FBI to media: Don't name mass shooters

'Don't Name Them' campaign aims to diminish 'contagion effect'

By Tim Gerber - Reporter/Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - Mass-casualty active shooter crimes have increased dramatically over the past 12 years, going from 5 per year to an average of 15 per year.

Researchers at Texas State University have found many of the shooters are partially motivated by fame and have looked to past shooters for inspiration.

Now the FBI is encouraging media organizations to rethink the way they cover these stories by not focusing as much attention on the shooters. They call it the "Don't Name Them" campaign.

When an active shooting event results in the deaths and injury of numerous victims, reporters rush to the scene and the focus quickly shifts to the perpetrator of the crime and that could help motivate the next active shooter.

"When the media covers it, it unfortunately puts ideas in people's heads," said Chris Combs, special agent in charge of the San Antonio FBI field office.

Prior to taking his new assignment, Combs was the agency's lead for efforts to combat and respond to active shooter events across the nation.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, he was instrumental in forming a relationship with Texas State University's Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center.

In addition to training officers how to respond, the center also does research on the shootings. Their stats show media coverage of the shooter could inspire other shooters.

"We think that encourages future attackers because they say I can get that fame that notoriety by doing that," said Dr. Pete Blair, with TSU's ALERRT Center.

Instead of sharing the shooter's manifesto and focusing on their personal story, Blair is encouraging media organizations to not name the shooter more than necessary.

"We understand that the events have to be covered, but it shouldn't be a glamor piece making this person the center point of the story," Blair said. "We'd much rather see stories about the heroes and the victims and those sorts of things."

Combs agreed.

"Show them for the criminals they are and maybe that could stop a future shooter from going ahead and conducting mass violence," he said.

Blair and the FBI have been talking to news organizations around the country and say so far, many have been receptive to the idea of not naming mass shooters.

Blair is even encouraging people to use social media to call out reporters and news organization who focus too much attention on the shooters.

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