Video: Gym gunman gave warning signs of attack

updated 8/7/2009 10:51:48 AM ET 2009-08-07T14:51:48

The gunman who killed three women and wounded nine others at a Pittsburgh-area health club bought accessories for a handgun from the same Wisconsin-based dealer that sold a gun to the Virginia Tech shooter.

George Sodini, 48, bought the accessories from TGSCOM Inc. of Green Bay, Wis.

Sodini fatally shot himself after opening fire on a weekly Latin dance aerobics class in Collier Township on Tuesday night. He wore black workout gear and fumbled around in a duffel bag before producing three guns, firing indiscriminately after shutting off the lights.

Killed were Heidi Overmier, 46, of Carnegie, a sales manager at an amusement park; Jody Billingsley, 37, of Mount Lebanon, who worked for a medical-supply company; and Elizabeth Gannon, 49, of Pittsburgh, an X-ray technician at Allegheny General Hospital. About 75 people attended a vigil to remember them Thursday night in downtown Pittsburgh.

Police say Sodini didn't know his victims. His scathing, 4,000-plus-word blog reads like a monthslong diary lamenting his wrongful rejection by "30 million" American women and alluding to his plans.

Weapons bought legally
Police investigating Tuesday's shootings at an L.A. Fitness center have said Sodini bought his weapons legally.

TGSCOM's president, Eric Thompson, confirmed the purchases after WPXI-TV in Pittsburgh obtained a receipt. Thompson says he is cooperating with investigators.

Sodini committed suicide after the shootings, as did Seung-Hui Cho who bought a .22-caliber handgun from TGSCOM in February 2007, two months before he killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

An expert says that Sodini shares a chilling trait with other mass killers: the desire to make their woes understood through multiple deaths.

No indication has surfaced that Sodini had documented mental problems, but his massacre shares threads with others analyzed by psychiatrists and legal experts, who say the line between lonely and homicidal remains hard to place.

"They're thinking, 'I want everyone to understand and appreciate why I'm doing this,' and the way to do that, in their mind, is to kill other people and not just themselves," New York attorney Carolyn Wolf, whose firm specializes in mental health issues, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Thursday. "In their mind it sends a broader message."

Virginia Tech shooter Cho's "message" was a video tirade to NBC News railing about being overlooked by "snobs" and rich "brats."

When Jiverly Wong killed 13 people and himself at a Binghamton, N.Y., immigration center in April, it was uncovered that unemployment, perceived police persecution, mockery for poor English skills and a dose of psychosis led him to kill.

Still, the grievances, lifestyles and mental states of the gunmen varied widely — Cho and Wong had documented mental problems, while, so far, there's no indication Sodini did.

"These people get into a very self-centered, sometimes self-aggrandizing, often psychotic path that enables them, in their mind, to finally get the attention they crave," Wolf said.

Feelings of rejection
Many mass murderers feel rejected by a "pseudo community" that may exist only in their minds, said Dr. James Knoll, a forensic psychiatrist at the State University of New York's Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He spoke Thursday at a conference he organized to analyze the actions of Wong and Cho.

Video: Victim’s sister: ‘Trying to focus on positive’ "He probably worked out at this gym, he was tanning and working out, trying to improve himself," Knoll said of Sodini. "These are things he thought would get him a relationship. It wasn't working."

In his Web diary, Sodini wrote that his anger stemmed from unfulfilled desire: The women at his gym "look so beautiful as to not be human," he wrote.

Two undated videos apparently recorded by Sodini were posted online showing him touring his home and talking about hiding his emotions and trying to "emotionally connect" with people.

He notes that a sofa and chair in his living room match and says, "women will really be impressed." He also focuses on reading material on a table that includes a book titled "Date Young Women."

It's unclear when Sodini posted his screeds and videos and whether they were meant as warnings. Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital, said the timing of such messages means everything.

"Someone who puts it out in advance may have ambivalence; they may want to be stopped," Manevitz said. "The guy who does it after the fact is leaving the explanation, the diary of what it is that they're hoping will be understood in their very irrational mind."

More on: George Sodini

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