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Don’t be lulled by bystander fatigue

FBI investigators introduced a term few may have heard in describing how Connor Betts managed to reach the point of killing nine people in Dayton before being killed by police: bystander fatigue.

A man who had fantasized for years about mass shootings, serial killings, sexual assault and murder-suicide had left his friends and family so used to his behavior that they may not have seen the worst coming. Bystander fatigue is “the passivity, inaction, or inattention to concerning behaviors observed by individuals who have a close, interpersonal relationship to a person of concern due to their prolonged exposure to the person’s erratic or otherwise troubling behavior over time.”

After the shooting, those who attended high school with Betts said he had been suspended years ago for compiling a “hit list” of classmates, and may also have been suspended for coming to school with a list of female classmates he wanted to sexually assault. He asked a friend to purchase for him body armor and a 100-round magazine. He had a “history of obsession with violent ideations with mass shootings and expressed a desire to commit a mass shooting,” and had looked into violent ideologies.

By the time he acted on those inclinations, at age 24, those closest to him had been dealing with his “troubling behavior” likely for more than a decade. They were used to it.

That is why the FBI says it is so important to stay tuned in to people like Betts, and to pay attention to even subtle changes in their behavior. When we think of “if you see something, say something,” we tend to think of a monster we’ve never encountered before, rather than the monster we’ve gotten used to living with for years.

Don’t be lulled into ignoring what might seem like the tiniest of red flags. Raising the alarm could save lives.

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