An Asteroid Did Not Fall From the Sky

Professional gambler Stephen Paddock committed the worst mass shooting in the history of the United States. He killed 58 people (so far) and injured more than 500. Right after the carnage, his brother Eric said “an asteroid fell from the sky” because his brother gave no indications “at all” that he was on this pathway. The FBI and an army of Nevada law enforcement professionals immediately began searching for a “motive." Everyone wants to find reason and logic in this heinous, unimaginable crime. They want to explain why Paddock attacked 22,000 innocent country western music concert goers with automatic weapons from the 32nd floor of a hotel. So far, we only get to blame “bump stocks” and argue about the 2nd Amendment. Time will tell what else they discover but we already know enough to make some sense of the rage-filled actions of Paddock. The answer is connected to ACEs. Once we all understand ACEs, we won’t buy the lie that “an asteroid fell from the sky.”
 
The ACEs that helped turn Paddock into the greatest mass shooter in history, that took the lives of so many, and devastated families across this country, however, are not found in the cards he gambled with in Las Vegas.
 
The CDC-Kaiser Permanente Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study is the most significant research done in 30 years on the predictive nature of childhood trauma on adult illness, disease, criminality, and victimization. It has not been mentioned in any TV coverage or print news story in the hundreds of hours of coverage. The media and the investigators are not even discussing the ACEs of Paddock’s life.
 
Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda began the ACE Study more than 15 years ago as they studied 17,431 Kaiser Permanente patients in San Diego and identified correlations between the childhood trauma they had experienced and later health impacts, onset of diseases, and mental illnesses later in life. Other researchers have now studied ACEs in jail and prison populations, children growing up in abusive homes, victims and their children in Family Justice Centers and domestic violence shelters, teen criminals in Juvenile Justice facilities, and court-ordered child abuse, domestic violence, and sexual assault offenders. They have also been studied in mass shooters, mass murderers, extremists, and men who strangle women in this country. What is the most significant finding from the ACEs research when it comes to criminality in America?
 
In America, we raise our criminals at home. In America, we raise our rage-filled, home-grown radicalized terrorists at home. In America, we raise our mass murderers at home.
 
Felitti and Anda developed a scale of 0-10 that gives one point to ten different kinds of trauma a child can suffer between birth and age 18. ACES include being abused physically or sexually as a child, experiencing verbal and emotional abuse, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent with a mental health issue, experiencing abandonment or neglect, having divorced parents, an incarcerated parent, or a parent with drug or alcohol issue. Thirty-six percent of the American public has an ACE score of zero. Sixty-four percent of the American public has an ACE score of 1 or greater. What has the ACEs research found? The higher your ACE score the greater the likelihood of profound health, behavior and economic impacts in adulthood.
 
Felitti and Anda and now many other researchers have correlated high ACE scores to dramatically higher rates of victimization, illness, disease, and criminality in people’s lives than those with an ACE score of zero. The higher an ACE score the greater the likelihood of adult violence. An ACE score of 4 or greater is correlated with everything from mental illness, to sociopathic and psychopathic behavior, to drug and alcohol abuse. What if we are missing what is already in plain sight from the carnage in Las Vegas? What if we are ignoring the actual genesis of a mass murderer by not talking about ACEs?
 
Fact: Most of the mass murderers/shooters, homegrown terrorists, prison inmates, rapists, and violent criminals in this country grew up in homes with some mix of child abuse, domestic violence, neglect, verbal and emotional abuse, and drug and/or alcohol abuse. The ACEs of childhood produce the rage and criminality of adulthood.
 
Based on what we know so far, without any intensive research yet on Paddock’s childhood, we know he was violently abused by his brother Bruce, abandoned by his psychopathic, mentally ill father at age 7, the product of divorced parents, regularly subjected to fear of violence and abuse in his home growing up, and the son of an incarcerated father. This gives Paddock an ACE score of at least 6 and dramatically increases the likelihood that he would grow up with unmitigated rage and chronic mental health issues. We don’t know the whole story yet, but he was at least verbally and emotionally, if not physically abusive, to the intimate partners in his life. My guess is we will find all kinds of other anti-social and abusive behavior toward others when the whole story is told. He lacked attachment to virtually anyone — no close friends have come forward from anywhere — and he was obsessed with possessing and firing military style weapons without any interest in hunting, target shooting, skeet shooting, or recreational gun use with friends or social acquaintances.
 
It is easy to say “Who cares? He was a killer and he made choices that other people don’t make even when bad things have happened to them.” True. When acts like this happen, no one has any sympathy for the killer and no one wants to hear someone was abused as a child. Fair enough. Many grow up with violence and abuse and abandonment in their lives and they don’t become infamous mass murderers. But virtually all the mass murderers have high ACE scores. Virtually all radicalized American terrorists have high ACE scores. What is the difference then? Those that don’t suffer the documented impacts of a high ACE score have many mitigating factors in their lives — mentors during childhood that help them set goals and then achieve those goals, caring friends and strong social support, healthy relationships with other children and then other adults, and mental health support as needed. As far as we know, Stephen Paddock had none of these mitigating forces in his life as a child or as an adult. It is not an excuse. It is not a complete explanation. It does not provide the “motive” we all want. But don’t buy the lie that an “asteroid fell from the sky.”
 
Casey Gwinn is the President of Alliance for HOPE International, the founder of Camp HOPE America (the first evidence-based camping program in America for children with High ACE Scores), and the author of a book about ACEs called Cheering for the Children: Creating Pathways to HOPE for Children Exposed to Trauma. He has 4 ACEs.

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Thanks for writing this excellent piece, Casey.  I keep waiting for this to be part of the national mainstream media conversation.  I hope you will send it to NYT or Huff Post or somewhere with broad readership.  I hope you will also send it to all of our members of Congress.  It will be so helpful for all of us if we can publicly talk about the root causes of violence through the ACE/Trauma/Resilience lens.

Dear Casey,  Thank you for your excellent summation of the Las Vegas' shooter's ACE profile.  I would add that his addiction to video poker was one of the ways he attempted to cope with the toxic stress of those ACEs and that his habit of spending 12 to 14 hours playing poker on a video screen (not with a person) exacerbated the damage to his brain, his irrationality fueled by disconnection and rage, and ultimately his humanity.  He became an evil monster. 

Thank you for this post. George Davis, MD co-principle researcher of one of the most rigorous reviews of juvenile criminal justice records, the Adverse Childhood Experiences in the New Mexico Juvenile Justice Population study revealed that the frequency of early abuse, neglect and family chaos of incarcerated youth reaches staggering rates, skyrocketing above national averages. He and I are hosting a free WEBINAR this Friday to talk about the research and we will be talking about the Las Vegas shooter in our discussion. I hope you will share and will join us!

(If you can't make it, you can still register and receive the webinar recording afterward!)

https://zoom.us/webinar/regist...de9ZLYQ8aJ_PM-1RVCJQ

Finally, someone else is mentioning the ACEs aspect to the Las Vegas shooter's past.  I have shared it with some community colleagues who are not in the mental health field, as a possible view to understanding.  Thank you. 

Edith Mann, LCSW

Penn Yan, NY 

 

Thank you for this apt description of the role of ACEs in mass shootings in general and the Las Vegas shooting specifically.  Two years ago to the day before the Las Vegas shooting our community in Oregon also suffered a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on 10-1-15 where 9 students/teacher were murdered and many more seriously injured.   Here too we had a young man who had  ACEs in his history.  We never as a community or society want to talk about this...in our culture the "family - the home" is ultimately the most private and protected sanctity/sphere - and the one most likely to spawn violence.  This needs to change.  

I hope that you have submitted this as an Op Ed to other media outlets. And I am wondering if we can submit this to our own local paper for publication?

Our community is once again reeling not only on the anniversary of our mass shooting but as our community becomes invisible on this anniversary of our horror, our sorrow, our loss.... superseded by a 'much greater loss' in Las Vegas.  

Thank you for taking the time to write this.

Marcia Hall, PhD        

This is always what I think first when I hear of a mass shooting -- How is childhood developmental trauma involved? Paddock's father, described as a serial criminal, fits a description of a parent with emotional or psychological issues, which is also an ACE criterion. His father was likely highly self-absorbed, narcissistic and possibly sociopathic -- DSM labels that can simplified into what I call an "Other-Blamer." These people are highly shame intolerance and have low self-worth, which makes them lack empathy for others. They cannot form attachments, and cannot be accountable or responsible. Paddock's father abandoned his son physically, but probably abandoned him emotionally much earlier because of his inability to form relationships with others. The result is a son who grows up into a person who cannot form close relationships, uses addictions as "substitute attachments", and lashes out at others in blame rather than being self-reflective. More on this topic at www.HarperWest.co

Casey G. Gwinn posted:
Jane Stevens posted:

Thank for posting this, Casey. I think many of us were adding up his ACE score. Can you provide links to news articles for the information about his past? 

Here's an article from the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/1...n-paddock-vegas.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com...m_term=.0ed4a35d7796

This gives us beaten as a child by his older brother, abandonment/neglect, divorce, incarcerated parent, parent with a mental health issue, and likely living in fear in home environment.  My guess is he also had a parent with drug and alcohol issues but we don't have that directly.

 

I definitely agree with this statement, "My guess is he also had a parent with drug and alcohol issues but we don't have that directly."

This was my first thought, as well, Casey, as I'm sure it was of the others in the ACEs Connection/Communities. You made so many excellent points, and as you so beautifully concluded, "But virtually all the mass murderers have high ACE scores. Virtually all radicalized American terrorists have high ACE scores. What is the difference then? Those that don’t suffer the documented impacts of a high ACE score have many mitigating factors in their lives — mentors during childhood that help them set goals and then achieve those goals, caring friends and strong social support, healthy relationships with other children and then other adults, and mental health support as needed. As far as we know, Stephen Paddock had none of these mitigating forces in his life as a child or as an adult. It is not an excuse. It is not a complete explanation. It does not provide the 'motive' we all want. But don’t buy the lie that an 'asteroid fell from the sky.'”

Thank you Casey for so eloquently raising and educating others on this issue.  I have seen the ACEs unveiled in case after case of Mass killings.  One of the additional similarities is the presence of Domestic Violence in their adult life [physical abuse or even without it, power and control issues].  This killer's girlfriend has certainly revealed the ongoing Power and control in their relationship.

In addition to any debate over gun control, perhaps it is time federal and state laws mandate an ACEs assessment and evidence-based Trauma informed care whenever an adult or child is: screened by a doctor, including Pediatricians; anyone associated with the Mental Health and Substance Abuse and juvenile and adult corrections fields touches the life of a child or adult.  Mandate all Early Learning Centers and schools are trauma informed and understand ACES, their impact and trauma informed care to more appropriately recognize and assist a child/youth acting out or shutting down in school--to catch them before they become a mass killer.  It is time that universities and colleges and graduate schools mandate education on ACEs.  How can we expect doctors, lawyers, judges, jailers, social workers, health care providers, teachers, child care workers, therapists or anyone who touches the life of a child, to utilize the most effective therapeutic and least expensive path to assuring the lives of these children are filled with the nurturing relationships Casey Gwinn references, heals and becomes a peaceful member of society, reaching their self-actualization and ending the violence --be it interpersonal violence or mass killings-- and ending the generational cycle of violence, societal ills, and costly chronic health problems.

Jane Stevens posted:

Thank for posting this, Casey. I think many of us were adding up his ACE score. Can you provide links to news articles for the information about his past? 

Here's an article from the NYTimes: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/1...n-paddock-vegas.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com...m_term=.0ed4a35d7796

This gives us beaten as a child by his older brother, abandonment/neglect, divorce, incarcerated parent, parent with a mental health issue, and likely living in fear in home environment.  My guess is he also had a parent with drug and alcohol issues but we don't have that directly.

 

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