04/14/2011 10:25 am ET Updated Jun 14, 2011

Dutch Shooting and Copycat

It's hard to read about Saturday's Dutch mall shooting and not wonder about the copycat effect.

Just Thursday a 23-year-old man shot and killed 12 (up from the original 11) in a school in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

In the Netherlands, Reuters reported,

"Dressed in camouflage trousers and a bomber jacket, Tristan van der Vlis opened fire in a parking lot on Saturday and walked calmly into Ridderhof mall, where he killed five people, most of them elderly. He wounded 17 others, one of whom died later. The 24-year-old gun club member then shot and killed himself."

Both shooters may have been influenced by Columbine and it may be noteworthy that the 12-year anniversary of Columbine is only 10 days away. But an early read on the two incidents looks like they were propelled by two troubled individuals, with the one in the Netherlands looking to the one in Brazil.

Mass shootings may be driven by societal factors (in America they generally occur in small towns and suburbs), or individual ones (mental health) in varying combinations. Societal factors in the Dutch and Brazil shootings would seem to be quite different given that one took place in a large, Third World city (unusual for mass shootings) and one in a small town in a developed country (more typical).

What the Brazil and Dutch shooters have in common with each other, and almost every other mass shooting I can think of, is suicide. (When the gunmen don't commit suicide, they often express a desire to have died in the course of the shooting).

Suicide may be driven by the sheer depression in their life or, in the context of a murder-suicide, blaming others for their problems. Suicide is also a way to script your own ending - giving yourself a power you feel you don't have in life.

But if the copycat effect was the final factor in the Dutch shooting, check yourself before calling for censorship. China has tried that, along with strict gun control, to little avail (the killers use knives or tools). Awareness, education, and checking for warning signs are key. Even, as the Dutch quoted in the Reuters article say, it's where you least expect it.