TW // Violence, Violence toward animals, Gun violence
This blog includes readings, media, and discussions around topics such as gun violence, animal cruelty, domestic violence, sexual violence, physical violence, identity-based discrimination, and harassment. Reader discretion is advised.
As we mourn the victims in Uvalde, a national conversation is underway about how to prevent similar events. In addition to the actions under consideration, there is a behavior that violent criminals frequently exhibit before they commit extreme acts against people: animal cruelty. As we continue to learn more about the events that transpired up until, we hope we can provide education to our communities on the incredible importance of early detection of animal abusers – which is so often overlooked.
It’s been reported by multiple outlets that the deceased 18-year-old shooter shared many images publicly on social media of horrific animal cruelty. Research has shown that people who have harmed animals are five times more likely to harm humans than people who haven’t. Psychology Today reports that, in one prison, 70% of the criminals most violent to humans also had a history of animal abuse, whereas the average among nonaggressive prisoners was only 6%. 
Not all mass shooters have abused animals, but the deadly violence occurring in school shootings in recent years has, in most cases, begun with cruelty to animals. How can we come together as a community to prevent such indicators from growing into serious problems? We hope to provide resources to answer this crucial question.
Since the early 60s, criminologists, psychiatrists, and investigators studying mass murders have claimed that animal cruelty is an unfortunate and possible predictor of future violence. A 2013 study of school massacres, in particular, found that 43% of the perpetrators committed animal cruelty before the event.
“The Link” refers to the established link between cruelty to animals and violence towards humans. Understanding the link is critically important and must be taken seriously by law enforcement and society. Not only are the animals at risk, but our society as a whole.
“It is the absence of empathy and the inability to be sensitive to the suffering of others, whether it’s animals or people. And that’s one of the reasons why these two forms of abuse are often connected”, said psychologist Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice-president at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and an expert in the correlation between animal abuse and other forms of violence.
To read our full blog about The Link and Cross-Reporting Abuse, click here.
Examples of Recent USA Mass Shootings
People who hurt animals regularly don’t stop with animals.
Uvalde shooter Salvador Ramos was reported to have had a history of abusing cats and dogs. He allegedly committed animal abuse and displayed videos of the cruelty to users on social media. In some instances, the alleged animal abuse was committed publicly and then posted for online viewing. According to one user, Ramos would “boast” about how he and his friends did “it all the time.” One user said Ramos would allegedly publicize the abuse and would “put cats in plastic bags, suspend them inside, throw them at the ground and throw them at people’s houses.”
The Daily Beast reported that Ramos “had a long history of anger and aggression that was somehow overlooked for far too long,” including “beating a little dog senseless,” according to a former classmate. “He would go to the park and try to pick on people and he loved hurting animals,” said Jamie Arellano, who attended Uvalde High School with Ramos.
Buffalo shooter Payton Gendron allegedly committed the May 14, 2022, racially motivated mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that left ten people dead. According to a document he posted online, animal abuse was involved before the May 14 attack.
Gendron wrote on March 25, 2022, that he went into his garage to check on his cat and found a gray cat attacking her. He then spent 90 minutes chasing the cat around the garage, stabbing it with a hunting knife, slamming its head, and swinging a hatchet at its neck. He then posted a picture of the animal with its head detached inside a shallow grave.
“Honestly right now I don’t feel anything about killing that cat,” he wrote. “I thought I would be in pain but I literally just feel blank.” He took meticulous notes, recording the time when blood spilled from the cat’s mouth, which knife he used, how many times he swung the hatchet, and posted a photo of his own face sprayed with the cat’s blood. This level of aggressiveness would have put him into a category of high risk for public safety. But a month earlier he also wrote that his own cat, “Paige,” had spent more time with him than any person in his life over the past few years and hoped his family would take care of her when he was gone.
Sutherland Springs, TX
Sutherland Springs Church shooter, Devin Kelley had a history of violence including spousal, child, and alleged cruelty to animals.
He was cited for animal cruelty in El Paso County on August 1, 2014. Numerous witnesses saw him in a yard, jumping on top of a husky and beating it in the head and neck.
The Texas rampage killer, Seth Ator was known by his neighbors’ for aggressive behavior including “[firing] at animals at night and [cleaning] them up in the morning.”
Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz had a history of animal cruelty. This string of cruelty included shooting squirrels and chickens with pellet guns, dog fighting, jamming sticks into rabbit holes, and killing toads. His social media reportedly had photos of dead animals.
Other recent young alleged mass murderers believed to have histories of torturing animals include:
- Arcan Cetin, 20, Cascade Mall shootings, Burlington, Washington
- Nikolas Cruz, 19, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida
- Ethan Crumbley, 15, Oxford, Michigan High School
- Andrew Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, Westside Middle School, Jonesboro, Arkansas
- Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado
- Sienna Johnson, 16, Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado
- Kip Kinkel, 15, Thurston High School, Eugene, Oregon
- Adam Lanza, 20, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut
- John Michael Legg, 19, and Frederic Allen Rogers, 23, home invasion in Morgan County, Alabama
- Luke Woodham, 16, Pearl High School, Pearl, Mississippi
Older mass murderers and school shooters believed to have animal cruelty histories include:
- Seth Ator, 36, Midland/Odessa, Texas rampage
- Mark Barton, 44, Atlanta, Georgia, day-trading offices
- Alexander Hernandez, 34, a string of shootings in San Fernando Valley, California
- James Huberty, 41, McDonald’s massacre, San Ysidro, California
- Devin Kelley, 26, Sutherland Springs, Texas church
- Stephen Paddock, 64, Las Vegas, Nevada music festival
- Jarrod Ramos, 41, Annapolis, Md. Capital Gazette newspaper
- Dylann Roof, 21, Emanuel A.M.E. Church, Charleston, S.C.
- Patrick Sherrill, 44, Edmond, Oklahoma post office
*Information courtesy of National LINK Coalition LINK
What are the early indicators?
Predicting the next mass shooter is not only imprecise but highly complex. No single factor, including animal abuse, is definitive. Many incidents occur behind closed doors, and victims may be unwilling or ashamed to reveal them.
Often, abusers do not perceive animal abuse to be a serious crime. Dr. Randall Lockwood, Senior Vice President for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects of the ASPCA and an internationally recognized expert on the animal cruelty/human violence connection, has identified a number of risk factors to evaluate the level of dangerousness in an animal abuser who may be at risk of committing violence against others in the future.
These determining factors include:
- The number of victims
- The severity & frequency of the injury
Several animals killed or injured in the same instance or infliction of multiple wounds suggest a more significant potential for uncontrolled violence.
- Victim vulnerability
Violence against particularly small, harmless, or non-threatening animals indicates that perpetrators gain a sense of power and control through violence against those least like to retaliate.
- Premeditated acts of abuse
The act was planned; the act involved overcoming obstacles to initiate or complete the abuse; the victim was bound or otherwise physically incapacitated.
- Intimacy of infliction of injury
Abuse involving direct physical contact or restraint and the obvious opportunity to witness the victim’s response (e.g., beating, strangling, crushing) may be a more severe indicator than more remote actions (e.g., shooting, poisoning, hitting with a car).
- Absence of an economic motive
The abuse suggests that the act was sufficiently rewarding to the perpetrator, not by monetary value.
- Sexual violence towards the animal.
Many serial rapists and sexual homicide perpetrators report sexual arousal through the violent dominance of animals. Erotic violence toward animals should be a warning sign for more generalized violence.
- Documenting abuse
The documentation of cruelty indicates that acts of violence are a continuing source of pleasure for the perpetrator and may indicate the likelihood of re-enactment, repetition, or escalation of violence to reach the same rewarding emotional state.
- Displaying and/or posing of an animal victim
This indicates using violence to gain feelings of power and domination or to alarm or intimidate others. It should be considered a severe warning sign of the potential for escalated or repeated violence.
*Information courtesy of National LINK Coalition LINK
How can I help?
- Reporting animal abuse to authorities.
If you see something, say something. If you see animal cruelty, whether it is on social media or happening in the moment, report it to your local authorities as soon as possible and document everything.
When you torture an animal and post it, this is a felony under Texas law. House Bill 653 and Senate Bill 1724, commonly known as “Loco’s Law,” went into effect September 1, 2001, making animal cruelty a felony and punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Students and parents had raised concerns about Salvador Ramos’s behavior problems, but very little was done.
Visit National Link Coalition to find your local county to report suspected animal abuse.
- Awareness and education.
The key is providing resources to educate, protect, heal, and encourage a world where empathy and respect are a focal point in all our relationships. We must recognize that animal abuse indicates serious problems, and education and awareness are vital to preventing it.
Young children may yank a dog’s hair or pull a cat’s tail out of curiosity or mischief. These are teachable moments for parents and adults to show empathy by pointing out that animals have feelings and needs.
When a child of any age shows intentional cruelty toward animals that is repeated, severe, and without remorse, this should be taken seriously and urgently. Experts agree that early prevention and treatment of animal cruelty is the key to stopping the cycle of violence because as aggressive children get older, they are less responsive to therapeutic intervention.
Through educational programming in schools and public awareness about animal welfare and how it is linked to human violence, we can try to intervene before the violence begins or escalates. 
- Legislation and local advocacy for safer communities.
Encourage law enforcement, criminal justice professionals, and prosecutors to take crimes against animals seriously. Advocates in both human and humane services pool their resources and work together to advance public policy that protects all family members from violence.
“Prosecutors, law enforcement, and other criminal justice actors must recognize red flags in troubled individuals early on and take them seriously. A history of animal abuse and/or domestic violence are often common denominators in those who eventually commit mass shootings. Intervention is key to saving lives”, wrote President & CEO of the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys’ (APA), David LaBahn.
Resources for Law Authorities
When law enforcement officials graduate from their respective academies in Texas, they have no animal cruelty training. Texas Humane Network offers continuous animal cruelty trainings for Texas law district and county attorneys, enforcement, and ACOs for FREE for continuing education credits throughout the state.
To stay updated with our next events, sign up to be notified here.
The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys’ is a continuous resource as they work with community partners and other criminal justice actors to create resources and trainings that provide prosecutors with the tools necessary to identify and address red flags in the early stages.
Check out their guides for prosecutors on these important issues.
If you are a judge, government attorney, law enforcement official, or shelter professional and would like to have this animal cruelty training, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By understanding the link between violence against animals and violence against people, we can all work together to prevent future crimes by recognizing red flags in troubled individuals early on and reporting them. A history of animal abuse and/or domestic violence are often common denominators in those who eventually commit mass shootings.
We can protect animals AND humans by reporting and enforcing anti-animal cruelty measures. Intervention is key to saving lives, and you CAN make a difference.
Updated Jan 2023.