Friday, December 14, 2007

Colorado Church Shootings: Hearing Voices

" ... He posted online rants about Christians. He grew up in a very religious family that home-schooled him. A past roommate says Murray heard voices and sometimes talked to them. ... "
The mind of a killer
Professors and counselors hypothesize in regard to Matthew Murray's thinking

December 13, 2007
Colorado Springs Independent

Experts have differing ideas of what could have set Matthew Murray off last weekend.
Brienne Boortz

Was he psychotic?

A religious fanatic with visions of grandeur?

Simply a cold-blooded killer who hated Christians?

Since last weekend, we've all wondered why Matthew Murray murdered four people, two at Youth With a Mission in Arvada and two at New Life Church in Colorado Springs.

Murray, who killed himself Sunday after being shot by New Life security guard Jeanne Assam, took his secrets to the grave. But clues about his character continue to surface.

He posted online rants about Christians. He grew up in a very religious family that home-schooled him. A past roommate says Murray heard voices and sometimes talked to them. Murray held a grudge against Youth With a Mission, which declined to send him on a mission five years before.

We asked several experts what they thought might have pushed the 24-year-old to kill.

• Hypothesis No. 1: Murray was schizophrenic.

Fred Coolidge, psychology professor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, says all signs point to Murray being schizophrenic. Coolidge goes beyond Murray's bizarre behavior to the comments of his former roommate: Hearing voices is a classic sign of schizophrenia.

Then there's the hyper-religiosity (both pro- and anti-) that Murray displayed. Schizophrenics tend to display a strong attachment to religion, Coolidge says, often thinking their actions are the will of God, or that they are God. Coolidge has noticed a lot of this behavior in his years of working with patients and studying schizophrenia.

While schizophrenics are drawn to religion, Coolidge says, religion may not have the best effect on schizophrenics. That's because they often waver between a grandiose vision of themselves and a very poor self-image. Their self-esteem can be worsened by internalizing religious doctrine in the extreme, such as the need to repent for sin.

That doesn't mean Murray's upbringing explains his actions, Coolidge says; another telltale sign of schizophrenia is doing things that don't make any sense.

"Sometimes, some of these rational rules that we use, and logical rules that we use to explain behavior, just don't work on schizophrenia," he says. "Like a patient locally — a schizophrenic who stuck a needle in his eye, so he could see God."

Does this mean all schizophrenics are dangerous? No, Coolidge says. But like anyone, they can lose control.

"When you're driving, you can kind of get pissed off at people," he says. "Imagine if you're schizophrenic. Imagine if voices are talking to you regularly, some of them telling you to kill.

"It's like, my God, it's just intuitive that might put you at greater risk for difficult, tense situations where you have to handle your anger. It's tough enough for normal people to handle their anger."

• Hypothesis No. 2: Murray saw himself as a religious warrior.

University of Denver religious studies professor Carl Raschke thinks Murray was galvanized by anger toward the church.

"He came up with some kind of fantasy of being a warrior against the empire that he was raised in," Raschke says. "And he seemed to have that kind of militant attitude, that now he wanted to take down all the people who had raised him, nurtured him. He talked a lot on the ex-Pentecostal Web site about having been brainwashed by Pentecostalism, but it looks like he may have been brainwashed by whatever cult influences he had.

"He talked about Marilyn Manson as being a hero. I mean, let's be honest about it — Marilyn Manson openly promotes the rhetoric of Satanism. A lot of kids identify with that."

The scenario fits neatly into the Pentecostal vision of the universe, Raschke points out. Pentecostals tend to view spiritual life as a battlefield, he says, with Christians warring against "the prince of darkness and his minions."

About nine years ago, when Raschke was studying New Life Church, he viewed a section of the campus dedicated to such "spiritual warfare."

"They had this whole command center at the World Prayer Center, down in the basement," he says. "They called it spiritual mapping. Sort of like a spiritual Cheyenne Mountain. You know, where they were recognizing where the forces of the enemy were getting ready to attack, and they were mobilizing to meet the force."

In a sense, he says, Murray's attack was almost like a transfer from the spiritual battlefield to the physical one.

• Hypothesis No. 3: Murray had an unidentified psychosis.

Fred Stultz, director of the Student Counseling Center at Colorado State University-Pueblo, says it's hard to say exactly what mental problems Murray might have had.

He doesn't think there's enough information to say it was schizophrenia.

"I would imagine, at this point, that this young man was experiencing some form of, probably, psychoses and paranoid and delusional thinking," Stultz says of Murray.

Joseph Michelli, local psychologist and radio personality, agrees with Stultz and thinks Murray probably had a medical history that will one day be made public.

"Clearly, this is somebody who holds a vendetta, and strategically figured out a way to act out against that vendetta," Michelli says. "That, if nothing else, is a serious personality disorder — beyond what most people who have personality disorders would act on."

With Murray dead, Stultz and Michelli don't think they could determine what the problem might have been. There are many conditions that could have led to his violent actions; Stultz points out that even depression can be accompanied by paranoia and psychotic-like delusions.

Whatever the case, Stultz and Michelli say it's likely Murray felt rejected by Youth With a Mission. When Murray was turned away, he likely acted out of frustration and anger, fueled by mental issues.

Michelli says that if Murray defined himself through religion, the rejection could have been devastating.

It's the worst-case scenario that Stultz says psychologists, himself included, work to prevent. For instance, if a student with mental health issues is turned away from a degree program, there's the chance of violent reaction.

"This is a huge issue for so many of us in the culture," Stultz says. "It goes on here [at CSU-Pueblo]. It goes on at Colorado College. All of the universities, all of the organizations, where the people come expecting to achieve certain ends, because of their being a part of it — it's a big deal for us.

"You know, we are not exactly a kinder, gentler society these days."


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