IPMBA Product Review

Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base

by Joshua Sinai
Kiernan Group Holdings

Andy Brown, Warnings Unheeded: Twin Tragedies at Fairchild Air Force Base (Spokane, WA: WU Press, 2016), 378 pages, $19.99 [Paperback], ISBN: 978-0-9978-6340-6.

he author of this important book, who at the time of the incident was a five-year veteran of the Air Force, served as a security policeman on bike patrol.  He was responsible for firing what became known as “the shot” that stopped Dean Mellberg’s murderous shooting rampage through the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital complex in Spokane, Washington, on June 20, 1994, that killed four and wounded 23 others.  Mellberg, a mentally unstable 20-year-old who had been dishonorably discharged from the Air Force as an airman some five weeks earlier, embarked on his vengeful shooting rampage against a psychiatrist and psychologist whose diagnosis had led to his discharge from the service.

In this book, the author meticulously reconstructs the events in Mellberg’s troubled life and problematic Air Force service that led to the shooting, as well as the impact of the incident on his own life and subsequent military career.  Tragically for the victims and all those who had to endure associating with him during his military service, the author writes,  Mellberg had always been unable to fit in. Several psychological exams revealed him as having a “generalized anxiety disorder with strong obsessive traits,” with the potential to do harm to himself and others (p. 25).  

Despite these warning signs, he was able to continue his military service, because, as the author writes, “On three separate occasions, squadron leadership selected to retain Mellberg on active duty despite strong recommendations from mental health professionals to discharge him.” (p. 297). Moreover, Mellberg was “able to affect his treatment by purging unfavorable documentation from his medical records.” (p. 297).

This case had important repercussions for the Department of Defense’s mental health guidelines, as it resulted in new instructions, including “a requirement to develop treatment plans for ‘imminently dangerous’ service members before they are discharged.” (p. 298).  They also defined “imminent and potential dangerousness and established requirements to take precautions against threatened injury.” (p. 298).

The book includes valuable reference materials, such as a listing of the traits of a violent person and the phased-pathway to violence of mass killers, as well as reproductions of Mellberg’s psychiatric evaluations.  As a meticulous reconstruction and assessment of Mellberg’s pathway to violence and examination of how his case was handled by military authorities, as well as its impact on the author’s life and career, this is one of the most insightful books written on the phenomenon of active shooters and how they affect the lives of others in their surroundings.   

Dr. Joshua Sinai is a senior analyst in homeland security studies at Kiernan Group Holdings (KGH), a homeland security research and consulting firm, in Alexandria, VA. He can be reached at sinai@kiernan.co.

This review appeared in the 2018 IPMBA Product Guide

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