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Cold Case Christianity


I Know What Motivated the Last School Shooter… and What Will Motivate the Next One

In the days following a recent school shooting (this one in Santa Fe, Texas), family members, friends and investigators found themselves searching for illusive answers. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott summarized the effort: “Unlike Parkland, unlike Sutherland Springs, there were not those types of warning signs. The red-flag warnings were either nonexistent or very imperceptible.” The shooter’s parents said the media reports of the shooting seemed “incompatible with the boy (they) love,” and the killer’s best friend said the killer was “one of the most responsible people I knew. He didn’t drink or do drugs, to my knowledge… He was academically proactive, making all A’s.” Given the profile that is emerging, investigators have not yet identified the motive for the shooting.

I, however, know precisely why this latest killer did what he did, and I also know what will motivate the next killer to act in a similar way.

Many years ago, as I began investigating high-profile murders in Los Angeles County, I carefully chronicled the motives for every homicide that occurred in our region. You might think there are a million reasons why someone would commit a murder, but there are only three. These motives are the driving force behind every homicide, and they are also responsible for every theft, burglary and robbery. In fact, these three motives lie at the heart of every conceivable crime or misdeed.

Human misbehavior is motivated by (1) financial greed, (2) sexual – or relational – lust, and (3) the pursuit of power.

You might be wondering if there is a fourth category. There isn’t. What about jealousy? What about anger? Ask yourself the question: What is causing the jealousy or anger? There are only three answers to this question, and now you know them.

The notorious gang, MS13, inadvertently confirmed these three motives when choosing the motto for their criminal organization: “Mata, roba, viola, controla”’ (kill, steal, rape, control). All murders (“kill”) are motivated by financial greed (“steal”), sexual lust (“rape”) or the pursuit of power (“control”). Sometimes one of these motives is the driving force behind a crime. Sometimes two or more are involved.

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The latest school shooting is a good example. While there doesn’t appear to be any financial motive, the killer does appear to have been driven by the other two motivations I’ve described:

Sexual Lust
One of the victims was apparently pursued by the killer in the days and weeks prior to the shooting. Shana Fischer’s mother said the killer “kept making advances on her (daughter) and she (Shana) repeatedly told him no.” According to Shana’s father, “Shana told her mother two weeks ago he (the boy she rebuffed) was going to come and kill her.”

The Pursuit of Power
This form of motivation can be very nuanced and includes one’s sense of respect, authority, embarrassment, prestige or control. For example, as the killer became “more aggressive” in his advances toward Shana (approximately one week prior to the shooting), Shana eventually “stood up to him” and “embarrassed him in class.” In addition, several news outlets have reported that the shooter was bullied and “mistreated at school.” Episodes of perceived disrespect and embarrassment are often the motive for murder. This would also explain why some of the killer’s friends said that he recently “started wearing a trench coat” and telling students he was “buying knives off Amazon.” The shooter incrementally sought the respect (and fear) of others, a classic example of the pursuit of power. During the attack, he even selectively spared students he liked “so he could have his story told.” This effort to elevate his fame and prestige after the fact is consistent with the motive I’ve described.

Only three motives lie behind school shootings like the ones we’ve seen recently, and that’s why I sadly expect to see more shootings in the future. When those shootings occur, you can rest assured that they will be motivated by greed, lust or power. Unless we, as a nation, are willing to embrace and promote a worldview that helps us understand the proper role of money and financial stewardship, promotes sexual purity and restraint, and helps us place the needs of others ahead of our own desires, we can expect more of the same. Those restorative values may sound familiar to you; they used to be part of our collective heritage and our common worldview. They are also our last and greatest hope if we ever expect to minimize and contain the only three reasons anyone commits a crime. Only three motives lie behind school shootings like the ones we’ve seen recently, and that’s why I sadly expect to see more shootings in the future. Click To Tweet

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For more information about strategies to help you teach Christian worldview to the next generation, please read So the Next Generation Will Know: Training Young Christians in a Challenging World. This book teaches parents, youth pastors and Christian educators practical, accessible strategies and principles they can employ to teach the youngest Christians the truth of Christianity. The book is accompanied by an eight-session So the Next Generation Will Know DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case ChristianityGod’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.

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J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured cold-case homicide detective, popular national speaker and best-selling author. He continues to consult on cold-case investigations while serving as a Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He is also an Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and a faculty member at Summit Ministries. He holds a BA in Design (from CSULB), an MA in Architecture (from UCLA), and an MA in Theological Studies (from Gateway Seminary).

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