Tombstone Class
By: Barry A. Cohen


My name is Barry A. Cohen. I am a trial lawyer in Tampa, Florida. As a trial lawyer for over 40 years, I have represented people charged with murder, victims of murderers acting out, as well as children accused of efforts to blow up a school, and many other dysfunctional, bellicose societal misfits.

Last Sunday, New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristoff pointed out that more Americans have been killed by gun violence than died in all U.S. wars going back to the American Revolution. This is an average of having a Vietnam War’s worth of casualties (30,000) every year.  Kristoff also tells us that more American preschoolers in America are shot dead in America each year than police officers in the line of duty.

The Problem

A great deal of this gun violence epidemic is mass shootings, like Chris Mercer-Harper taking six guns to Umpqua Community College last week and massacring nine and injuring many more. The Chicago Times reports that in 275 days of 2015 there have been 294 mass killings in this country (defined as a crime of violence where 4 or more people are killed). The Washington Post calculated that during President Barack Obama’s second term, not a single Sunday-to-Saturday calendar week has passed without a mass shooting. Mass killings occur in places Americans thought to be safe: schools, malls, movie theatres and other public places. They happen so often, that these occurrences are predictable.

Is There A Profile?

Last Sunday, the New York Times concluded that there was no real profile of mass shooters. Perhaps they are correct across the entire broad spectrum of these killers. However, I wholly disagree when it comes to “young-men killers”, those 13–28 year olds like Chris Harper-Mercer, Adam Lanza, Eric Harris and Jared Loughner. For these young men, there are striking similarities and an identifiable profile.

Because I believe there is a “young-man killer” profile, I think the killings by these young men can be prevented. That is why I am writing this three-part series to identify the profile, discuss the role that our broken mental health system may play in these killings, and talk about how we can stop this needless carnage now! Based on my professional experience and what other mental health experts say, perhaps if someone had talked and empathized with these young men, then the outcomes would likely be different. My seventh grade teacher, Mr. High, did with me. He cared enough about me to get me off the left road, onto the right road.

Mass killings are an epidemic scourge. President Obama, my wife, and many practical-minded citizens argue that the second amendment argument is not inconsistent with a common-sense approach to gun control. We can all agree that gun control will not eliminate these mass killings. Angry, mentally-ill young men will find the guns they want or rely on alternative weapons, i.e. Timothy McVeigh. No, what we must do is find a way to recognize the aberrant and troubled youngster, and help him, love him, and help him love himself. The helplessness, the loneliness, the rage, the vindictiveness, the desire to show the world that such dastardly acts can fill the empty hole in his heart and hate cell in his brain, all can be eliminated or minimized by our combined wisdom, strength, and execution of a well thought out plan. If we put our minds to it, it should be as successful as Coca-Cola’s marketing plan.

The Young-Man Killer Profile

Who are the Chris Harper-Myers’ that end up pulling the trigger on our children? When you look back almost twenty years a clear picture and profile of these boys and young men come to focus. They are almost always white males; they are between 13 – 28 years of age; they all have a history of mental illness; many are being treated for their mental health problems; they are obsessed with guns; they wear military gear; they are loners, social “misfits” introverted and withdrawn; they post anti-social, psychotic or threatening messages on the internet; they “legally” purchase guns, massive amounts of ammunition and in some cases body armor.  One more cold, hard and deadly fact separates these young-men killers from the others who mass kill: Almost all of these young-men killers were on (or withdrawing from) the use of powerful anti-depressant, anti-psychotic or other powerful psychotropic drugs. Here are the facts:

Shooter’s Name, Age Meds Prescribed Incident Location Date # Dead # Wounded
Eric Harris, 17 Zoloft, then Luvox Columbine High School, CO 4/20/99 13 23
Jeff Weise, 16 Prozac Red Lake Indian Reservation H.S., MN Grade School 3/21/05 12 12
Cory Baadsgaard,  16 Effexor Washington State High School 4/10/01 12 hostages held until disarmed
Klip Kinkel, 15 Prozac School 5/21/98 4 22, including his parents
Luke Woodham, 16 Prozac Pearl High School, MS 10/1/97 3 incl. w/ mom 7
Michael Carnal, 14 Ritalin Heath H. S.  Prayer Mtg,W.  Paducah, KY 12/1/97 3 5
Andrew Golden, 11 & Mitchell Johnson, 13 Both on Ritalin Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, AR 3/24/98 5 10
T.J. Solomon, 15 Ritalin Conyers, Georgia High School 5/20/99 6
James Wilson, 19 Xanax w/  various psychiatric drugs Oakland Elementary School, SC 9/26/88 2 9
Jason Hoffman Effexor & Celexa El Cajun School, CA Shooting 3/22/01 5
Matti Saari, 22 SSRI & a benzodiazapine Kauhajoki School of Hospitality Shooting, Finland 9/23/08 10 1
Steve Kazmierczak, 27 Prozac, Xanax & Ambien Northern Illinois University, IL 2/14/08 5 18
Asa Coon, 14 Triazadone SuccessTech Academy shooting, Cleveland, OH 10/10/07 4
Jared Lee Loughner, 22 Prescribed meds but refused to take Used illegal drugs instead. them. Rep. Gifford’s Constituents Mtg, Wal-mart parking lot, Tucson, AZ Shooting 1/8/11 6 14 including Rep. Gifford
James Eagan  Holmes, 24 Under univ. counselor’s care. Aurora Theater, CO 7/20/12 12 70
Adam Peter Lanza, 20 Autistic, anti-depression meds Sandy Hook Elementary, Newton, CT 12/14/12 27 12
Dylan Storm Roof, 21 Suboxone Emanuel Church Shooting, Charleston, SC 6/17/15 9 3

Data obtained from  Retrieved on 10/09/2015.

There is a profile here. It is one that is transparent just from looking at the medical records, social media, and the purchases of guns, ammunition and body armor.

Chris Harper Fit the Profile

Chis Harper-Mercer fit this “young-man, killer” profile perfectly.  He is a white male 26 years of age. According to his mother, a licensed practical nurse, Chris was an Asperger kid, similar to Adam Lanza. He attended a school for the mentally disturbed and challenged children. According to Peter Breggin, M.D., Chris’s mother stated that he was on numerous drugs for his mental illness. Chris’ screen name was “Lithium Love”. His Mom was going door-to-door asking neighbors to help control roaches in their building as reported by The New York Times. She said, “My son is dealing with some mental issues, and the roaches are really irritating him […]”. Chris had no real friends and his acquaintances described him as quiet, solitary and withdrawn. He was treated insignificantly by young women and others.  He also was discharged from the army after five weeks; it has been suggested that this was due to mental problems. He wore combat gear daily.  He publicly demonstrated an obsession with guns. He posted bizarre and ominous on-line messages.  He was armed with six guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and was wearing body armor. In recent posts, he began to idolize other mass killers and their violent behavior. He described himself as doing the “devil’s work.”

Shortly before taking 6 of his 13 legally obtained guns to Umpqua Community College, dressed in body armor and loaded with spare ammunition, Chris praised and admired Roanoke-VA.shooter Vester Flanagan in an on-line blog:

“I have noticed that some people like him are all alone and unknown. Yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. …A man who was known by no one is now known by every one. His face splashed across every screen; his name across the lips of every person on the planet, all in the course of one day. Seems the more people you kill the more you’re in the limelight.”

On another file-sharing forum where illicit content is often shared, blog posts linked to his email address expressed sympathy for Mr. Flanagan, the fired TV-reporter who killed two former co-workers in August. He, in essence, said when you treat someone with a level of disrespect and insignificance, of course, this will happen.

How Could We Miss Chris?

The signs were all there. Chris Harper-Mercer was one of the many young-men killers out there. He was acting out. It was only a matter of time until he would create his own horror, destroying lives and families in the process. The truth is that if we had seen what was there, the way we do with suspected terrorists, we may have been able to stop him.  In this world of “Big Data”, NSA Internet and phone info capture, and the detailed medical reporting that is readily available, shouldn’t he have been detectable and stoppable. If we treated the mass shooting epidemic in this country like we treat terror plots, I believe Chris and most other of these young-men killers would have been stopped. The needless massacre of our children needs to become a national priority now!!!

We need to develop a system now to proactively find these disturbed individuals and give them the mental health treatment and support that they need. In Part II, I will discuss this country’s broken mental health system that offers no help or protection to the young-men killers or us. I will show you, based on my own professional experience and the words of mental health experts, that perhaps if an individual is facing these overwhelming sentiments, and had someone to talk to and who truly empathized with these young-men killers in time, there would be no victims to mourn.