A Linguistic Analysis of Mass Shooter Journals, Diaries, Correspondence, and Manifestos
Mass shootings often result in panic and calls for increased public safety. Past research has focused on the motives and ambitions of the shooters in hopes of determining their rationale for prevention, while other studies have looked to create a consistent mass shooter profile using artifacts such as suicide notes, medical history, and/or testimonies from the shooters’ friends and family. Written communications by mass shooters (suicide notes, manifestos, diaries, journals, and letters) are a pivotal resource because they allow researchers to investigate the shooters’ motives from their point of view while also providing data for analysis. This study looked to examine the written communications of mass shooters through linguistic analysis to answer the following research questions. First, what are some of the common themes found in the written communications of mass shooters. Second, for each of the common themes found, do mass shooters who expressed that theme differ from those who did not with regards to select linguistic dimensions? I identified the writing themes in each writing sample, then quantitatively assessed linguistic word categories using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) tool for content analysis. Using an independent samples t test, I found mass shooters who expressed suicidal desires were less likely to use words referencing the past than mass shooters who did not express suicidal desires. This study looked to contribute to the body of literature by applying the writing themes found in earlier studies to the written communications of strictly mass shooters.