do agree that white men have committed many, many more mass shootings than any other group. Moseley was an African-American woman.

In the midst of all the troubling questions surrounding why anyone would slaughter innocents who apparently had caused them no harm, there was this perplexing one: What would motivate a female active shooter in a country that anticipates and expects suspects in mass shootings to fit a particular stereotype, and how should we respond?

Snochia Moseley has left many unanswered questions in her wake as police begin to piece together clues as to just why she took her legally owned and registered 9 mm Glock pistol, and elected to gun down colleagues. A coworker described her to The Washington Post as "a nice person" but acknowledged she arrived at the Rite Aid facility yesterday morning in a "bad mood."

It has been reported that Moseley used Facebook to characterize herself as a "quiet" person with a self-described "to myself type of personality." Her social media profile also reportedly cited as a favorite quote the Old Testament law of retaliation -- "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." But even this reference evokes more questions without offering answers.

We know that something prompted her to come to work with a concealed handgun and then do the unthinkable. Authorities said Moseley had been diagnosed with a mental illness in 2016. But as much as mental illness or workplace grievances may have been at play, this case simply refuses to follow established patterns and expected norms. And that "unknown" is exactly what is so damn troublesome and has left us scratching our heads in an effort to make sense of it all.

Within the criminal justice realm, we collect data and analyze it. We do this in the hope that, one day soon, it will allow us to understand criminal behavior and better predict harmful events before they happen, in order to keep our citizenry safer. That is the goal of law enforcement professionals and criminologists alike. To better predict future human behavior is to empower law enforcement proactively to prevent more senseless tragedies. It all sounds so obvious, so clinically sterile, so effortlessly simple.

And yet, as this case so clearly highlights -- it is not.

In 2014, the FBI conducted an active shooter study that tracked mass shooting incidents from 2000 until 2013. Of 160 recorded incidents, only six were perpetrated by female shooters. While the study did determine that all but two of the shooters acted alone, it surprisingly did not focus on shooters' ideological bents or motivations.

And so, we're left with a nagging question: Are men, who according to the FBI study constitute some 94% of what we define as "active shooting incidents" in the United States between 2000 and 2013, simply more predisposed to this type of aberrant behavior, or is there some other explanation? And when shootings deviate from our expectations, as in this case, how should law enforcement and others attempt to better anticipate these emergent threats?

As a former Army Ranger and FBI SWAT team leader, I am well aware of the "warrior" culture. But now, I'm older, wiser and currently engaged in a doctoral pursuit in Homeland Security. I am far more interested in the psychology behind personal and group conflicts. And the question of whether men are, by nature, more prone to violence, as a product of our culture is one that continues to befuddle me.

There may have been a biological component to this, too. Men have historically been endowed greater physical strength and traditionally have served as the protectors of their family units. This natural need to confront threats may have inadvertently contributed to the evolution of a more aggressive nature. But physical prowess may be a contraindication of "maleness" when wielded recklessly or for criminal purpose.

It is a fact that men commit the vast majority of homicides in our society and are more likely to start a war. But female shooters stand out, too, because they are, indeed, rarities. Take, for example, Tashfeen Malik, who along with her husband, Syed Rizwan Farook, killed 14 and seriously wounded 22 in San Bernardino in December 2015. And just last April, Nasim Najafi Aghdam wounded three before taking her own life at YouTube's California headquarters.

All of which proves that law enforcement still has much work remaining in order to figure this all out.

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