Is Ohio Sniper Suspect Mentally Ill?

Posted on March 16th, 2004 by

“Everyone wants to know if the Ohio sniper suspect Charles McCoy Jr. is mentally ill by clinical standards. If he is, Americans will likely dismiss him as a “nut,” and stop thinking about him as a member of a troubled culture,” says Karen Larson, a cultural anthropologist and college professor who holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California-Berkeley.

“Whether he is diagnosably ill or not, McCoy is also part of an increasingly disturbed cultural environment, where isolation, alienation, anger, and frustration are so close to home that Americans can’t see them, even when they are living right next door,” she says. She also sees parallels in this case with convicted snipers John Allen Muhammad and John Lee Malvo and traveling mailbox-bomber Lucas Helder and the increased fear of “mobile terror.”

Larson, who has researched the relationship between terrorism and American culture for the past 11 years and has written an upcoming book about the relationship of American culture, terrorism, and 9/11, contends that post-9/11 American culture has more confusion than clarity about its identity and how to respond to terrorism — either foreign or domestic.

“The immediate aftermath of 9/11, anthrax and other agents of bioterrorism, Rowley [outspoken FBI agent], and the Department of Homeland Security present a jumbled set of cultural messages to the average American,” Larson says. “Individualism battles social bonding. Civil liberties and ‘heroism’ compete with demands to ‘connect the dots’ and attempts to create ‘seamless’ bureaucracy.”

A professor of anthropology and interdisciplinary studies at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Larson has research background and investigative experience in terrorism attacks in the United States. She has studied, written about, or commented on the Unabomber case, the Oklahoma City bombing, abortion clinic bombings, the Columbine High School incident, the Sept. 11 attacks, and the 2002 mailbox pipe bombings. She has taught seminars on terrorism and has served as a consultant on terrorism profiling for the FBI.

To arrange an interview with Larson today (March 16), or to obtain more information, contact Gustavus News Director Jonathan Kraatz at 507/933-7510 or


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


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