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NOVA: Mind Of A Rampage Killer

Airs Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013 at 9 p.m. & Sunday, Feb. 24 at 3 p.m. on KPBS TV

Brain Scan - CAT Scan and MRI scan in color.

Credit: Courtesy of WGBH

Above: Brain Scan - CAT Scan and MRI scan in color.

What makes a person walk into a theater or church or classroom and open fire? What combination of circumstances compels a human being to commit the most inhuman of crimes? As the nation tries to comprehend the tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, NOVA correspondent Miles O’Brien investigates theories into what drives rampage killers in "Mind Of A Rampage Killer."

Photo credit: Courtesy of WGBH

Liza Long is the mother of 13-year-old “Michael,” a bright and articulate boy who, with terrifying suddenness, can flip into a wildly violent rage. Long wrote the viral post, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother."

Photo credit: Courtesy of WGBH

Paul J. Frick, Ph.D (center) is University Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of New Orleans. His research focuses on understanding the different pathways through which youth develop severe antisocial behavior and aggression and the implications of this research for assessment and treatment.

Could suicide — and the desire to go out in a media-fueled blaze of glory — be their main motivation?

How much can science tell us about a brain at risk for violence? Most important, can we recognize dangerous minds in time to stop the next Newtown?

How Do We Perceive Risk?

On Sunday, December 16, 2012, two Topeka Kansas police officers were shot to death while investigating a suspicious vehicle, a Mississippi man was shot to death in a road rage-related incident, and five other shooting deaths were being investigated in New Jersey, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois.

Eight people murdered by guns in one day. But you probably didn't hear anything about them, nor about most of the other 15,000 Americans shot to death in 2012. Why not? And why are we hearing so much more about the shooting two days earlier of 26 people in Newtown, Connecticut?

The complex and nuanced answer tells us a lot about the emotional way we perceive and respond to risk, both as individuals and as a society. Read the full article by David Ropeik.

NOVA is on Facebook, and you can follow @novapbs on Twitter. Miles O’Brien is on Facebook, and you can follow @milesobrien on Twitter.

Preview: NOVA: Mind Of A Rampage Killer

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Watch Mind of a Rampage Killer Preview on PBS. See more from NOVA.

As the nation tries to understand the tragic events at Newtown, NOVA correspondent Miles O'Brien separates fact from fiction, investigating new theories that the most destructive rampage killers are driven most of all, not by the urge to kill, but the wish to die. Can science help us understand why some people commit horrific acts of mass murder?

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Watch NOVA: Neuroscience of Violence on PBS. See more from After Newtown.

While there is some evidence linking violence in general to risk factors such as age, sex, substance abuse, and personality traits such as anger and impulsiveness, over many years, researchers have established that only a very small subset of people suffering from mental illness are likely to commit violent acts. NOVA investigates what we know and what we don’t about the neuroscience of violence.

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Watch Criminal Minds: Born or Made? on PBS. See more from NOVA scienceNOW.

How might genes, brain structure, and environment conspire to make one person a violent criminal and another a rule-abiding citizen? We meet scientists who are using neuroimaging and genetic testing to uncover the biology of aggression—and explore the brain circuitry that could play a key role in the creation of a violent mind.

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