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Before the Michigan State shootings, the killer was growing increasingly lonely, embittered

As investigators search for a motive, a picture is emerging of a man with signs of an aggravated mental illness that appeared to go untreated and who had become embittered and distant since his mother’s death in 2020. He had few, if any, friends and rarely spoke to the neighbors. He abruptly quit his longtime warehouse job about six months ago, his father said, and kept in his pocket a list of businesses he believed offended him, police say.

“In hindsight, judging what mental illness someone has is very difficult without some kind of formal diagnosis,” Michigan State University acting deputy chief of police Chris Rozman said at a news conference Thursday. “Obviously in this case there seem to be indications that this could be the case. It will be difficult to confirm, but I think it’s a question we have too.”

In recent months, McRae’s father, Michael McRae, said his son spent most of his time playing video games in his bedroom in the small red house where the two lived, at the end of a dead-end street in North Lansing, beyond a chain link fence and a yard cluttered with junk and trash.

Neighbors said he sometimes fired shots into the backyard, ostensibly to calm his barking dogs. A neighbor said police were once called about the shootings, but police say they have no record of them.

His father, Michael McRae, said after the shootings he was unaware his son currently owned guns. Authorities said Anthony McRae had two 9mm handguns on his body this week that were legally purchased, meaning he passed a background check that included a criminal record review to pinpoint felonies and known mental health issues .

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Police did not release any other details. But CNN reported that McRae bought two guns in 2021, the same year he was released from probation following a 2019 plea deal on gun charges. One was a Taurus pistol, the other a 9mm Hi-Point pistol, CNN said. It is unclear whether either gun was used in the MSU shootings.

His father said he was troubled by his son’s behavior this week, a concern he shared with at least one neighbor. He said he urged his son to seek help, but his son never did.

Instead, authorities say, Anthony McCrea wrote a two-page note threatening violence in multiple locations and falsely claimed he was working with 20 accomplices, slipped it into his wallet, stuffed a backpack with guns and ammunition, traveled five miles southeast to Michigan State University and began firing. Police have so far refused to release the full note while they investigate.

McRae’s father said his son had not been diagnosed with a mental illness. And although McRae was charged in 2019 with illegally carrying a concealed weapon (a felony that carries a lifetime ban on gun ownership), a plea deal allowed him to plead guilty to one felony and subsequently have the charge dismissed. .

During a Thursday press conference, Michigan State Police Lieutenant Rene Gonzalez said the shooter had “mental health issues,” as did police in Ewing Township, NJ, where McRae is said to have threatened two schools. Neither department elaborated.

If true, that assessment would fit a pattern: According to The Violence Project, a nonprofit funded by the National Institute of Justice that maintains a database of mass shootings, more than two-thirds of the perpetrators had a history of health problems mental. And over 80% showed a marked change in behavior before the crimes.

Other research has found weaker links between mental health and mass shootings. A 2021 study in the journal Psychological Medicine, for example, found psychosis to be a factor in only 5%, with about 25% involving non-psychotic illnesses such as mood or personality disorders or difficulty adjusting to life stress. life.

Dr. Ragy Girgis, a co-author of that study and a professor of clinical psychiatry, told Columbia Psychiatry News that other risk factors, from legal troubles to problems coping with life’s stresses and “the epidemic of the combination of nihilism, emptiness, anger and a desire for notoriety among young people” may be better targets for mass shooting prevention.

Beyond these statistics, The Violence Project highlights several common traits of nearly all mass shooters, including early childhood trauma or witnessing violence, an overt grievance or moment that triggered a crisis, and “the means to execute the attack”. In other words, access to weapons.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Michigan Democratic lawmakers introduced a series of bills to tighten laws governing access to guns. One would institute a so-called “red flag law” that allows judges to temporarily reclaim guns from people who appear to be in crisis. Others would require universal background checks to purchase a gun and would require gun owners to secure their guns to prevent access by minors.

Michael McRae said he saw the death of his wife, Linda, a woman devoted to his church, as a triggering moment. After her death in 2020, he said, his son became distant and bitter.

“He turned into a turtle,” said Michael McRae. “He’s gone into his world of him.”

In an interview Thursday with Bridge, Michael McRae said he raised his son right. I took him to church, made sure he ate, tried to be supportive.

Neighbors described Anthony McRae as a loner, their interactions with him limited to the occasional hello or nod as he walked or rode his bike past their home. Gurnam Singh, a worker at a nearby corner shop, said McRae showed up weekly to buy cigarettes but rarely spoke.

Demetris Rucker, a former colleague at a McDonald’s where McRae worked several years ago, said McRae was a friendly but quiet coworker who mostly kept to himself. He didn’t come off as someone mentally challenged.

But Rucker got the impression that McRae had few or no friends. And he had heard more recently from McRae’s father that his former colleague had become reclusive since his mother died.

Megan Bender, who lives next door, told Bridge on Tuesday about an incident last summer when a neighbor called the police because the younger McRae was firing a gun from the back of the house.

The police, he said, “did nothing” about it.

But Lansing Police Chief Ellery Sosebee said Thursday his department checked call logs and found no calls for any shots fired at the McRae residence.

Another neighbor, who called himself Junior but declined to reveal his full name, said Michael McRae once confided that his son had stopped talking to him, instead using written notes to communicate.

“He needs to see a psychiatrist or something,” the neighbor recalled Michael McRae telling him.

“I said, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen by itself,'” the neighbor said. He urged Elder McRae to contact someone he could help.

Then, about six months ago, Michael McRae said, his son abruptly quit his job at a Meijer distribution warehouse where he had worked for several years.

Michael McRae said he tried talking to his son about his concerns, telling him “you’ve changed” and advising him to go fishing, go for a walk, go to church, get help. He said Anthony would brush it off with an “I’m fine, dad.”

And for a while it seemed like his son was doing better, the father said Thursday. “He was trying to change, get a job and change his life.”

After three days of answering media questions about what could have driven his son to violence, Michael McRae said he simply doesn’t know. He has largely left his son alone in his bedroom, wary of invading his privacy.

Then came Monday night and news of a deadly rampage at MSU. Michael McRae said his initial reaction was horror at yet another mass shooting in America. Later a friend called to say, “Michael, that was your son.”

“I still don’t want to believe it,” she said. On top of the media maelstrom outside her home, in addition to her shame at her son’s heinous actions and her grief over her son’s death, she now also has to pay for a burial.

In retrospect, said Junior, the neighbor, it’s surprising that Anthony was able to get a gun after a gun-related request and with strong evidence that he may be mentally unstable.

“Here we go again,” the neighbor said of Monday’s shooting. “There have been these warnings, these signals, and something like this still happens.”

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