|“||This job isn't just what I do, it's who I am. For every life we save? Damn right it's worth it.||”|
— Rossi in "Profiling 101"
Born in Commack, Long Island, New York, Rossi served in the U.S. Marine Corps and made it to the rank of Sergeant Major. While a Private, he served in the Vietnam War under Sergeant Harrison Scott, who he would later refer to as the person who taught him to be honest. During his military service, Rossi earned several awards, including the Purple Heart. When he was younger, he had some association with a local mafia through a good friend named Ray Finnegan, but he severed his ties to them when he left town. He also knew a girl named Emma Louise Taylor ever since he was twelve years old. He loved her, but due to his career, they never married; Emma later went on to marry future judge and proxy killer Boyd Schuller. After leaving the Corps, he was recruited by the FBI. A few years later, he played a part in founding the BAU. (Reckoner)
Rossi has been married and divorced three times. His first wife was named Carolyn. On July 16, 1983, following the conclusion of a case, Rossi discovered that Carolyn had packed his bags after he had forgotten their anniversary again as well as him forgetting other things. (Demons) Following his first divorce, he made an agreement with Carolyn that they would still help each other out when the other needed it. They had a son, James David, who was born on April 26, 1979, but died the same day. (Epilogue) His second wife was named Hayden Montgomery, who was a U.S. diplomat for the French embassy. Their marriage lasted for only one summer in the early 80s, after which the two divorced due to the demands of their respective jobs. However, Rossi was unaware that Hayden was pregnant with his child, which she refused to tell him about because she knew he would never be fit as a father due to his job. (Fate) Rossi's third wife was named Krystall, and she was his shortest marriage. They met in Las Vegas when Rossi was on a winning streak playing blackjack and Krystall was the dealer. According to Rossi, he and Krystall got drunk and were married at a drive-in wedding chapel with an Elvis impersonator as the justice of the peace. The next morning, however, Rossi and Krystall had both sobered up and realized that their marriage was a mistake, immediately filing for divorce afterward. ('Til Death Do Us Part)
Rossi was in early retirement in 1997 for nearly ten years until his voluntary return to the BAU in October 2007. He had retired in order to go on lectures and book tours but returned to settle some unfinished business, which wasn't immediately specified. Upon joining the team, it is obvious that he has had a previous working relationship with both Hotch and Erin Strauss, the BAU's Section Chief. Unlike most of the other team members, Rossi is not intimidated by Strauss's personality, and he often calls her by her first name (initially much to her chagrin).
In "Birthright", Rossi revealed to Sheriff John Caulfield his reasons for returning. He held out a charm bracelet with the names of three children from one of his first cases. The children had come into their parents' bedroom to find them in bed, covered in blood, and he promised them he would find out who did it. Each year on Christmas Eve, Rossi calls the children to let them know he hasn't forgotten them and he hasn't given up on solving the case of their parents' murders. He kept with this tradition through his return to the BAU, though none of the children had replied to his most recent calls. Rossi finally told Caulfield that the case had gone unsolved for 20 years and it was finally solved in "Damaged".
In "Reckoner", much of his childhood, including Emma, was revealed. Rossi tells Hotch after closing a case on the plane that he should've married her when he left the U.S. Marines, but was recruited by the FBI, which got him 'obsessed with the chase, the hunt'. Also, despite what he tells Boyd Schuller, Emma's husband, he did not sleep with her. Despite his feelings for Emma, he did not attend her funeral.
In "Remembrance of Things Past", Rossi gets back on the hunt for the Butcher, a brutal, sadistic serial killer active in the 1980s and 1990s in Bristol, Virginia, when bodies killed exactly like the old victims turn up in the same area. He had investigated the case during the first murders but was unsuccessful in catching The Butcher. He was, however, responsible for stopping his killing by narrowing down the geographic profile and alerting all possible victims in the area. The case stuck with Rossi for several years afterward. He never wrote about it because he felt doing so would give the killer too much power. In the end of the episode, the killer, an elderly, Alzheimer-afflicted electrician named Lee Mullens, is caught. Upon getting home, Rossi, having suffered a writer's block earlier, begins writing his next book, presumably about the Butcher case.
In "Proof", he invited the rest of the team over to his house for a cooking lesson/dinner party, after receiving a "tempered" suggestion from Hotch when they talked about the tensions born between several team members due to the lies said to keep Prentiss safe.
In "From Childhood's Hour", Rossi meets up with Carolyn. He believed that she wanted them to get together again; he also seemed to be still in love with her. Rossi was later shocked to find out that she had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and she knew that she didn't have long left to live. She asked him to help her end her life on her own terms when her time came.
Finally, in "Epilogue", Rossi decided that he wouldn't help Carolyn, but when he tells her this, she reveals that she had been expecting such an answer and, as a result, had taken a fatal dosage of pills before he arrived. Rossi is forced to stay by Carolyn's side when she dies, and she is buried next to James.
In "The Fallen", Rossi runs into his old Sergeant from Vietnam, Harrison Scott. Rossi is very saddened to see the man that "made him honest" homeless. Rossi learns what really happened when he got a concussion and sent home and the sacrifice that Anthony Hernandez, a fellow soldier, made to save them. Afterwards, Rossi and Scott present Hernandez's grandson, also a Marine, with the medal that his grandfather should have received all those years ago. He also tells Scott about New Directions, an organization dedicated to helping veterans get work. By the end of the episode, he dedicates his most recent book, Evil Never Rests, to Scott and Hernandez, "two men who saved me so I could save others."
In "The Replicator", it appears that Rossi had started a romantic relationship with BAU Section Chief Erin Strauss by the conclusion of the previous season. When Strauss is murdered by John Curtis, who had been stalking the BAU throughout the entire season, Rossi is most upset at this. This would later leave him vulnerable to an attack by Curtis, who sends him a letter laced with a hallucinogenic poison, which causes him to become delusional and hold Morgan at gunpoint. However, he lowers his guard after hallucinating Strauss, allowing Hotch to disarm him. Rossi is then taken to the hospital, where he recovers and leaves in time to intervene in Curtis's attack against the entire BAU team. He intentionally traps himself and Curtis inside a room filled with explosives, where they have a brief conversation about Curtis's motives and the fact that Curtis is an FBI agent, which contradicted the oath he took to protect his country. Then, Rossi manages to escape the room, leaving Curtis to die. He later attends a dinner honoring Strauss's memory.
In "Fatal", Rossi's memory of Strauss's death comes back to haunt him after he overhears a woman named Janice Cheswick being murdered by an unsub, seconds after he tells her on the phone that she is going to be okay. Upon seeing Janice's body, Rossi expresses his anger towards the situation and hopes the unsub gets what he deserves.
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On the Job
"People can't build without tools. And tools are passed down to us by others."
Like his predecessor Gideon, Rossi is an experienced agent that acts as the team's official profiler. He is adept at getting into the minds of criminals and works in tandem with Hotch to develop these profiles. He is also the glue that holds the team together, taking over as confidant and adviser to the team's personal and professional dilemmas.
- He is partially based upon real-life former profiler John Douglas, like his old partner and best friend Jason Gideon.
- He likes to hunt birds with his dog. (About Face) Ironically, his former partner and predecessor Gideon despised hunting.
- He is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam War veteran, retiring with the rank of Sgt. Major. (Reckoner, Dorado Falls, and The Fallen) During his service, he served at least some of his time at a Recon Division at the request of Harrison Scott (The Road Home) and earned, among other awards, a Purple Heart for his services. (Anonymous)
- He carries a Springfield Professional Model, which implies that he has had past experience on the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. In Identity, he mentions having been present at the Ruby Ridge standoff.
- He studied Criminal Justice. (Masterpiece)
- He has written at least five books during the time of Season Four (Masterpiece) and at least three more since that time. Known bibliography are:
- Deviance: The Secret Desires of Sadistic Serial Killers, apparently about the motivations of infamous serial killers. This book had a special tenth-anniversary reprinting. (Zoe's Reprise)
- Frenzy: America's Worst Spree Killers, about rampage killers from U.S. history. (Painless)
- Eyes of a Predator, about an unknown criminal subject.
- Evil Never Rests, about prolific criminals such as The Butcher, The Piano Man, and Lady X. (The Fallen)
- Understanding Evil, about prolific serial killer Thomas "Tommy" Yates, a.k.a. The Womb Raider.
- He hates Los Angeles. (The Performer)
- He has interviewed Charles Manson three times (The Fight) and he interviewed Ted Bundy at least once. (Limelight)
- Unlike the other BAU team members, Rossi believes in true evil. (Demonology)
- Rossi has a familiarity with video games. He is familiar with the video-game character Niko Bellic, indicating he may be a fan of Grand Theft Auto IV (Safe Haven). He is also seen playing video games with Ashley Seaver. (Coda) Additionally, he was easily able to figure out that the Moore Brothers were "playing" a real-life version of Gods of Combat. (The Wheels on the Bus)
- He was a fan of the Rat Pack. (The Performer)
- He used to open up radios and television sets out of curiosity when he was thirteen. (Safe Haven)
- He is an apparent soccer fan. (Out of the Light)
- Joe Mantegna chose the name of his character as tribute to Sgt. David Rossi, an LAPD officer who was one of the first officers to arrive on the scene of the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which O.J. Simpson was later tried and acquitted. During the trial, Rossi was grilled by the defense on the stand for two days, even though his involvement in the case had only been that he answered the alarm call and been one of the first on the crime scene.
- There has been some confusion regarding the fact that Rossi has a child or not:
- In an interview made around the time that he debuted on Criminal Minds, Mantegna states that his character has a son who can be seen in a photo on his desk. The son seen in the picture is actually the son of the real-life David Rossi.
- However, Rossi claims not to have any children - present tense - in The Crossing, supposedly contradicting the above fact (though it could be possible he was just lying for some reason).
- Additionally, in Coda, it was hinted that he has a child, possibly with some form of handicap.
- Finally, in Epilogue, it is revealed that Rossi has a son named James who died after he was born, therefore possibly contradicting the first and third facts.
- However, it is possible that the other son was a child he had with another ex-wife of his, or that the late James died of a handicap and Rossi was only saying that he currently had no children, not wishing to speak about his loss.
- He is fluent in Italian. (Lucky, Proof, Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, Breath Play, Inner Beauty)
- He has a big house, which he calls "a mansion," and is a great cook, much like his predecessor Gideon. (Proof)
- He is Catholic (crossed himself in There's No Place Like Home).
- He isn't a fan of gangster flicks, citing that he experienced "too much of the real thing", also implying that he may have had at least some actual experience with the mob. (Snake Eyes)
- He might or might not have been a gambler. (Snake Eyes)
- He is a cigar enthusiast. (Hit, Fate, Profiling 202)
- He has unspecified relatives living in Italy. (The Pact)
- His third ex-wife said that he had a strong sense of smell and compared him to a bloodhound. (Perennials)
- He may have done acid. (Alchemy)
- He had an Aunt Rosie and an Uncle Sal. (Alchemy, Route 66)
- He has a picture of himself with Ringo Starr on his office desk. (The Replicator)
- His second wife, named Hayden Montgomery, was African-American. (Strange Fruit, Fate)
- In school, he was bullied for being of Italian descent, and was also forced to bully an African-American classmate by shoving him into a locker and urinating on him before leaving him inside for the night. (Strange Fruit)
- He attended marriage counseling for at least one of his previous marriages (Mr. & Mrs. Anderson).
- He has his own shoemaker (Persuasion).
- He was once nearly attacked by a rabid fox, which he drove off after shooting it three times. He later described it as a frightening experience. (Rabid)
- He apparently dislikes football. (The Boys of Sudworth Place)
- He once had a mentee who broke into his house six times and is now serving five to ten years in prison. (Fate)
- He mentioned his mother in a flashback set in 1978, describing her as old-fashioned and orthodox. It is unknown if his mother is still alive in the present day. (Nelson's Sparrow)
- He plays chess, especially with Gideon back when the latter was still with the BAU. (Hero Worship)
- He once dabbled in BDSM in his senior year of high school. (Breath Play)
- He revealed that his earliest childhood fear was Lon Chaney's character from The Phantom of the Opera, commenting, "She takes off that mask, forget about it." (Mr. Scratch)
- His favorite dish to cook is carbonara, which was his grandmother's specialty. (Profiling 202) He loves the dish so much, he would like it to be his last meal. (The Bunker)
- He owns six acres of land. (Profiling 202)
- He often imagines himself having dinners and smoking sessions with unsubs. (Profiling 202)
- During his youth, he loved to listen to loud music, later joking that it may have damaged his hearing. (Blue Angel)
- His grandmother had an aversion to snakes. He later implies that he also shares this trait. (Dust and Bones)
- He openly criticizes the conspiracy theory that then-Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson had President John F. Kennedy killed in order to escalate the war in Vietnam to the point where the rest of the BAU strongly oppose even discussing the subject. Prentiss mentions to Simmons that Rossi will "show [him] YouTube clips" if given the chance. (False Flag)