‘Unpacking the motive’: FBI behavioral analysts digging into the ‘why’ of the Allen mall shooter


Investigators and researchers say, far from glorifying mass shooters, studying their backgrounds helps prevent the next attack

ALLEN, Texas — In many mass shootings, the gunman also dies. There is no criminal trial, no one to arrest, and no answers for families.  

But much can be learned to help prevent killings in the future.  

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit is staffed by world-class criminal profilers who get into the minds of society’s most terrible people. They are studying what happened in Allen on May 6, 2023. They rarely give interviews, but they agreed to speak to us. 

“When attacks happen, part of our mission is to deploy at the request of the local law enforcement to do what’s called a post-attack analysis, which is really understanding the ‘why’ behind the attack, unpacking the motive of the offender,” said Dr. Karie Gibson of the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, Va. 

The FBI hopes to finalize a report on Allen later this year. 

Gathering evidence

Within an hour after a gunman killed eight people at the Allen Premium Outlets, Dallas police and FBI agents were at his parent’s home in Dallas. 

They took computers, files, and other evidence, trying to learn more about the shooter and why he did it. 

“One thing is that we know these offenders don’t snap. We know that they consider a plan and prepare,” Dr. Gibson said. “It starts with a grievance, which is a humiliation, slight or a perceived wrong, an injustice.” 

Part of what they looked at happened 15 years ago when the gunman was kicked out of the Army before he finished basic training. 

Army service 

WFAA obtained some of his military records but couldn’t access his psychological profile, which the Army withheld citing the dead man’s privacy rights. 

The documents show in 2008 – while still in basic training in Georgia – his commanding officer recommended that he “be separated from the Army prior to the expiration of his current term of service.” 

According to the records he was sent to an Army psychiatrist for a “mental status evaluation.” The result:  He was “diagnosed with adjustment disorder with disturbance of conduct.” 

“This soldier lacks the ability to continue in the Army and to pursue further therapy,” a commander wrote.

The final assessment: “Soldier will have no access to weapons.”

WFAA showed the shooter’s Army paperwork to military lawyer Patrick McLain.

“If you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the U.S. military, more likely than not, you will be instructed not to handle firearms,” McLain said.

But that didn’t apply to him outside the Army. 

The military records don’t go into detail about what caused them to be alarmed, but, he was never court-martialed or deemed incompetent by a judge – so even though he was disturbed enough to get kicked out of the military, he was free to buy guns for the next 15 years. 

The shooter’s family talked to us off-camera but didn’t want to be recorded.  His stepfather told us they never knew why he was released from the military – he just showed up three months after leaving home. 

That’s not unusual. 

“The military treats all enlistees as adults. They don’t report back to the family members,” McLain said. 

Dr. Gibson said there’s no requirement that the Army tell law enforcement someone disturbed is re-entering civilian life. 

“For the most part, they are going to be dealing with the individual members through their channels and their resources,” Dr. Gibson said. “Then they will start to coordinate with us if there is going to be, you know, a handoff in the sense of them being separated or them leaving the military.” 

Journals and writings 

The gunman often wrote about suicide and violence. 

“We know that there is a thin line between suicidality and homicidally and so for us we say all the time suicide prevention is homicide prevention,” Dr. Gibson said. 

The FBI says it is crucial for family members to intervene when they see someone experiencing a break from reality or actively talking about harming themselves and others. 

“You were 16 times more likely to be an active shooter if you were displaying concerning behavior by bystanders and they did nothing about it,” Gibson said.  

Two weeks before the shooting, he wrote about how someone he was interacting with had said he “looked like the type to walk into a crowd and start shooting,” but apparently, they did nothing to intervene. 

“We know that when they do that, a lot of times the act of violence can happen within seven days of obtaining that weapon,” Dr. Gibson said. 

The FBI says their goal is not to reason with or excuse the behavior of the shooter, but to use the information to stop other shootings and educate the public about speaking up when they see something.  

In the last year, the FBI has received 360 leads where they have been able to intervene. 

“And we are hopeful here, because every day we see change happen and we see lives saved,” Gibson said. 

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