Most people are all too familiar with the term “active shooter.” Those who realize that these senseless killings are not always committed with firearms prefer the more accurate description, “active killer.” Some may not know that the words “running amok” derive from the earliest known cases of mass public murder. These crimes were committed by individuals, armed with edged weapons, who attacked indiscriminately until they were stopped by bystanders who were similarly armed. In the Afterword of Warnings Unheeded I describe these early incidents.
“Mass public murder is not a new phenomenon and has likely been
happening since the dawn of civilization. One of the earliest known accounts
was observed in Malaysia in the year 1516, by Portuguese writer
and world traveler Duarte Barbosa. It was again observed in Malaysia by
British Explorer, Captain James Cook in 1770. Both Cook and Barbosa
recorded instances of lone tribe members, armed with swords, indiscriminately
attacking fellow villagers without apparent cause. The unprovoked
attacks would continue until the intervention of other armed tribesmen.
The Malay referred to the phenomenon as mengamok—to make a furious
and desperate charge. Today the term is known simply as running amok. In
a translated version of The Book of Duarte Barbosa, he wrote,
They take a dagger in their hands and go out into the streets and kill as many persons as they meet, both men, women and children, in such wise that they are like mad dogs, killing until they are killed. These are called amuco. And as soon as they see them begin this work, they cry out saying amuco, amuco, in order that people may take care of themselves and they kill them with dagger and spear thrusts.
… In 1849, amok was recognized as a psychiatric
condition having two forms: Beramok, in which the perpetrator
suffered from a depressive mood disorder and experienced a personal loss;
and amok, in which the perpetrator suffered from a depressive, psychotic,
or personality disorder and attacked out of revenge for a perceived insult or
injustice. … Regardless of its origin or definition, throughout history, brave men and women have been responding to the call of ‘Amuco’.”
We continue to see these attacks carried out today, by people who are similarly afflicted, using a variety of weapons. We continue to see bystanders rising up to end these attacks. In the vast majority of incidents, the police are unable to arrive on-scene until after the killing has ended. The real first responders are the citizens who witness the attacks. Just as the villagers of the 16th Century, the brave men and women who would answer today’s call of “Amuco” should not be deprived of the modern day equivalent of the dagger and spear.