The Killing Spree by Barbara Nadel

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Perpetrators in my books don’t tend to go in for killing sprees. I guess I have always found the somewhat theatrical and florid aspects of these events rather more distressing than actually interesting. More often than not, these things pursue a familiar course which is driven by a known type of offender. Basically a man with a raft of problems and grudges, both real and assumed, goes apparently berserk with a gun or a knife and then kills himself. With luck, only a few people are killed or injured. Sadly that is not always the way and certainly in the case of 52 year old Derrick Bird who killed 12 people in Cumbria last month, a lot of people directly and indirectly, suffered. And although we all now know that Derrick Bird was under financial pressure as well as dealing with rejection from his young Thai girlfriend when he committed his crimes, none of his personal issues excuse what he did.

Now, also in the north of England, but this time in the east of the country, we have Raoul Moat. He was only released from Durham jail last week. But as soon as he could, he got himself a gun, shot his ex-girlfriend and her new partner and then shot a policeman. Luckily the policeman and the ex-girlfriend have managed to survive, but her partner is dead and Moat is still at large in a county, Northumbria, that is England’s answer to the Tora Bora Mountains of Afghanistan. It could take months to find him, time during which he could and is indeed starting to, achieve mythic status.

I don’t know whether what Derrick Bird did in Cumbria back in June acted as a catalyst or spur to Raoul’s Moat’s actions. But, just like Bird, he is a man scorned and in his communications to the police, he blames his ex-girlfriend for what he has done saying that her infidelity drove him to it. Apparently quite a lot of other men who have now posted onto Moat’s Facebook site agree with this assessment of the situation and reckon that a woman almost shot to death, her current partner murdered, ‘had it coming’. Others apparently applaud his targeting of the police, an organisation Moat blames for much that is wrong with his life. How these people will feel now that Moat has apparently stated that anyone is now fair game, I don’t know. He has said that he won’t stop until he is killed and wants to go down in what I imagine he thinks will be a blaze of glory. These things nearly always seem to have an element of the ‘wild west’ about them. Maybe we should consider banning Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? (Not)

But putting the sickening misogyny and the grandstanding aside, both Bird and Moat and their admirers have entirely lost sight of just how un-mythic and tawdry this is. Spree killers are people who blame others. They go on the rampage because it’s a way of attracting attention that even now in our ‘reality’ obsessed culture gets you more air time than Victoria and David Beckham combined. Even their deaths are acts of cinematic bathos as they either fall dead to the floor in a hail of police bullets or pull the trigger on themselves. That people are so damaged they feel they have to resort to such tactics is tragic, but to perpetuate the myth of spree killing is unforgivable.

Whether Bird inspired Moat may never be known, particularly if Moat dies in the way that he wants to. But I think that, even if I didn’t realise it before, I now know why I don’t have spree killers in my books. It’s because, though truly sorry for any pain these men might have experienced in their lives, I just cannot deal with the level of narcissism involved. It doesn’t engage me. People who feel that they have nothing to live for, often try and/or succeed at suicide. That is tragic and in my practice as a Mental Health Advocate, I always tried my best to make sure that no one I worked with felt they had to do that. But to ‘take’, as it were, other people with you? No, even in fiction I can’t give that the oxygen of publicity. Like most people, thankfully, in the UK at the moment, I just want this incident to come to an end without any more further bloodshed, hysteria or heroic grandstanding.

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