Category: Mass Murders and Murderers

The Unexpected Killers in Healthcare

The Angel of Death is a strong religious concept, which has been cited in all of the major religions, as figures who comfort those who are dying and escort their souls to the Afterlife.[1] The Jewish and Muslim faiths tell the story of Azrael, while Christians have the archangel Michael.[2] Much more commonly referenced and much more sinister, especially in the United States, is the Angel of Death as a name for serial killers in the medical or caregiving professions, who kill a person in their care, often covering it as some sort of medical mishap.[3] Our page will explore the Angel of Death from ethical, cultural, and scientific perspectives, and how those perspectives together connect to a western notion of death and dying.

Ethics can be an incredibly complicated topic, as many people believe that they live by a certain “code” which directs their behaviors.[4] However, when it comes down to it, most people act within the same set of principles and have similar beliefs of right and wrong. These principles generally surround a message of doing no harm. That’s why it’s both shocking and fascinating when people have either the courage or disregard to exit these boundaries.

Something that is considered often, whether it should be or not, are the motives of serial killers. It turns out, as with most motives and intentions, they’re a product of culture and environment on the person’s biology.[5] In short, genes load the gun, but environment pulls the trigger. However, as with anything, there are large exceptions. In particular, Healthcare serial killers (HSKs), or “medical murderers,”have much more diverse motives for killing than the “common” serial killer that America is used to.[6]

Though there are various different motives, there is evidence that HSKs are motivated to become healthcare professionals because of power, control, attention, and personal gain. This contrasts to what normal health care professionals generally cite- which is helping people.[7] Interviews with several convicted Angels of Death indicate that many of the killers claim to be committing the acts of murder for the sake of mercy for the patient. However, evidence suggests that while the first kill may be out of pity or mercy, the healthcare professional realizes s/he enjoy the act, and continue to do it under the guise of mercy.[8] Healthcare serial killers generally follow suit when it comes to these characteristics, however they do differ when it comes to why they do what they do. HSK’s motives can include removing demanding patients, financial benefits, as well as complex ideologies where they see themselves as the savior of these patients.[9] HSKs are also generally on the upper side of the age bracket, with an average age of 35.8 based on a study that looked over 16 HSKs across 8 countries.[10] HSKs also generally did not go after one gender versus the other, they showed no preference and seemed to work on an opportunity basis.

Overall, there is no singular consensus as to what causes these people to do what they do, but there are a variety of factors that may help us understand what drives a person to kill another. In the United States, a serial killer can only be labeled as such if they have killed at least two people in separate incidents.[11] The prototypical serial killer is a white male, aged from 20 to 40, a lone wolf, very intelligent, appears to be pleasant, and usually has no prior criminal record.[12] These traits are extremely general and are found in serial killers throughout history; however, there are exceptions. The victims of serial killers also share common characteristics, as they are most likely to be female, white, young adults.[13] This may be because they are the most vulnerable group and are “easy prey” for the killers.

One of the most famous HSKs is British physician, Harold Shipman, who is believed to have killed at least 215 of his patients.[14] He injected his patients with opiates and was found to have altered records and falsified death certificates. It will never be known why he murdered his patients. Some believe it was for the money, as he was caught forging the will of Kathleen Grundy, his last victim. Others think he wanted to ease the suffering of his patient, since he witnessed his mother suffering from cancer.[15] Shipman is one of the most prolific HSKs of all time; however, the death of his mother early on in his life and his fascination with drugs may have been a large factor. It is also theorized that Shipman may have had a complex of some sort, where killing a patient released feelings associated with pleasure in the chronically depressed doctor.[16] He is a very peculiar example of a serial killer because there was no real motives as to why he killed so many people, which again raises the question of why these killers do what they do.

Another famous HSK was Charles Cullen. Cullen was an American registered nurse who admitted to killing 40 patients.[17] He believed he was helping people, alleviating their pain and ending their suffering. While some were terminally ill, there were many other victims who were soon to be discharged. He killed patients by poisoning IV bags and bags of saline or injecting them with Digoxin, a drug which is able to cause death in large amounts. Charles Graeber, a former medical student researching Cullen’s murders, believes Cullen killed patients in an attempt to gain control when his personal life was chaotic.[18]

There are also some international HSKs. Dr. Louay Omar Mohammed al-Taei of Iraq was found to have murdered at least 19 soldiers of the insurgency by injecting a lethal combination of drugs into his victims. He expressed his hatred for Americans, killing both severely and slightly injured soldiers fighting on the side for the Americans.[19] Among many others, Rudi Paul Zimmerman was a German nurse convicted of 3 murders, Lucia de Berk was a nurse from Holland convicted of 7 murders, Roger Andermatt was a Swiss nurse charged with 22 murders, and Efren Saldivar was an American respiratory therapist who was suspected of murdering 165 patients.[20] Additionally, Aida Noureddin Mohammed Abu Zeid was an Egyptian nurse who attempted to murder 29 patients, Edson Isidora Guimaraes was a Brazilian hospital nurse aid suspected of murdering 127 people, and Daisuke Mori was a practical nurse from Japan who was suspected of killing 20 patients.[21]

Primarily in the US, HSKs can also be portrayed in the media. Stephen King’s novel, Misery, portrays former nurse Annie Wilkes who saves the protagonist and writer, Paul Sheldon. After a car accident, Annie finds Paul and keeps him in her house, treating his wounds with a stockpile of food and a stash of codeine-based painkillers. She is a big fan of Paul’s Misery series and turns violent when she discovers the final book kills the series’ main protagonist. Paul also discovers newspaper clippings, which suggest she murdered 30 patients and infants.[22] Additionally, The 5th Horseman, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro, is another novel depicting murders in a hospital in San Francisco. The victims’ diagnoses are not terminal, but they are murdered by a nurse at the hospital, and are found with 2 buttons on their eyes.[23] Finally, In Season 1 Episode 5, “Lesser Evils,” of American TV show Elementary, Sherlock discovers a series of murders in a hospital morgue. He discovers a former doctor, working as a janitor in the hospital, has been murdering terminally ill patients in pain, making their deaths seem natural.[24] Beside international, real HSKs, the public is also exposed to them in novels, movies, and TV shows.

This raises a discussion on ethics that seems counterintuitive to the Hippocratic Oath that physicians take and the general motive of most health care professionals to not only “do no harm,” but to help people. This is part of the reason why it’s so shocking when an HSK is found: people trust physicians as authority figures to save them. Are these serial killers actually doing the right thing by mercy killing patients? Maybe some would argue so, but the fact of the matter is, for as much science and medicine as we know, a lot of people’s fates are up to luck. So who are HSKs to decide when someone lives or dies?

In conclusion, the reasons behind serial killers are still a mystery and HSKs are no different. They are each motivated by different things, and they are able to carry out their crimes with ease due to their positions. They have all the tools they readily need at their disposal, with a plethora of targets to choose from. Generally, once HSKs feel the sensation of taking a life, they get hooked and repeat the action until they are eventually caught. There are many examples of HSKs who killed for no reason at all, like Harold Shipman. There are examples of HSKs who thought that by ending their patients’ lives they were alleviating their pain and essentially doing the right thing, such as Charles Cullen. There are many similar characteristics between serial killers in general, and HSKs, however we still do not understand the exact reasons as to why these individuals carry out these senseless murders over and over again throughout history.

Rosa Hannah

Levi Joy Chua

Mamoon Khan

[1] Hopler, Whitney. “The Angel of Death: A Religious Perspective.” ThoughtCo. December 24, 2018. Accessed April 04, 2019.

[2]  Hopler, Whitney. “The Angel of Death: A Religious Perspective.

[3] “Angel of Mercy (criminology).” Wikipedia. March 21, 2019. Accessed April 04, 2019.

[4] Wood, Greg. “Code of Ethics: What Are They Really and What Should They Be?” International Journal of Value-Based Management16, no. 2 (2003): 181-95. doi:10.1023/a:1024089509424.

[5] Soothill, Keith. “The Serial Killer Industry.” The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry4, no. 2 (1993): 341-54. doi:10.1080/09585189308407983.

[6] Yardley, Elizabeth, and David Wilson. “In Search of the ‘Angels of Death’: Conceptualising the Contemporary Nurse Healthcare Serial Killer.” Journal of Investigative Psychology and Offender Profiling13, no. 1 (2014): 39-55. doi:10.1002/jip.1434.

[7] Ramsland, Katherine M. Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers: Why They Kill. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2007.

[8] Ramsland, Katherine M. Inside the Minds of Healthcare Serial Killers: Why They Kill.

[9] Yardley, Elizabeth, and David Wilson. “In Search of the ‘Angels of Death’: Conceptualising the Contemporary Nurse Healthcare Serial Killer.”

[10] Yardley, Elizabeth, and David Wilson. “In Search of the ‘Angels of Death’: Conceptualising the Contemporary Nurse Healthcare Serial Killer.”

[11] Yardley, Elizabeth, and David Wilson. “In Search of the ‘Angels of Death’: Conceptualising the Contemporary Nurse Healthcare Serial Killer.”

[12]Miller, Laurence. “Serial Killers: 1. Subtypes, Patterns, and Motives.” Aggression and Violent Behavior, no. 1 (2014): 1-11. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2013.11.002.

[13] Miller, Laurence. “Serial Killers: 1. Subtypes, Patterns, and Motives.” Aggression and Violent Behavior.

[14] “Harold Shipman.” The BMJ. January 22, 2004. Accessed April 04, 2019.

[15] “Harold Shipman.” The BMJ.

[16] “Harold Shipman.” The BMJ.

[17] “60 Minutes; New York.” ProQuest. April 25, 2015. Accessed April 4, 2019.

[18] “60 Minutes; New York.” ProQuest.

[19] Kirkuik, Michael Howard. “Iraq’s Hospital Murders:’ I Made a Mixture of Drugs and Injected Them. They Were Dead in Three Hours’: Doctor Provided First Aid for Insurgents – and Went on to Kill Police and Soldiers Brought in for Treatment.” ProQuest. April 17, 2006. Accessed April 04, 2019

[20] Yorker, Beatrice Crofts, et al, “Serial Murder by Healthcare Professionals,” Journal of Forensic Sciences 51 no. 6 (November 2006): 1362-1371,

[21] Yorker, Beatrice Crofts, et al, “Serial Murder by Healthcare Professionals.”

[22] “Misery Summary and Study Guide,” Super Summary, accessed April 5, 2019,

[23] The 5th Horseman: A Novel Summary & Study Guide Description,” BookRags, accessed April 5, 2019.

[24] Elementary Wiki, “Lesser Evils,” Fandom, accessed April 5, 2019.

The Holocaust: Medical Practices within Genocide

The Holocaust has been regarded as one of the most horrific mass murders of the 20th century. Unfathomable atrocities were committed against humanity in the name of science. The medical experimentations used against victims of the Nazi Regime have been documented as violations of basic human rights. Much of the documented research committed against marginalized communities under Nazi control resulted in the mutilation or death of the subjects.  The use of science against individuals that were demonized by Nazi propaganda tactics warranted criminal persecution and international reform. This site will uncover the scientific foundation for the execution of human experimentation during the Holocaust, an examination of the ethical questions surrounding scientific research committed under these circumstances, and the cultural shift of medical practice guidelines that resulted from the fall of the Nazi Party.  

The psychology involved in the development of individuals that were willing to authorize the mass murder of millions of civilians developed from political, cultural, economic, and scientific developments throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Scientifically, the publication of Charles Darwin’s 1859 thesis, The Origin of Species, is considered the basis for the systemic racism associated with the Holocaust. Within this text, Darwin concisely proved that the lineage of animals over time stemmed from a common ancestor and developed a concept of gene heredity. This scientific conclusion coincided with periods of industrialization and imperialism for European countries and the United States. From this crossover, a multiplicity of idealogical systems were born in the collective Social Darwinist movement. The most influential ideologies for Nazi Germany normalized and even endorsed racist notions of supremacy through scientific evaluation. Herbert Spencer published a paper of significance in 1873 connecting Darwin ideas of biological evolution to human society and “the survival of the fittest”. Karl Person (1901) and Benjamin Kidd (1902) extrapolated a European prerogative from Spencer to colonize races that were deemed inferior by Western culture [1]. These ideologies became widely accepted in both Europe and America and fueled the hierarchical stratification of race and genetic disposition.

Between 1933-1939, German mass propaganda during the early portion of the Nazi regime blamed the loss of the prior World War and the current socio-economic turmoil to lower races, primarily the Jewish population. This resulted in extreme cultural discrimination, eventually culminating in an official mandate to the medical community lead by Dr. Karl Brandt to survey and enlist millions into programs of euthanasia. This program, initially described as sterilization, developed into mass euthanasia through the T4 Program in 1939. After initially using pseudo-medical procedures, such as lethal injection and electrocution to exterminate individuals, the medical community moved toward asphyxiation tactics with either engine exhaust or carbon monoxide [3]. The gas chamber facilities developed for the T4 program in Hartheim, Sonnenstein, Grafeneck, Bernburg, Hadamar, and Brandenburg would become models for those implemented in concentration camps, hosting the mass murder of millions. The T4 Program was officially terminated in 1941 after the legal execution of over 70,000 individuals [2].

Victims of Aktion T4

Over the course of the Nazi regime, twenty-two concentration camps would be erected with six operating specifically for the purpose of large scale extermination [4]. Design features meant to psychologically dismantle inmates include narrow corridors and constant congregation which served to gather prisoners in compromising conditions which could be easily overwatched. Also, the narrow corridors made order acutely difficult to establish. This design feature allowed for the dissolution of inmates personal prerogative. Within the camps rigidly divided areas, the placement of taboo solitary camps within larger camps served to isolate and inspire fear within the inmate population. The lack of knowledge for inmates when traveling between corridors lead to doubt and paranoia, which dissolved inmates ability to resist and reason. In the words of psychoanalyst Raffaele Mantegazza these camps, “destroy space as a domain for acting and living”. For Wolfgang Softsfy, a psychoanalyst and Holocaust investigator,  “The absolute power transforms natural spaces into a space of social coercion, barricading all exits, marking out the area for control” [5].

Within these spaces, gruesome experimentation and torture was permitted and conducted by medical professionals, researchers, and soldiers. These experiments included inquiry into viral diseases, exposure to harmful settings, and testing the limits of the human body. Alfred Pasternak, M.D., an expert on Nazi experimentation, categorized the experiments by three main distinctions: either addressing a problem for the military, proving Aryan superiority, or addressing the curiosities of powerful individuals. A sample of procedures prescribed to inmates includes infection by incision, contagious lice, or in vivo injection of infected blood, exposure to explosion, removal of oxygen, and clinical starvation. Witnessing German commanders agree that test subjects were often not considered human, but merely referred to as objects of significant scientific value. These experiments commonly ended in the complete purging of all participants and involved tens of thousands of inmates [6]. The research and conclusions gleaned from these experiments are widely considered unethical and its use in further research is still an ongoing debate.

These spaces of absolute control and massacre affected major psychological trauma in those who experienced them. Holocaust survivors are some of the most psychologically analyzed individuals in the world with over five hundred published studies and many more articles and personal testimonies. In an attempt to summarize the knowledge gained from the study of these individuals, Ira Brannor developed the “three elements of massive mental trauma in Holocaust survivors.” This collection culminated the knowledge gained from over 1000 interviews and 40 years of research. The first element is catanoid reaction; the psychological process of being consumed by a robot-like state where one is consumed by a psychological death prior to actual death. People who experience a catanoid reaction are characterized by desensitization and identification with the dead. The next element is stimulus barrier which results from the over stimulus of major emotional trauma manifesting itself in the dissociation of senses including sight, hearing, touch, and taste. This element is commonly clinically diagnosed as dissociative identity disorder, as those who are afflicted will not actively repress their sense but will simply not be aware of its presence. The final element associated with massive mental trauma is disturbed memory which is manifested in four major ways: a fixation on the past, consistent shift of belief and disbelief in occurrence of events, split identify, and the splitting of self between victim and perpetrator. Furthermore, the coping mechanisms utilized by Holocaust survivors illustrated the themes of manic defense and omnipotent fantasy. These mechanisms result in dreams survivors have where they defeat particular oppressor figures or the active denial of events [7]. The trauma displayed by both victims and survivors of the Nazi Party’s experimentation tactics initiated an analysis of the ethical repercussions that they enlisted upon humanity.  

When considering the immense repercussions of the Holocaust and the Nazi’s reign of terror, it impossible not to wonder about the ethical questions that arise surrounding Hitler’s dictatorship and the ever-relevant modern consequences. The millions of hostages that were held in concentration camps and many of those lives that were lost has called for an extensive review Hitler’s unethical methodology. Many scholars believe that modern ethics are greatly impacted by historical tragedies such as the Holocaust, which is due to how morals were substantially challenged during this time period. However, to realize the changes of ethics that resulted from the Holocaust, it is necessary to first look at the challenges that occurred throughout Hitler’s time as dictator.

The ethical effects of the Holocaust are critically around the bioethics associated with the medical experimentation on human subjects that took place at concentration camps during Nazi Germany. While they were conducted 74 years ago, these experiments are still incredibly relevant to debates surrounding biomedical ethics today, especially regarding the use of data from these experiments as well as other unethically operated experiments. During the Nazi regime, there were at least seventy medical research projects involving cruel and often lethal methods of experimentation that were conducted on the prisoners of various concentration camps [8]. Some of the most recognizable were Mengele’s experiment on twins, freezing experiments, malaria experiments at Daschau and Auschwitz, mustard gas experiments and experiments involving poison and phosphorus burn experiments that took place at Buchenwald [9]. This is just a small sampling of the many virulent research experiments taking place in concentration camps all over Nazi Germany. Many of the experiments focused on protecting the health of military personnel while some focused on breeding a superior race [10]. The Nazi’s mindset during these experiments were of total utilitarian moral principles therefore rejecting the need for the informed consent of the subjects and viewing them as less than human for the good of the regime.   

During the beginning of the twentieth century, women throughout Europe and North America demanded voting rights which further highlighted the hot topic still debated of gender inequality. The Holocaust was no exception as to the degradation of women as a whole and their roles within society.  For example, Hitler’s Germany instituted sterilization as an accepted practice. Sterilization policies were driven by eugenics and the desire to improve the population by bettering the German gene pool. However, it was women who most affected by Hitler’s Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring. These treatments forced women to remain in hospitals for a week from the process of getting their fallopian tubes tied.  Nazi leadership saw women’s stays in the hospital as a waste of valuable time and resources, resulting in an even larger ethical dilemma. Rather than surgery, women were now injected with super-cooled carbon dioxide which lead to a scarification of their fallopian tubes. Not only did these experiments raise ethical questions surrounding the rights of the women being sterilized, but also to the elimination of the rights of potential offspring that could have been born without these methods [11].

Citizens Protest the Sterilization Laws
Enforced by Hitler and Permitted by Buck v. Bell

The review of these experiments raised questions to consider in the ethical debate surrounding unethically obtained data. What qualifies an experiment as ethical? Should we separate data from the way it is obtained? Or does the unethical method of retrieval make the use of the gathered results unethical within itself. The findings from these experiments were not kept secret and in fact published frequently in scientific publications, giving the public and medical professions of the future access to an abundance of data found from human experimentation [8]. A main component of an ethical study is the consent of the participants. As these human subjects were prisoners of the Nazi regime they did not have the opportunity to grant or withdraw their consent to participate. Concern of using the Nazi collected data is voiced throughout the science world as scientists are worried the complainant use of such unethically obtained data without guidelines will open the door to future scientific abuses such as these experiments. A conference held in 1989 attempted to create these guidelines. The result was inconclusive and ended with some scientists believing this data should be taboo and others believing not using this data that could potentially help advance science would be just as unethical [10]. This issue was not only debated by scholars but by people affected by these atrocities such as the victims of these experiments. A survivor of the Mengele twin experiments, Eva Kor, wrote that the data should be given back the victims and not used for scientific advancement as “a lesson to the world that human dignity and human life are more important than any advance in science or medicine” [11].

The Twins of Auschwitz Await
Experimentation Performed by Dr. Mengele

In addition to the ethical complications surrounding the medical experiments practiced during the Holocaust, there are still resounding influences on morals today within the families and communities affected by Hitler’s reign as dictator. One man reflecting on his father’s participation in Hitler’s army confesses, “As a child, one tends to see the parents in a positive light. It is the drive for self-preservation. And then to find out that this person had some really terrible convictions, expressed some terrible views, and held onto them… how can one grasp it? How can you take him for a father?” [12]. This man’s words highlight that not only were the people who suffered through the concentration camps forever affected, but also the families of those who helped the horrific events during the Holocaust take place. Although thinking about tragic events such as Hitler’s Holocaust raises existential questions, it is essential to learn from the past in order to make the future a more hospitable place for successive generations. As more time passes, personal attachment to these events has faded and the reality of the era becomes harder and harder to present without distorting facts [13]. For example, many of the survivors and their families became desensitized to the torture they endured and are unable to accurately recall everything that occured. As a result, the criminal proceedings following the end of World War II depended on publicized documentation of medical experimentation committed by the Nazi Party.

The Holocaust affected the culture surrounding Hippocratic practice and teachings within research experimentation. The horrific crimes committed by the Nazi Party against marginalized communities of Western Europe called for a swift revision of experimentation practices. The true horror of these crimes is the subjugation of individuals to subhuman treatment. Once the Nazi Party was taken over by Allied Forces, these crimes were prosecuted within international court jurisdiction.  

Experimentation against Jewish and other persecuted societal groups was well documented under the leaders of the Third Reich. These experiments were used for testing in the name of winning World War II for the German forces. The victims of these war crimes were tested in conditions of hypothermia, altitude sickness, the viability of seawater as drinking water, and other extreme conditions.

Test Subject, Calf Muscle Was Removed
by a German Doctor for Experimentation

In addition, doctors and nurses of the Nazi Party were condemned for their participation in harmful experiments against physically and mentally handicapped prisoners. Trials against these individuals were documented under the Doctor’s Trial of 1947.

Doctor’s Trial of 1947

These were the first trials conducted under the American military indictment of the Nazi Party’s War Crimes. The prosecution of wrongful experimentation procedures created a need for international guidelines towards further humane research. This led to the requirement of informed consent within research studies and experiment trials. In addition, there was controversy surrounding the use of data collected by German doctors during the Holocaust [18]. Consequently, the Nuremberg Code was created to serve as a foundation for the advancement of scientific research.  

The Nuremberg Trials of 1947 introduced the Nuremberg Code [17]. This code of conduct was written by the winners of World War II, the Allied Forces, in order to protect against further misconduct within research practices. The main purpose of this code of conduct was to instill the value of informed consent [14]. Informed consent is predicated upon the adherence to patient education of the research they are participating in and the harmful effects that could result from their participation within a study. The nature of these trials implemented a new standard and culture surrounding research treatment on a global scale.  

The Nuremberg Code Statements

This code symbolized a change in power structure amongst the intersection of global and scientific fields. American officials took control of international regulation of human experimentation, illustrating a shift in the culture of scientific research. The integration of global politics and human research exemplified a new sphere for the domination of American culture. Furthermore, the world used the Nuremberg Code to solidify a new frontier for research that enhanced cooperation amongst nations. This code of ethical research has had profound effects on the guidelines used for the International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects [15]. While it was never adapted into any national law, the Nuremberg Code serves as the foundation of ethical requirements for the funding and publication of research projects of the last 70 years [16].

The analysis of the scientific, ethical, and cultural ramifications of the human experiments conducted during the Holocaust forces humanity to examine the true impacts of the subhuman treatment of individuals in the pursuit of scientific discovery. Through the use of psychological strategy, the Nazi Party was able to rationalize these acts of evil and we are now forced to evaluate the detrimental capacity of human nature.  The lack of ethics used in the torture of marginalized groups in the name of science has allowed for the revaluation of basic guidelines for further scientific research. The publication of these unethical experiments has called into question the validity of their publication and review. An examination of the cultural implications of international code of ethics concerning scientific research has revealed the underlying effect of global politics within medical research.

Mass Murders and Murderers, Pod 3: Madison Bencini, Alex Kopp, Kristen Lennon, and Kyndal Robbins



[1] Hawkins, Mike. 1997. Social Darwinism in European and American thought, 1860–1945. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

[2] Barenbaum, Michael. “T4 Program.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., September 10, 2018.

[3] McMillan, Dan. How Could This Happen: Explaining the Holocaust. New York: Basic Books, a member of the Persus Books Group, 2014.

[4] Wyman, David. The World Reacts to the Holocaust. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

[5] Mantegazza, Raffaele, and Cinzia Donatelli Noble. The Smell of Smoke : Auschwitz and the Pedagogy of Annihilation. Milan: IPOC, 2008.

[6] Pasternak, Alfred. Inhuman Research: Medical Experiements in German Concentration Camps. Budapest: Akademiami Kiado, 2006.

[7] Akhtar, Salman, Harold P Blum, Pa Margaret S. Mahler Symposium on Child Development (34th : 2003 : Philadelphia, Pa Margaret S. Mahler Symposium on Child Development (38th : 2007 : Philadelphia, and Henri Parens. The Unbroken Soul : Tragedy, Trauma, and Human Resilience. Lanham, Md.: Jason Aronson, 2008.

[8] The Ethical Considerations of Medical Experimentation on Human Subjects. Accessed April 03, 2019.

[9] “The Thirteen Nuremberg Trials.” Nuremberg. Accessed April 03, 2019.

[10] Wilkerson, Isabel, Special To The New York Times. “Nazi Scientists and Ethics of Today.” The New York Times. May 21, 1989. Accessed April 03, 2019.

[11] Caplan, Arthur L. When Medicine Went Mad: Bioethics and the Holocaust. Totowa, NJ: Humana Press, 1992.

[12] “We Suffered Too”: Nazi Children’s Inability to Relate to the Suffering of the Victims of the Holocaust.” SAGE Journals. Accessed April 01, 2019.

[13] Bennett, Rab. Under the Shadow of the Swastika: The Moral Dilemmas of Resistance and Collaboration in Hitler’s Europe. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

[14] Annas, George J. 2018. “Beyond Nazi War Crimes Experiments: The Voluntary Consent Requirement of the Nuremberg Code at 70.” American Journal of Public Health 108 (1): 42–46. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2017.304103.

[15] Shuster, Evelyne. “Fifty Years Later: The Significance of the Nuremberg Code.” New England Journal of Medicine337, no. 20 (1997): 1436-440. Accessed April 1, 2019.

[16] “The Doctors Trial.” The Nuremberg Code. Accessed April 07, 2019.

[17] “The Nuremberg Code.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Accessed April 05, 2019.

[18] Weindling, Paul. “Human Guinea Pigs and the Ethics of Experimentation: The BMJ’s Correspondent at the Nuremberg Medical Trial.” The BMJ. December 07, 1996. Accessed April 05, 2019.

Mass Murders in Schools

By Pod 1: Skylar Cole, Alexis Townsend, Sophia Pearson


In examining the aspects in Mass Murders & Murderers, this article will focus on school shootings as the topic of investigation. This article will address some of the worst mass school shootings in history and elaborate on the cultural, ethical, and scientific impacts these events have distilled upon American society.  On April 20, 1999, at a high school located in Littleton Colorado, “two teens went on a shooting spree” leaving 13 people dead and over 20 others wounded.[1]On December 14, 2012, at an elementary school located in Newtown, Connecticut, a “mass shooting [occurred] that left 28 people dead and 2 injured.”[2]On May 18, 1927, a man bombed Bath Consolidated School which likely took “months to plan and prepare for”, leaving 38 children and six adults dead.[3] To what extent do these tragedies impact our culture as Americans? Are there specific victims targeted during these mass shootings by mass murderers?

Columbine School Shooters: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold

At exactly 11:19 in the morning on April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris “dressed in trench coats [and] began shooting fellow students outside Columbine High School.”[4] After leaving a mass number of innocent individuals dead from gunshot wounds, Klebold and Harris turned the guns on themselves and committed suicide shortly after 12 in the afternoon. Upon investigating the motives behind the mass shootings, investigators speculated that “Harris and Klebold purposefully chose athletes, minorities, and Christians” as their victims.  One of the victims named Cassie, admitted to one of the gunmen that she believed in God. Upon his inquisition, he shot her in the head. Cassie’s parents went on to write a book called She Said Yes as a tribute to their beloved daughter who so tragically lost her life during this mass shooting. Ever since the Columbine High School shooting occurred, there have been numerous publications both in the media and on television bringing awareness to this horrible tragedy.  One of high popularity and attention is the song Pumped Up Kicks by Foster The People which debuted in 2010 and has received a lot of public attention. The chorus of the song which sings, “All the other kids with the pumped-up kicks you’d better run, better run, outrun my gun…You’d better run, better run, faster than my bullet” has a dark meaning correlated to the Columbine mass shooting that took place in 1999.  The band wrote this song as a tribute to the victims who lost their lives, culturally appealing to the general population as songs and artists are listened to and valued by society.

Video memorial of a Columbine victim

On the morning of December 14, 2012, shortly after 9:30, a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School took place “that left 28 people dead and 2 injured.”[5] Twenty-year-old Adam Lanza first shot his own mother at their home and then took the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary. Afterwards, he proceeded to take his own life. Upon breaching security and invading the school, Lanza first shot the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and school psychologist Mary Sherlach. Fortunately, the gunshots were heard over the school’s public-address broadcast system and teachers immediately took action to protect their students. Despite their safety protocol and precautions to take cover, Lanza was able to break into Mrs. Lauren Rousseau’s classroom and kill everyone in the room. At around 9:35 AM, law enforcement received their first call from the school and arrived on the scene within minutes. Police found Lanza “near the door to Soto’s classroom, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.”[6]This mass shooting was considered to be one of the worst school shootings in history. Yet in 2004, the bill passed by the United States Congress banning the AR-15 gun that Lanza had used, was allowed to lapse. What does this have to say about our culture and values?, Nina Bookout

Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting Memorial

At 8:45 on the morning of May 18, 1927, Andrew Kehoe, former Township Treasurer and school board member killed 44 people, one of them being his own wife by setting off explosives at Bath School in Township, Michigan. After he bombed the school, Kehoe “killed himself by detonating a final device in his truck.”[7] As Irene Dunham, former student at Bath School who stayed at home due to being sick described it, “I wish I could really tell you, dear, how awful it was.” This is coming from a 109-year-old woman who survived the influenza pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression and both World Wars, yet considered this tragedy at Bath School to be even more atrocious. The cultural representation here is displayed by the age of this incident and the fact that even in the 2000’s, reporters and investigators are still exploring a mass murder that happened over 80 years ago., Ellsworth, Monty J.

Bath School Shooting, Andrew P. Kehoe

Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Bath all cumulate to form some of the worst mass school shootings/murders that have been recorded in history. As a culture, these events have been impactful, yet instances like these continue to occur. This leads to the conclusion that although society is impacted by cultural beliefs and despite the urgency to accept all types of beliefs, there are still people out there who will take extreme measures to promote their opinions, which wreaks havoc on society. Whether it be ethnic groups, religion, skin color, or any other difference in human composition, there has proven to be a correlation between cultural beliefs and mass school shootings as revealed through patterns in mass murderers’ victims.

School shootings are, for the most part, solely an American phenomenon. Why is this? Some may suggest it is because of the lack of gun control and ethics in the media. In 1994, Bill Clinton signed into law a ban on assault weapons that had an effective period of 10 years. Congress let the law lapse after it expired. After a period of fourteen years, DiMaggio and his coauthors studied the effects of the law, before, during, and after the law was in effect. They concluded that the ban on assault weapons did have a significant impact on the number of mass shootings occurring in America. The study concluded that, “mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur during the federal ban period” and “the assault weapons ban period was associated with an approximately 85% reduction in mass shooting fatalities.”[8] However, some shooters did not use automatic weapons to carry out their crimes. Many used whatever was already available to them at their own homes.

This argument leads many away from the ethics of gun control and towards the ethics of the media and how these tragedies are reported. Guns have been legal in our country since the ratification of the second amendment in 1791. Why are mass shootings at schools recently becoming such a problem? Advanced weaponry and automatic weapons certainly can aid it, but this cannot be the only reason. What has changed is our culture and reactions to these violent acts. The media glorifies the shooters. Their names are plastered on every TV channel and newspaper. These shooters are almost always ignored or bullied by classmates, but after the shooting, their names are known by everyone. This promotes the next kid who feels the same ostracism to respond the same way and go out in a “blaze of glory.”[9]

Children crying at a Sandy Hook memorial service

In our culture, breaking news is more of a sensational account made for entertainment than for factual retelling of events as they happened. Viewers prefer to watch the entertaining version, so there is capital gain for the companies to put out sensationalized reports. One writer outlines the stages of media coverage as the following: tragic shock, first witness reports, identification of shooter, description of shooter’s character, branding of the shooting, official response and report, and a repetition of the cycle as more information becomes known.[10] Reporters build on the shock as more knowledge becomes available, usually making the shooter out to be a white male who was troubled from bullying, mental illness, and/or a traumatic home life. The shooter is not represented as a monster for the most part. Instead, the media focuses on the fact that they themselves were children, ignoring the dozens of children killed by the shooters. This media encourages future shooters to commit their own heinous acts against their own schools. Studies have shown, “significant evidence that mass killings involving firearms are inspired by similar events in the immediate past, with the highest risk within 13 days.”[11] Thousands of threats against schools were heard in the weeks following Columbine. Apart from just threats, in the 17 years following the Columbine shootings, over 115 school shootings actually occurred.[12] These were in part due to young adult novels, which are a form of media, which were dedicated to the topic of school shootings. The popular song “Pumped Up Kicks” by Foster The People also talks about students running away from a shooter in their school. Many children sang this song when it was popular while giving no thought to the actual lyrics. They were considered to be a normal and ethical part of our culture.

In the news, higher body count is considered to be a more atrocious story, which is, in turn, more entertaining to the masses. Entertaining does not mean that all Americans watching the news are enjoying the stories that are put before them, but, rather simply, that they are watching at all and talking about the stories. Killing more people gives a shooter more media coverage and a longer period in the infamous limelight.[13] Broadcasting and making known the names of these killers tells the story of their troubled pasts. This gives other troubled kids a martyr to look up to. Past shooters, because of the attention they have received, inspire future shooters. According to his diaries and writings found in the investigation following the event, the Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters inspired the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza.[14] Their stories were made known and resounded with Lanza’s own feelings, leading him to decide that a similar act would get him the attention he desired. To combat this repercussion of reporting, some outlets have begun refusing to name the shooter at all in certain cases.

These tragedies must be reported, but the reports seem to be causing more problems. This is because the reports are not ethical in nature. Children are the victims of school shootings. Children do not understand the culture around them as much as adults do, and are growing up in a traumatic world. Children are not mature enough to handle the visceral reporting styles so often used today, especially when their own peers are the subjects of these reports. A professor at Brown University expressed that “children’s vulnerability means they have right to greater privacy even if such heightened protection is not provided by laws.”[15] Parental consent is not currently required in these situations, and children can be broadcast without their knowledge. The child could be haunted by their own memory of this trauma and doesn’t need a media reminder of the incident. Therefore, protecting the children affected by the tragedy should always be the first priority to the reporters.[16] This ethical reporting that protects victims and doesn’t glorify the immoral criminal could cut down on future shootings more effectively than gun control would.

Another approach to cut down on future shootings would be to prioritize mental health in America. School shootings, although there are more than there should be, are still relatively new and uncommon. Therefore, there is a lack of scientific information surrounding the topic. There is also a lack of a uniformed system to identify a school shooter due to the fact that all cases are different, including the psychology of the shooters. There has been an initiative recently to understand the psychology behind school shooters and mass murders in general. The Safe School Initiative (SSI) has been trying to identify potential threats by making a “threat assessment” for schools.[17] They have strayed away from the idea of making a profile and trying to find children who fit that profile, but instead have made the threat assessment more individualized. Professionals in this capacity would focus on a troubled individual and acquire information about them from the people that know them to see if they are a potential threat and to prevent anything from happening.[18] Although every shooter and school shooting is different psychologically, there are many similarities in the majority of the cases. Typically, the shooters are young white males that have a mental disorder.[19] Most of the time the assailant has depression and feels rejected from society. Shooters can also suffer from schizophrenia and/or an antisocial personality disorder such as sociopathy or psychopathy, but this is not true for all shooters.[20]

Mental illness statistics in America

School shooters often times are depressed to the point where they are suicidal and have lots of built up anger within them.[21] In fact, many times after going on shooting rampages, trying to make a big impact and kill as many people as possible, the shooter kills himself. School shooters are hard to predict most of the time because they typically do not have a history of violent behavior and many make good grades. Although they do not outwardly display violence, many shooters engage in violence through video games, movies, and writing. These offenders also have a history of anger issues and outbursts due to these issues.[22] Although they constantly feel like they are worthless loners, rejected from society, a majority of the time there is an event that can be pinpointed that sets the shooter on their path. Typically, this event is triggering, like being rejected by someone specific. On occasion during the shooting spree, they will target the person who they feel wronged them.[23] These shootings are well thought out beforehand and meticulously planned, the shooter usually is trying to convey a message and go out with a bang.[24] A theme that has been noted is that prior to the incident there is a “leakage” of information about the shooting, where the assailant either tells someone about their plans or it is seen through their writing or schoolwork.[25] Another theme is that there is a lack of closeness at home with their family.

The shooter is not the only person who psychologists look at. The victims and surrounding community are deeply affected as well. The survivors of a shooting are severely impacted because they tend to develop mental health problems. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the most prevalent in survivors as well as Major Depressive Disorder. The distress from the incident can also lead to alcoholism and substance abuse. Most of the time, with help from professionals the effect from these disorders can be reduced over time. There are many different reactions survivors may have after a school shooting. After time, some survivors develop a newfound appreciation for life, because they know that that could change quickly. Others, especially people who were closer to the incident or victims, tend to continue to have mental health issues. The closer in proximity or relation the person is, the more severely their mental health is impacted. The community is affected too, and people tend to feel unsafe in public places. Females and people of lower socioeconomic status tend to develop more problems with their mental health as well. Having a strong support system is critical in the recovery process, as people without a support system tend to feel the effects of mental disorders more than those with one.[26] Victims and survivors have a plethora of emotions after a shooting. Mental health care professionals are necessary to help them sort through these emotions and overcome disorders. Even if the survivors do not use the professional’s help, it is good for their mental health to know that the resource is there if they need it and that people are there for them. Although children tend to bounce back faster than adults, mental health professionals need to stay and help the survivors long term because for many, the effects will still be present and they will need help coping.[27]

In conclusion, school shootings are a result of cultural, ethical, and scientific factors. As seen, there are many examples of shootings being influenced by other shootings. Shooters see people with similar mentalities and carry out their own crimes in response to get the same glorification. This is representative of their mental health problems that are usually undiagnosed or untreated. This produces the frightening culture of America and the fear children have of going to school, not knowing whether or not they will make it home that day.



[1] “Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.” Last modified July 3, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2019.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lansing State Journal. “Bath School bombing.” Last modified May 11, 2017. Accessed February 29, 2019. Greco, Rachel. “Bath School Bombing: Oldest Surviving Student Recalls ‘how Awful It Was’.” Lansing State Journal. May 11, 2017. Accessed February 19, 2019.

[4] “Columbine Shooting.” Last modified October 3, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2019.

[5] Shultz, James M., Glenn W. Muschert, Alison Dingwall, and Alyssa M. Cohen. The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting as Tipping Point. 2nd ed. Vol. 1. Disaster Health. Taylor & Francis, 2013.

[6] “Connecticut Shooting: Hero Teacher Died Saving Students : Vicki Soto.” Accessed March 21, 2019.

[7] AJC. “The Worst School Shootings in US History.” Last modified February 28, 2018. Accessed February 19, 2019.

[8] C. DiMaggio, et al, Changes in US Mass Shooting Deaths Associated with the 1994-2004 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, 2019).

[9] Colion, Noir, How the Media Helps Killers Inspire Killers, (NRATV, 2018).

[10] Jennifer Murray, Mass Media Reporting and Enabling of Mass Shootings, (Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 17, no. 2, 2017), 114-124.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Gwynne Ellen Ash and Jane M. Saunders, From “I Don’t Like Mondays” to ‘Pumped Up Kicks’: Rampage School Shootings in Young Adult Fiction and Young Adult Lives, (Children’s Literature in Education 49 (1), 2018), 34-46.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Murray, Mass Media Reporting

[15] Margaret Paccione-Dyszlewski, Trauma, Children, and the Media: What Is Ethical Coverage, (Brown University Child & Adolescent Behavior Letter 29 (3), 2013), 8.


[17] Modzeleski, William, and Marisa Reddy Randazzo, School Threat Assessment in the USA: Lessons Learned from 15 Years of Teaching and Using the Federal Model to Prevent School Shootings, (Contemporary School Psychology, Heidelberg, 2018).

[18] Ibid.

[19] Gerard, F. J., et al, Offender and Offence Characteristics of School Shooting Incidents, (2015).

[20] Kraft, Sheryl, Inside the Mind of Nikolas Cruz and Other Mass School Shooters, (CNBC, 2018).

[21] Modzeleski, William, and Marisa Reddy Randazzo, School Threat Assessment in the USA.

[22] Gerard, F. J., et al, Offender and Offence Characteristics.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Lowe, Sarah, and Sandro Galea, The Mental Health Consequences of Mass Shootings, (Sage Journals, 2015).

[27] Novotney, Amy, What Happens to the Survivors, (2018).

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