There's an opinion piece on Fox News getting a lot of attention. I don't know the author, but in the article he claims that people kill for only three reasons.

At least one of these three motives is the driving force behind every homicide, theft, burglary and robbery. In fact, these three motives lie at the heart of every conceivable crime or misdeed.

Human misbehavior is motivated by: financial greed, sexual – or relational – lust, and the pursuit of power.
- Why do people become killers? There are only three reasons -- Here they are. Opinion By J. Warner Wallace | Fox News

I wouldn't be too skeptical if this claim stopped short of personal crimes, where there's one perpetrator and one victim, but he extends this claim to the recent school shooting and all of them, going forward and backward.

I, however, know precisely why this latest killer [student mass murderer at a school] did what he did. And I also know what will motivate the next killer to act in a similar way.

Why do school kids commit mass murder in their schools? Do leading experts concur that at least one of these three things is the only motive for school shootings? Do experts even concur this for personal crimes, with the broad strokes this author paints?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Sklivvz Jun 1 '18 at 7:13

[Note: I shifted the question from "children shooting in schools" to the broader category of "mass murder". I think this is a reasonable jump, but it may be a weakness of this answer.]

Back in 1998, the question of what motivated mass murderers wasn't well resolved, but one model of motivation included at least five elements.

  • Multiple Homicide: Patterns of Serial and Mass Murder, James Alan Fox and Jack Levin, Crime and Justice 1998 23:, 407-455

    Importantly, the difference of timing that distinguishes serial from mass murder may also obscure strong similarities in their motivation. Both can be understood within the same motivational typology-power, revenge, loyalty, profit, and terror. The research literature, still in its infancy, is more speculative than definitive, based primarily on anecdotal evidence rather than hard data.

By 2016, there had been progress, but it still was an open problem.

Much speculation has been made in the media as to the causes of mass murder in the United States, yet little empirical research exists to verify factors leading to violence.

This paper attempts to address that by looking at media reports from 152 mass murders from 2007 - 2011.

The author considered a number of typologies they found in the literature, including Fox and Levine's:

power (e.g., mission to change the world), revenge, loyalty (e.g., husband kills family during financial hardship), financial profit, and terror.

but also

family annihilators where the male head of household kills because he is “depressed, paranoid, intoxicated, or a combination of these” [..]; pseudocommandos who enjoy guns; and set-and-run killers who commit their offense in a manner that allows for them to escape [...]; disciples (e.g., killing for a leader) and disgruntled employees.


anger/revenge, domestic/romantic situations, interpersonal conflict, and crime-related, gang-related, political, and a nonspecific motive.

For this particular study, the author used:

emotional triggers (i.e., the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, a fight, or “other”), general relationship/domestic issues, financial issues, mental health issues, criminal gain, and political motivations (e.g., terrorism). Although anger and revenge have been used in prior typologies (Fox & Levin, 1998; Petee et al., 1997), these motivations were not included in the current study. The reason for this decision was because all mass murderers, identified for the study, who were motivated by anger or revenge had some precipitating event (e.g., divorce, affair, loss of job) that resulted in the anger and desire for revenge. It was believed that the catalyst for the event was more important for determining motivation than merely identifying anger

Note that these are not mutual exclusive.

In conclusion, there are several different ways of identifying the motives for mass murder. None of them is right but some have been useful. Of the examples I found, the three-element model in the question is the most simplistic.

  • Maslow's hierarchy of murderous needs seems worth mentioning, well as much as any other made up explanation to this type of stuff – daniel May 28 '18 at 9:31
  • @daniel: Do you have a link from a reasonable source? – Oddthinking May 28 '18 at 9:45
  • This is psychology there are no reasonable sources. the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability, or refutability, or testability – daniel May 28 '18 at 11:16
  • Another issue is the law side if this, if a spy is caught shooting up a foreign country and is tried and convicted for murder there they are guilty and are a murderer. If they evade capture and return home they are not a murderer. – daniel May 28 '18 at 11:18
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    @daniel: Not sure what your spy objection is. Do you think it is a common scenario that spies commit mass murder and get away with it? I can think of the Lockerbie bombing. Are there significant other examples? – Oddthinking May 28 '18 at 15:01

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