Twin Cities researchers to discuss preliminary results of mass shooting study

Pittsburgh shooting
Police responded to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.
Pam Panchak | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Talk to teachers or police officers about mass shooters and much of the focus is the same: how to stop an attack, whether it's with practice drills, lockdowns or by arming guards.

Two Twin Cities professors have been working on a study of mass shootings. They're trying to find ways to identify people who might turn into mass shooters, and strategies to prevent attacks like the one in California this week and the many before it. They recently received a $300,000 federal grant to further that research.

Jillian Peterson, an expert in criminology at Hamline University and her colleague, James Densley, a professor at Metropolitan State, started by building a database of mass shooters. It identifies a range of personal factors that might offer clues to their attacks, such as a history of violence or mental illness.

The two-year grant will help them continue their work on the subject. The next step is to look at the communities where mass shooters came from, things like "[available] resources, people who own guns; looking at poverty," Peterson said.

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Then they will do interviews with "living mass shooters who are currently incarcerated." They also plan to go to the communities where mass shooters lived, to talk to their families and friends, as well as people who were there when the shooting happened.

For the last phase, Peterson and Densley are planning to make their data available to other researchers; they expect to finish by the summer of 2020.

So far their research has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

They present their initial conclusions from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday at Hamline University's Klas Center in the Kay Frederick ballroom.