The suspected YouTube shooter was a woman — here’s how rare that is


Screenshot via Nasimesabz.com

  • The YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California was rattled on Tuesday by a deadly shooting.
  • Authorities identified 39-year-old blogger Nasim Aghdam as the person who took out a handgun and started randomly shooting.
  • Aghdam injured two women and one man (who’s in critical condition), before killing herself.
  • It’s extremely rare for a woman to commit this kind of violent, angry tirade against strangers.

When a 39-year-old video blogger from San Diego walked onto the YouTube campus Tuesday and started shooting, even some of the witnesses around campus assumed she was a man.

“Some guy with a gun and full body armor starting firing,” one YouTube employee who was eating lunch in a courtyard reportedly wrote on Whatsapp shortly after the attack began.

It’s understandable that people might expect a person with a gun to be male. Nearly all of the people behind the ten deadliest mass shootings in the US have been men. There’s only one woman on that list: Tashfeen Malik, who was one half of the husband and wife pair that killed 14 people, and then themselves, in the 2015 San Bernardino shooting.

Officers run toward a YouTube office in San Bruno, Calif., Tuesday, April 3, 2018.
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

Whether the YouTube shooting qualifies as a mass shooting is a technical question that is answered in different ways depending on who you ask. The US Department of Homeland Security defines a “mass attack” as any incident where “three or more persons” are harmed in a public place, seemingly chosen at random. Others at the Gun Violence Archive say a “mass shooting” must include at least four victims who aren’t the shooter.

Either way, it’s clear that the incident at YouTube, tragic as it may be, wasn’t on the same deadly scale as events like the recent Parkland school shooting, the Southerland Springs church shooting, or any of the other deadly mass shootings that are happening with increasing frequency in the US.

How many women kill people with guns?

However you count them up, it’s clear there aren’t many women on the list of deadly shooters. Men are both more likely to be the perpetrators and the victims of all homicides committed with a gun. The US Department of Justice says that trend holds true for all kinds of murders, not just mass shootings.

A study of US homicides published in 1992 suggests that women, who make up 50.8% of the US population, commit roughly 15% of the homicides in the country. Even when women do kill other people, it’s more often a spouse or family member than a stranger. Men, on the other hand, tend to kill strangers and acquaintances when they murder people with guns.

It’s a trend that holds up around the world. A 2015 report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime says that “the vast majority of homicide perpetrators are male.” The UN also notes that men aren’t just the ones doing the shooting, they’re more often hurt, too. Homicide kills men around the world from the ages of 15-29 at disproportionately high rates, and men account for “an average of 95% of all persons convicted of homicide,” everywhere around the world.

A pattern of angry and vocal shooters is emerging in the US

Forensic psychiatrist Liza Gold, who teaches psychiatry at Georgetown and edited the book “Gun Violence and Mental Illness,” told Business Insider many of the recent shootings that have made news have been perpetrated by angry, grudge-holding individuals with poor coping skills who are acting out. Often, “they broadcast that they’re spiraling,” before they act, she said.

That appears to be the case with the YouTube shooter.

Aghdam’s father reportedly flagged his daughter to the San Diego police on Monday, because he was worried about how angry she was at YouTube. He told the San Jose Mercury News that his daughter thought the company was discriminating against her, and thought they were reducing the number of views that her videos, which ranged from tips on vegan eating, to fitness videos and political commentary, were getting.

Authorities reportedly found Aghdam sleeping in her car Tuesday morning around 2 a.m. and talked to her, but didn’t take her into custody.

Her story follows a simple and worrisome pattern that the US government is starting to notice. In March, the Secret Service compiled a list of all the “mass attacks” that happened in public spaces in 2017. The 28 incidents that made their list last year included shootings in churches, libraries and schools around the country. All were perpetrated by men.

While some of the men had criminal histories, and others had prior problems with mental illnesses, the most common threads among the attackers included warning signs that looked a lot like the ones Aghdam’s family was worried about. More than 75% of the 2017 attackers made “concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks,” the report said.

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