The man who committed the deadliest mass shooting by a lone gunman in U.S. history had a history of domestic violence and disrespecting women, according to people who were close to him. The emerging details about Omar Mateen fit into a bigger and often overlooked pattern of violence in this country, in which crimes against female partners often escalate to crimes against greater numbers of people.
Mateen, who opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando early Sunday morning — killing 49 people and wounding 53 others — used to abuse his wife.
“He was not a stable person,” Sitora Yusifiy, who was married to Mateen for about two years after the couple met on an online dating site, told the Washington Post. “He beat me. He would just come home and start beating me up because the laundry wasn’t finished or something like that.”
One of Mateen’s former coworkers, Daniel Gilroy, told the Miami Herald that Mateen often bragged about his relationships with other women while he was married to Yusifiy. “All he wanted to do was cheat on his wife,” Gilroy said. “He had very little respect for women.”
This news is unsurprising to people who work on issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, and gender roles. There’s a lot of evidence that men who hurt their female family members often go on to hurt other people.
Between 2009 and 2012, 40 percent of mass shootings started with a shooter targeting his girlfriend, wife, or ex-wife. Last year alone, nearly a third of mass shooting deaths were related in some way to domestic violence. And when you look beyond public shootings, the majority of mass shootings in this country actually take place inside the home, as men target the women and children they’re intimately related to.
Employing harassment, violence, and coercion against women has long been considered a normal way for men to behave in romantic relationships, as deeply ingrained gender norms teach men that they’re entitled to women’s bodies. This toxic approach to masculinity has been directly linked to the sense of entitlement that drives many mass shooters to commit their crimes.
Nonetheless, while national politicians are quick to pinpoint shooters’ crimes on their immigration status or religious affiliation, the harmful effect of toxic masculinity doesn’t receive the same high-profile attention.
Domestic violence advocates, however, say it’s obvious that men who commit crimes against women should be taken more seriously within society as a whole. As lawmakers debate the best way to prevent mass shootings, one policy solution would be tightening existing loopholes in an effort to make it more difficult for domestic abusers to obtain firearms.
Here are just a few recent examples of shootings where the perpetrators likely had a toxic attitude toward women before they opened fire — a list that includes many men who were directly connected to incidents of violence and abuse against women:
Mainak Sarkar, who made a kill list of his UCLA professors.
Earlier this month, the UCLA campus was shaken by the murder of a beloved professor in his office. Doctoral student Mainak Sarkar had planned to kill two of his former professors, but could only find one before he turned the gun on himself. Before Sarkar loaded up his backpack with guns and ammunition for the trip to UCLA, however, he murdered his estranged wife. According to authorities, he climbed through a window to kill her in her home.
Cedric Larry Ford, who killed 3 people in Hesston, Kansas.
Ford’s shooting spree in February at Excel Industries, which killed three of his co-workers, may have been prompted by receiving a restraining order from someone he had previously abused. He got the restraining order about 90 minutes before opening fire. Evidence from court documents shows that women in romantic relationships with Ford were afraid of him. One former girlfriend said that he tried to strangle her and that she was worried about his mental state.
John Russell Houser, who killed 2 people in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Houser opened fire in a movie theater last July and, although his motive for the crime was unclear, his family had previously raised alarm about his violent behavior. In 2008, Houser’s wife asked for a temporary protective order against him, arguing that he “perpetrated various acts of family violence” and “has a history of mental health issues.” According to those court documents, his wife became so concerned that she removed all of the guns from the family home.
Robert Lewis Dear, who killed 3 people in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Dear, who opened fire in a Planned Parenthood clinic last fall, has a long history of being accused of preying on women. In 1997, authorities responded to a domestic violence call after Dear’s wife said he hit her and pushed her out of window. Five years later, he was investigated for making “unwanted advances” toward a neighbor, who said she was hiding in the bushes by her house and “leering” at her. She eventually filed a restraining order.
Syed Rizwan Farook, who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, California.
There’s some evidence that Farook, who along with his wife Tashfeen Malik opened fire at a company holiday party last December, grew up in a violent home. In court documents regarding his parents’ divorce, Farook’s mother alleges his father abused her in front of the children — hitting her, pushing her toward a car, and once drunkenly dropping a TV on her. She sought multiple domestic violence protection orders against him. Witnessing this type of domestic violence in the home can have a serious impact on children who see a model for inappropriately treating women. Just days after the shooting, authorities investigated Farook’s brother on a possible charge of domestic battery.
Elliot Rodger, who killed 6 people in Santa Barbara, California.
Rodger went on a rampage near a Santa Barbara, California university campus in 2014 against women who had romantically rejected him. In revenge for still being a virgin, which he perceived as women’s fault, he pledged to “slaughter every spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see” inside the “hottest sorority house of UCSB.” Rodger planned the crime for more than a year and was deeply involved with misogynistic online communities that have degrading attitudes toward women.
Cho Seung-Huim, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.
Before Cho committed one of the deadliest school shootings to date in 2007, two women complained that he was stalking them. They reported receiving persistent calls and messages from Cho, who went through campus disciplinary proceedings. After the massacre, Cho left behind a manifesto that the Associated Press described as a “rambling note raging against women,” as well as against rich kids and Christianity.