Who are these people, these shooters? We certainly ask the question in the aftermath of yet another senseless tragedy, but what about before it happens? Well, actually, we rarely think about it much, if at all. We rarely find the time to think about those things that haven’t happened yet, have not come to our attention, have not slapped us right in the face. We can talk about it till the cows come home, but ultimately we will not find an answer, and we then still have to find space for all the damn cows. The problem is that we really do not have an answer for a problem that seems to be well on its way to becoming an epidemic. An epidemic of hopelessness and despair. Of confusion and frustration. Of anger and hate. And then of course, there are the shooters. We don’t even need to call them by their names. There is no Charles Manson. There is no Jeffrey Dahmer. We tend to dehumanize them, and you must remember that one of the reasons they snapped and committed these horrendous crimes is because they did not feel a part of the human condition to begin with. They never fit in, anywhere really. Most of us try to fit in, with varying degrees of success, but we all feel the same thing sometimes, some of us stronger and more deeply than others. But we think that our friends do not feel the same pain as us, the same suffering. That they never have to go through the challenges that we have had to endure. We all look at and perceive things differently. We all have a unique perspective. We think their lives are better. That they are more popular, and that is often the case, but having people around you does not constitute friendship. It does not guarantee peace or affection. It does not preclude loneliness. Maybe they have money. Possibly they are better looking or at least we think they are. They may be smarter and ‘luckier’ than we are. But reality is a harsh mistress. The truth is that everyone goes through these things. Those with looks, and their cliques, and their money, experience many of the same things as the rest of us, and in some cases the situation is so much worse because they hide it so well, because they have a different role to play, and what is worse, no one takes the time to feel sorry for them, because they ‘have it all’. We all have our demons. Our shooters share the challenge. The only difference is that for whatever reason they do not have the strength of mind or body to confront their threat. They are damaged. They are broken. They are dangerous. At times they can be lethal.
So we do not call them by their names. They are all individuals, but we do not want to recognize them as such. They are a part of society that we all wish to disregard and disrespect. And ignore when possible. They are the underbelly of a human condition that is best left unquestioned. We seem to be incapable of understanding the reasons why these people do what they do, and we possess an unyielding unwillingness to accept any iota of responsibility for the eventuality of the actions of our damaged children. What these shooters do is by no means inevitable, although it certainly feels that this is the case. These are the unwanted that exist in our society, with or without our consent. They are the outcasts and the rebels. The miscreants and the troublemakers. The bad apples. The damaged. The broken. We do not distinguish them as people. They are simply an unwanted inconvenience. And sometimes the inconvenience can be extreme. They are not a part of society, or we at least wish that they were not, but they are indeed. A reminder not of the best mankind has to offer, but the worst we can imagine. We have failed them. We have failed those around us. We have failed ourselves. But today we talk of those that have taken that step and become lethal. Those that have committed acts unconscionable and inexplicable. We place them in a group all by themselves. The first group where they have ever truly belonged. It is an elite group. There is no application process. Once you join, you are a lifetime member. When you become one of ‘The Shooters’ you are there forever. It is not a matter of choice. It is a matter of action. “You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!’
Ask yourself. Why do we wish to have these troubled souls remain nameless? Is it because we fear them? Don’t we want to understand them to work on resolving this perplexing issue? Don’t we want to make sure this will happen ‘Never Again’? Are we hiding from the reality of what brought them to this horrible place, to this action of utter madness? Is it because we see ourselves in their faces, and in the anguish they suffer? Is it because we are all afraid that we are but a thought away from facing the edge of our own abyss? I see that. I have never been to where they reside, but I have certainly visited the neighborhood. And so have all of you, whether you will acknowledge the reality or not. There is no individual of thought and intelligence that cannot see the death and destruction that exists across this country and this planet. The pain and suffering is never ending and sometimes unbearable. Is there anyone who reads these words that can say otherwise? Is your world without conflict and without doubt? Does it not bother you to the extent that you feel an impotence to fix it? It bothers me. Sometimes it is more than I can stand. But I have my intellect and I have my have my thoughts. I have deeply held beliefs on life and death. I have a comprehensive philosophy that gives direction and at least a partial understanding. I have a lifetime of experience from which to draw upon and find the strength to take another step, and struggle through another day. These damaged children have no such comfort, although comfort is an inadequate word. They have been taught NOTHING that is necessary to cope with what they see before them. They do not understand the Hate. They are incapable of comprehending the evil that exists around them. What do you expect them to do? Sit down and shut up? Don’t worry, be happy? Sometimes I wonder who are more damaged, these unfortunate pawns in a game of political power, or the people who were instrumental in creating the damage that we are being forced to deal with today.
I strive to understand what these little killing machines are going through. To have empathy for the things that they encounter and cannot control. We all have less control in our lives with every passing day. I have come to the conclusion that this will change no time soon. I continuously work on my own little battle with hate every day. I hate people less as I progress, but I continue to hate the things that they do. It seems that this may not go far to fixing the problems we face, but believe that it is a step in the right direction. I hate a lot of these actions. I hate the act of theft, especially the theft of freedom which is choice. Freedom of movement in the form of tyranny, freedom of self in the form of rape in any form, especially in the case of children. And of course the freedom of life, of any person at any time but especially the children in our schools as well as those as yet unborn. To steal from them their future is particularly egregious, incomprehensible and unforgiveable. You can debate the necessity to take a life in self-defense of innocence, but it can never be a matter of little more than convenience.
Where does this damage of which I speak come from? Are we doing what we can to understand? Are we doing everything possible to alleviate and resolve the issues involved? I find it hard to believe anyone could believe this to be true. We are not but we should be. What causes these children to break? Why are they so fragile? We spend way too much time obsessed with the gun. We need to investigate the shooters themselves. Many have pointed to mental disorders but that may be rather simplistic. But we ignore the possibilities at our own peril. Our politicians love to use the words ‘comprehensive’ and ‘transparency’ and yet what they propose is never either of those things. We need a comprehensive analysis of the issue, and a transparent diagnosis. Let the chips fall where they may. This is too important for politics, but we are here today primarily because of politics itself, and there is little chance to remove them from the discussion. If only. But it cannot be.
While we have a rich potpourri of ways to kill in this country, our focus is on school shootings primarily. While it is not always a teenager at these events, the similarities are stark and troublesome, as well as obvious but illustrative. There is much to learn from their histories, if we can tear ourselves away from mindless protests and ideological agendas. All the protests. Millions of man-hours that could have been put to better use. All the wasted time. All the hate. Maybe they could have attempted to put down their iPhone and tried to develop relationships with their damaged little friends. If you demand that I respect their opinions and give them credibility for their views, can I not expect them to act like adults, love their fellow students, and help them with their insecurities and fears? What’s that you say? They are not yet adults and it is a great and difficult responsibility? So is inserting yourself into the political process when you do not have the intelligence, experience nor education to make the decisions necessary. They are not even old enough to vote. They are being used as political pawns. The liberal left cannot get what they want through discussion and debate. If they could, all of these demands would have been implemented decades ago. They do not even believe in our political system anymore which is damaged as much as the shooters, and they will fix neither. They use empty words and failed ideas to bring about ineffective change.
Let’s take a look at some of our shooters. Columbine in 1999 is the obvious place to start. We all tend to think of it as some kind of beginning to this narrative of our ‘shooters’ but in many ways it is unrelated. While it was at a school campus, the final conclusion from FBI investigators on Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold was that the school, per se, had little if anything to do with their actions. It was not spontaneous but well planned for over a year. There was no rage at bullies or awkwardness with fellow students, no romantic denial, none of that. Columbine was 2 boys, aged 17 and 18, that simply wanted to kill. To be a part of history. From what the FBI has come to believe, there original plans would have resulted not in the 15 deaths that resulted from their actions, but 600 or more if their abilities were able to match their intent. There were bombs in the auditorium that never went off, as well as more in their vehicles that were set to detonate after the students were evacuated and the rescue operations were underway, probably in the parking area itself. In all, our ‘shooters’ had 99 explosive devices. Ninety nine! Some actually detonated but were ineffective. We can thank youth and ignorance for their inability to enjoy success. But as we will see with all of our shooters, they had much internal damage that helped them to make their decisions on that fateful day. It was never meant to be simply a shooting. It was meant to dwarf the Oklahoma City bombing. They intended to make history. They wanted to be infamous. Klebold was a depressive and suicidal. He blamed himself for all of his problems. Harris on the other hand was a psychopath, with little or no conscience and less feeling for others. Completely self-absorbed with a messianic-grade superiority complex where nothing was his fault. He hated the world and everything around him. Klebold felt pain himself. Harris felt no pain. Psychopaths often feel no pain, psychological OR physical. He wanted others to feel pain. He was a cold blooded killer. Two opposites. Both damaged. A recipe for disaster.
It was almost 6 years later that there was another notable shooting. There were 25 other incidents during that time, and not to downplay the individual events, but they were primarily specific responses to personal problems between students and/or administrations. It is difficult to decide which events deserve note, so we are looking at those that encompassed a larger based target by the shooters. 20 of the shooters were aged 13 thru 18 with one as young as 6. There were 7 aged over 20 where those school campuses were either college or trade schools. There was but a single female shooter, in what seemed to be a personal disagreement. There were 24 deaths with 25 wounded. The information is sketchy but only two incidents had the use of what we call an assault rifle. It was not clear if it had an automatic capability. Both were ak-47s. 4 people were killed with another 5 wounded.
The next shooting took place in 2007 in Red Lake, Minnesota, at an Indian reservation school. Jeffrey Weise, aged 16, began his spree by killing his grandfather, who was a tribal police officer, and his grandfather’s girlfriend. He took the officers weapons and he proceeded to the local school where he killed 7 others including a teacher, a security guard and ultimately himself. There was a metal detector with 2 guards at the school. One survived. They were both unarmed. His parents separated before his birth. His mother was 17 and was forced to give custody to the father. She regained custody when he was two. She took him to live in Minneapolis, where he lived until circumstances forced him back to the reservation in Red Lake. She was an alcoholic and abusive. She remarried after his real father committed suicide by shooting himself when he was 8. When he was 10, his mother had a bad car accident and suffered brain damage. She was placed in a nursing home. His new father separated from his mother soon afterwards and divorced 4 years later. He then lived with aunts and his grandmother before moving in with his grandfather. He was shuttled between multiple schools during all of these events. He lived in an environment of high unemployment, violence and suicide. He had behavioral problems. He was on depression medications. He attempted suicide more than once. He dressed like a Goth. He listened to heavy metal. He was teased and bullied. Just another societal IED. I am not really surprised that he snapped. I am just surprised it took so long. Where is the support for these kids? What could you possibly expect? And there are a million more, just like him, waking up today and feeling like crap. Maybe thinking about suicide. Maybe dreaming of going out in a blaze of glory. Not by way of an excuse, but rather as an explanation, it seems that his personal narrative is similar to so many children in our society, but even more so on an American reservation. So go ahead and hide from the issue. Institute some gun control. Remember, the weapons used were handguns and a shotgun, which he used to commit suicide after being wounded. He did not buy them, he did not register them. There were no automatic weapons, no ‘assault weapons’. They were stolen, from a police officer, his grandfather, who he killed to get them. How do you stop this? You don’t try to change the result. You change the individual. By the time this happened it was years and years too late to do anything about it. You really need to think about this from a different perspective. Or we will all suffer the consequences.
2 years later. 15 additional events. 15 dead and 20 wounded. 15 children shooters 14 to 18. 5 adult situations. No automatic weapons. A rifle, a shotgun. Mostly handguns. And then we came to one of the worst examples of gun violence this country has ever seen.
The mass shooting was at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Virginia in 2007, and is now commonly referred to as the Virginia Tech Massacre, thanks to a compassionate and empathetic national media. It is our next example of a school shooting that demands attention. It was one of the worst scenarios in the history of the country. Seung-Hui Cho, aged 23, was our shooter that day. He eventually killed 32 students and teachers before committing suicide. He wounded an additional 23 people. He was a senior attending classes there. He was an individual that had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder, had been in therapy throughout his middle and high school years in addition to special education support. He was diagnosed with severe depression as well as selective mutism, an anxiety disorder that inhibited him from speaking. Because of privacy laws, none of this had been presented to school officials with his application. During the two years previous to the shooting, there is documented evidence that professors saw his deteriorating mental condition as well as classroom behavior. He had been investigated during this same period for stalking two different female students, and a special justice declared him mentally ill, but because he was not institutionalized he was not prevented from purchasing the guns he eventually used in the shooting. This all demands a comment. It is obvious that there was an opportunity here on a number of levels to prevent this episode from ever happening. Before instituting restrictive gun laws, should we not address things like privacy laws for people who obviously have personality and psychological issues? Even I would believe that it is reasonable to question the registration of weapons to people who have been declared mentally ill. At least a process where the individual is able to sit down with someone to discuss their situation before finalizing a sale. We can be reasonable without being oppressive. There are obvious alternatives instead of the tired obsession with our gun laws. You need to question for yourself if these demands and steps being taken are appropriate ones. This was a preventable event. Almost 15 years later and we are watching 15 year olds demanding what? Improved mental health care? Improved records and information exchange? Competent university administrations? Competent teachers? No! We are being badgered once again for the same old tired gun laws. Shame on all of you! Using children once again for political change. Children! And the culture of death and hatred grows with every breath. All of this carnage was accomplished without an assault weapon, without a rifle, without a shotgun. All of this death. Two handguns. So let’s ban assault weapons. Ignorance is understandable. Stupidity is unacceptable.
Less than a year later before another incident. This time it occurs at the University of Illinois. In the interim there are only 6 other events. 5 dead, 7 wounded. No rifles. No shotguns. No assault weapons. All handguns. One of the shooters was a woman. And then we find ourselves back on a university campus.
The year is 2008, and the location is the Northern Illinois University. Our shooter is Steven Phillip Kazmierczak. He will kill 5 people before committing suicide. He wounded another 20. An unassuming man of 27. Not a child by any means but almost indistinguishable from those that have preceded him. Something of a real surprise since there was little to warn those around him of what lurked beneath the surface. He was a graduate of the university with a degree in Sociology. He received the Deans Award in 2006. Well regarded by students and teachers alike. He was a graduate student in the School of Social Work at an alternate university location. Described as an outstanding student, with a good academic record, with no history of any trouble. Ironically, he wanted to be a social worker, with a wish to work with people needing help with mental disorders and “in need of direction”. He worked closely with the university chapter of the American Correctional Association and co-authored a paper with fellow students and a professor on self-injury of prisoners in the system, which was eventually published. His girlfriend of two years was completely bewildered by his behavior. She had never seen him display any violent tendencies and described him as “anything but a monster, he was probably the nicest, most caring person ever.”
But he WAS treated ‘temporarily’ for mental illness when he was in high school. He was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder as a teenager and under the care of a psychiatrist was prescribed Xanax (anti-anxiety), Ambien (sleep aid), and Prozac (antidepressant) for his conditions. It was reported that he may have stopped taking the Prozac some weeks before the incident. There are unconfirmed reports of depression and attempts at suicide. So many differences from our other shooters, and yet so much in common as well. We all have our demons to contend with. Some of us are able to handle them. Kazmierczak is one that could not. There were no rantings. No manifesto. No dark internet persona. No suicide note. While there is evidence to some troubling interests over time, the authorities are still without any real understanding as to why he felt compelled to act the way he did. As I mentioned before, who among us can be sure just how close we are to the unthinkable. We all like to think it impossible. Maybe he did as well. And yet …….. A terrible episode in American history. Somewhat unexplained. It is worthy to note, once again, that there were no assault weapons, no rifles. He did have a shotgun but the damage was done with little more than handguns. Banning assault weapons would have done nothing to stop the carnage. I am not sure what could have been done to prevent this but one thing becomes more clear with each event. Legislation is little more a wish and a prayer than a solution.
And life goes on. We have something of a lull in the phenomena of large scale shootings as we move forward. The next notable event does not happen for just a bit more than 4 years later, just across the bay from San Francisco in Oakland, California at a diminutive ‘university’. There have been 33 other various shooting incidents since Northern Illinois. 21 people have been killed. 47 other individuals have been wounded or injured. And once again, there was no incidence of assault weapons, and only two events where a rifle was used. Only a single death in relation to those rifles. No shotguns that I could uncover. Handguns, as always the preferred and easy choice. Is it just possible that these assault weapons of which we are so afraid are not the anathema that we portray? There is no argument as to their deadly potential, but can we please focus on the issues for a change? Can we try and channel our efforts into solutions and away from power politics and hysteria and fear and hate? I am not so sure we can.
Oikos University is a Korean Christian college that offers degrees in Theology, Music, Nursing and Asian Medicine. A former student, a man named One L. Goh, 43 years old, was compelled to return to the school and take the lives of 7 people, while wounding 3 others. He simply marched into a classroom, ordered the students to line up against a wall, and proceeded to simply execute them, leaving the classroom firing his weapon while continuing his exit. He shortly gave himself up at a nearby shopping center. While most of the victims were indeed random, it seems that he was intent on shooting a particular administrator over his having to leave the school. There is some argument as to whether he was expelled or simply dropped out. His demand for a reimbursement of tuition was rejected which precipitated his anger and eventually his behavior. There were reports of behavioral issues while at the school as well as delusions leading up to the events. He was initially diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia by two separate court appointed psychiatrists. They declared that he had been suffering this for more than a decade. He was therefore deemed incompetent and confined to a mental institution for treatment. He refused medication while incarcerated. At one point he asked for the death penalty, which would have been an option if he was competent. The court was undecided if he was conscious of his request or delusional. In 2017 he changed his plea to no contest, and is now serving life without parole in a correctional facility. I am somewhat confused. I can find no information that he was ever re-evaluated and considered competent. Our system is sometimes extremely cold. We care little before they break, and not much more afterwards. Again, his weapon of choice? A handgun. We have had no cold-blooded killers since Columbine. There have been no ‘assault’ weapons. The only thing these individuals have in common? They are all vulnerable and damaged. They were all extremely dangerous. They all needed help. They didn’t get any. With all the family, and all the teachers and all the professionals at so many levels. All doing their jobs, content and satisfied. And yet, there was no one there to offer them the help they needed.
We quickly move on to our next tragedy, our next massacre. It is but a matter of 8 months. The wait has been short, and the result is surreal. There have only been 6 shootings over those eight months. 2 deaths. 7 wounded. No assault weapons, no rifles. A single shotgun which did not result in death. Once again, handguns are the weapon of choice. But all of this changes somewhat, in the blink of an eye. The real beginning of the gun control narrative. The real beginning of the protests. This time there WAS an ‘assault’ weapon. The first time since Columbine. The death count is not greater than Virginia Tech as an example. It may have been a bit easier, but it is the victims that places this particular event apart from the others. Young children. Totally innocent, as were all the other victims. Totally vulnerable, again as most students of any age will be. But so young. Completely incomprehensible. I understand the anger. I too feel the frustrations. But the issues remain the same. They continue along the same path towards nowhere. But something has changed. They begin to scream louder. They refuse to listen to anyone. They hear only themselves. They hate guns. They hate anyone that disagrees. They hate with passion and they hate indiscriminately. They have lost the ability to think. They hate thought. They thrive on emotion. The hate is all consuming. It feeds the problem that they refuse to address. Their behavior is useful, but only in the creation of even more shooters, even more killing machines. There is no discussion, no debate. There is only hate. And to the detriment of all, there will be no resolution.
Newtown is a somewhat idyllic community nestled in the hills along the western border of Connecticut. Something in the vicinity of 28,000 residents. It boasts a rather quiet and uneventful history. Before the 14th of December in the year of 2012, there had only been a single homicide committed in over a decade. That was a claim that was soon to be forever forfeited. The day began like many other until Adam Lanza, a young man of 20, began a chain of events which would not only create change in his own life, but arguably change the lives of the inhabitants of Newton as well as the rest of America. Lanza began his day by shooting his mother in the head 4 times as she lay in her bed. She was at least spared the reality of what her son was preparing to do. The police have not been able to uncover the reasoning behind his actions. He used a bolt-action, .22 caliber rifle to do so.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School was an unobtrusive campus catering to young children from kindergarten through 4th grade only. They had safety protocols to lock doors at precisely 9:30 every morning with individual entry allowed only after identification review through installed video. There were no metal detectors. No guards. Just a false sense of security. Nothing more than an inconvenience to someone intent on entering or causing harm, as events clearly show. There were 456 children enrolled in the school. 20 of them lost their lives that day. 6 teachers also died. 2 were wounded. And of course, once again, as is usually the case, the shooters final act was to take their own life. It is curious and troubling, but trying to find out the staffing at the location was much more difficult than you might expect. My best estimate is that there were upwards of 50 staff members, including administration, teachers and support staff. I realize it is an unwanted and annoying question, but what if just 20 percent of them were trained and armed. What would the result have been? 8 teachers were killed or wounded. They came in contact with the shooter. If only 1 was prepared, what would have happened? Many say it could have been worse. They are what we call the glass half empty agenda. I ask from a glass half full perspective. Maybe, just maybe, it could have saved some lives. Our protestors say that we should do whatever necessary, if it means ‘saving but a single child’. What if we could have saved a child with a willing armed teacher? Is that child’s life somehow worth LESS than the one that will cost a billion dollars? I know the answer. Do you? Just askin’.
It was 9:35 when Lanza walked up to the LOCKED front door. He did not ring the bell, he did not ask for permission to enter. He shot out the window and was immediately where he wanted to be, with nothing whatsoever standing in his way. A gun free zone insured that. He advanced down the hallway as the principal and school psychologist as well as a teacher came to investigate the sounds of his entry. He shot them down, killing 2 of them. The only advice being communicated to the rest of the school was to hide or run. It was a time of fear and anxiety. He entered two different classrooms, apparently at random and shot various teachers and children. Accounts paint some of the teachers as fairly heroic, shielding their students and placing themselves between or over their charges. The answer from Lanza was usually to shoot them. It seems that those that didn’t move or run fared much better than those that did. It was all over in a matter of minutes. The police arrived but never fired a shot. Lanza shot himself and was dead approximately 5 minutes after it all began.
A report issued a year later by the States Attorney’s office found that he acted alone, which was fairly obvious, but found no reasons whatsoever for his actions, or why he targeted this particular location. Yet another successful completion of our government when faced with a daunting task. Well done! Another year passes and a report from the Office of the Child Advocate determines that he had an obsessive-compulsive disorder, and that he suffered from depression and anxiety, as well as having Asperger’s Syndrome. But their conclusion was that NONE of these things “neither caused nor led to his murderous acts.” They continued to say that “his severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems… combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… (and) access to deadly weapons… proved a recipe for mass murder”. Really? How convenient! The DNC could not have worded it any better for their own political gain. No one knows WHY he did these horrendous things, but they seem to have an uncanny sense about what definitely did NOT cause them. Are you susceptible to these arguments? If so, for a small fee, if you are interested, I can get you in touch with a guy that is selling the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a beautiful bridge. I was thinking of putting a down payment on it myself.
I just don’t understand. I cannot comprehend what would cause someone to do such a horrendous thing. I realize that pretty much anyone who kills another has some sort of mental disorder. It is an integral part of the act of murder. He didn’t even have a reason. And to kill such young children? Why not people that you blame for such a horrible world? Why not the politicians? Why not people who you perceive cause you to experience a tortured life? But why children? We will never have an answer. It died with him. He was just another grossly damaged and irreparably broken individual. This one was difficult to process. Such a waste of life. But we do not put a premium on life in our society anymore. We teach a disrespect for life. Why does it surprise you when it turns out someone is listening?
You would think that any one of these events might ignite a flood of rage and anger, but it never seems to be the case. But even such an event as this soon recedes into memory. There are more than enough issues to keep us busy with our hatred and our somewhat distracted attention span. A period of relative calm ensues, and I use the term lightly. It is almost 3 years before we see something even remotely similar. Clinically less destructive, unless you were there or knew someone who was. And yet a huge amount of pain and suffering. In the 34 months since Sandy Hook, there have been 78 shooting events which is a disturbing increase in the actual number of incidents, but many of them become suspect as the hysteria spreads to even those who should be keeping a certain objectiveness in compiling data and discussing the issue. Inflating numbers does nothing to solve the problem, as ignoring the pathologies does nothing to explain them. There were 41 deaths attributed to these events, as well as 94 wounded. This is also a marked increase but please grant me a few caveats. There are a number of events I would like to comment upon. One was in Santa Monica, California in 2013 where 6 people were killed and 4 others wounded. The shooter killed 2 family member in the home and carjacked a vehicle, shooting a third person, and ended up in a college parking lot. He randomly fired at police vehicles on the road outside the campus, as well as private cars and a bus. Of the 10 people killed or injured, 8 had absolutely nothing to do with the college. He randomly fired into a parked car in the school parking lot killing one and wounding another, but hardly what can be construed as a ‘school mass shooting’. A number of the ‘wounded’ were from glass and injuries experienced from things other than the guns used. Up to this point these items were never included. A number of instances have these ‘injuries’ included as ‘wounded’ which is disingenuous at best. Add to this the inclusion of pellet gun incidents, and obviously personal or gang related occasions where the shootings occurred with no students from the school involved or well after hours when the schools were not in session. These inclusions do nothing to bring resolution. For myself, I am simply attempting to discover truth and clarity to an extremely complicated and important issue. I can speak for no one else definitively. In any case, I have no choice but to acknowledge that the numbers are increasing, possibly at an accelerated and alarming rate. But at this point it’s been 16 years. We have done basically nothing to address the problem. What did you think was going to happen? Are we supposed to wish upon a star? You think this is going to somehow all just ‘go away’? It’s not.
So we come to another college campus. Another young man of 26 years. Roseburg. October, 2015. Another quaint little town, this time in the southwestern corner of the state of Oregon. Umpqua Community College. Another day destined to be a day we wish we could forget. But we should not. It is another learning experience. Unfortunately we learn so little from these events. Why is that? Some would say that it is because we worship an inanimate object, a gun. A lump of metal. Others may believe it is because we worship nothing at all. I believe it is because we have resolved never to think again. We have to ‘FEEL’ to resolve our issues. We ‘CARE’. We have to do something. The problem is that without thought there is never action that results in anything BUT failure.
Chris Harper-Mercer was a student in a writing class at the college. The people he shot were his fellow students. He began by shooting the professor of his class, followed by his classmates. He killed 9 and wounded 8 before police finally arrived. He shot at police and they returned fire, hitting him but not fatally. He then proceeded to commit suicide with a shot to the head. There are no reports of his having anything particular that set him off although there is some evidence that he was anti-religious and he did ask questions as to the students’ religious affiliations before shooting them. One responded he was agnostic but he shot them anyway. There were reports that he had racist tendencies but nothing is as simple as they sound. He did indeed remark that he hated black ‘men’, but he was of mixed race, and at least partially black, so the issue is much more complicated than that. He voiced frustrations with girls and sex as well as his own personal fulfilment. He made the point that he thought himself gifted and more sane than most. He wished to be remembered for his acts.
Harper-Mercer was a boy who had always had problems even from early childhood. He moved to Oregon from California with his mother after her divorce, about two years before the shooting. He graduated at age 20 from Switzer Learning Center, a school for teenagers with learning disabilities and emotional issues. His mother said both of them suffered from Aspergers, and he refused to take medications or seek treatment. He attempted to join the army and was discharged after a matter of weeks. The army would not comment but police investigators said it was because of an apparent suicide attempt. They also disclosed that he had long term mental-health issues, but did not go into details. There are loners and there are loners. People like Harper-Mercer were simply isolated, and he didn’t really want to be. He didn’t have the ability to deal with it. He didn’t drink. He didn’t do drugs. He didn’t have the social skills to find his way. His mother said she tried to protect him from those things that disturbed him the most, which simply isolated him that much more. It was probably not the best course of action. People do what they can. We all have limitations.
Another killing spree. More death. People again screaming for gun control. He went to the school that day with 5 handguns and a semi-automatic rifle. He never used the rifle. 3 handguns remained in his backpack when they found him. There were eight more at home. His mother was an enthusiast and believed it could work as therapy if they took target practice together. It didn’t work. The amount of guns is a bit troubling, but again the gun remains as NOT the problem. You can’t use 10 guns to do anything. He used 2. Critics say if he was institutionalized he would not have been able to buy a gun, and at least one of them was his, but that would have had zero impact on that day. His mother failed him. The educational system failed him. Society failed him. He failed himself. They all meant well, in their own way. And yet, the death and destruction continues. We need to focus on the problem, not the symptoms, not the aftermath, not the politics.
The protests reverberate as America goes back to their daily grind. The memories fade for those that were involved. They are left to pick up the pieces of a life burst asunder. The protestors do nothing to console or support. Some continue the fight for their agendas, others go back to work, back to life. The politicians return to their fundraising. Possibly a bill is submitted in a state capital or even in Washington. But nothing really changes. Does anyone care about the victims? Does anyone care about our next shooter? You don’t want to think of them as victims, do you? But they are. So we end up doing nothing. We wait patiently for the next catastrophe. We make no changes of consequence. We have no debates of substance. We zone out. We cease to think. We almost cease to exist. It will be but 16 months to the next call to arms. There will be no gun control, and if there was it would make no difference. There will be an additional 34 painful events. We will experience 30 deaths. There will be 82 survivors. There will be more faked numbers, more misreporting, but the dead are gone forever. The numbers may be challenged but the threat remains real. It is growing. It is not getting better. There have been no resolutions. We have not discovered alternatives. We have not even discussed them. All of the deaths that day resulted from the use of a handgun. Once again, the weapon of choice. A couple of shotguns were present, but no rifles, no ‘assault’ weapons. But that is about to change.
On the day we first labelled the shooting at Columbine a ‘massacre’, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold took the lives of 15 of their peers, Nicolas Jacob Cruz was just 7 months old, capable of doing little else besides gurgle and eat and poop and attempt to focus on the new world around him. There is no indication of the man, now little more than a boy, which he would someday become. There is no warning label that he is a monster in progress. His birth mother, for whatever reason, did not keep him. His real mother was waiting in the delivery room as he was born, and he was immediately taken home to be loved, however imperfectly. He will have a new baby brother in a matter of months, ironically from the same birth mother, and that will be what he knows as family. The years will pass, but not completely uneventfully. He will be diagnosed with developmental delays by the time he is but 3 years old. Before he reaches the ripe old age of six he will personally experience the trauma of witnessing the death of his father from a heart attack.
While Jeffrey Weise is enacting his own little vignette from hell, erasing the futures of 10 of his friends and family at Red Lake, Cruz has not quite reached 7 years but is already having troubles coping with the world around him. He was never an easy child. There were further complications. He was diagnosed with depression. Where have we heard that before? It was determined that he had a condition known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as emotional behavioral disability and autism, as per records from the state Department of Children and Families. His mother revealed to law enforcement that he also had obsessive-compulsive disorder and anger issues. Things were not getting any better. People were seeing all of this, and yet doing nothing. Parents can do little when they are confronted with these things. They have no particular skills. All they can do is love their children. We are told that a single mother can raise a child on her own, but it’s not that easy. We are told that ‘it takes a village’, but what do you do when the village does not care? What of the professionals who made these diagnoses? What is their culpability? Does no one have any responsibility? We place blame on that alluring gun that is waiting in the shadows to corrupt the innocent young boy? But no one else? Make that an obviously damaged and breaking individual who is hurting and confused, incapable of making sense of a distorted reality. And it is not going to get any better.
Over the next 8 years he continues to struggle with the challenges he has to endure, he knows not why. When Seung-Hui Cho kills 32 at Virginia tech, Cruz is almost 9 years old. When Kazmierczak works his sordid magic at Northern Illinois, killing 6, Cruz is approaching 10. At the time One L. Goh takes the lives of 7 in Oikos, he is just shy of 14 years. At the time of Sandy Hook, Lanza and 26 dead children, he is on his way to 15. We finally come to Umpqua, Harper-Mercer and his 10 victims. Cruz has now become a young man of 17. He is next on the list to join the club. The ‘Shooters’. During this time? 81 dead. None deserved it but in the end it was not their call. 56 others wounded. And many more in the countless other mindless and unnecessary killings. We see the same facts time and again. And we do next to nothing. We complain. We pass laws. Nothing really changes. We KNOW that the individual is the real weapon, and yet we will never cease the relentless quest to ban assault weapons, EVEN THOUGH VIRTUALLY ALL of this death was caused by handguns. We need to fix the problem. We need to help these helpless people get well. You can lock them up in cages or in mental institutions but that does nothing to resolve the issue. That is little more than hiding from it. The last refuge of the coward.
The last few years of his life Cruz was screaming for help. From 2013 onward there is more than enough evidence that something needed to be done. There are reports that his time at Westglades Middle School was full of instances of disruptive interaction with other students, kicking doors, cited numerous times for disrupting class and unruly behavior, threatening classmates and teachers alike, insulting or profane language, disobedience, insubordination and other rules violations. He was transferred to Cross Creek School where they had intensive programming for kids like Cruz, with emotional and behavioral disabilities. He remained there for two years, and was less disruptive than he had been, but he was unhappy not being in the educational ‘mainstream’ and wanted to go to a normal high school. While there, Retired Broward teacher Joe Carrier taught a woodworking class, and remembers Cruz as “a quiet kid” who kept to himself and appeared to be “mildly autistic.” In 2015 he began to split classes between Cross Creek and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In 2016 he began classes there full time. While at Cross Creek he was a socially isolated and awkward youth who was sometimes disruptive and often bullied by his peers. At times he terrified those same classmates.
His problems only increased upon reaching Stoneman. He continued to be bullied. He continued to act out, being disciplined for fighting, and profanity. He was suspended. The Florida Department of Children and Families investigated Cruz in September 2016 for Snapchat posts in which he cut both his arms and said he planned to buy a gun. At this time, a school resource officer requested to have Cruz committed to a mental institution under the provisions of the Baker Act. Two guidance counselors agreed, but a mental institution did not. State investigators reported he had depression, autism, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In their assessment, they concluded he “was at low risk of harming himself or others”. These findings did not result in his being ordered to receive care in an institution, and the law only considers that in the process of purchasing a weapon. He was therefore eventually able to purchase a weapon, and passed the background check easily because he had no ‘record’. Where is the outrage over these circumstances? Where are the protests? They attempt to infringe on the Constitution and the individual rights of MILLIONS of citizens that have done absolutely nothing wrong but refuse to infringe on the rights of a few mentally challenged people with a history of violence because what? We may hurt their feelings? Pure insanity. It makes no sense whatsoever. He finally was accused of an ‘assault’ and again suspended in 2017. The event resulted in a referral for a ‘threat assessment’. The result was ‘banishment’ from the school. You see the state of Florida has a convenient law that you cannot ‘expel’ someone from the system. They have rights, just not a lot of them. They can go to school, just not ‘here’. I am not sure what happens to the last school to get him, but in this case it never reaches that point. Three days after the banishment, Cruz buys the AR-15 that he will use in a years’ time. The threat assessment, even with the myriad of red flags over the years, resulted in little but his banishment.
He is transferred to an off campus learning center where he lasts for a few months. Over the next year he is shuttled between 3 other school ‘placements’. This is 6 schools in just over 3 years. For someone with his problems this must have been unbearable. Was anyone watching? Where was the system during this time? He was not living in a vacuum. People were contacting authorities with accounts of his activities. He was cutting himself on Instagram. He was threatening to kill, even specifically saying he would be a school shooter. It all fell on PROFESSIONAL deaf ears. His mother dies in November. He goes to live with a neighbor, living in a mobile home. This is after a life in a fairly luxurious house. She has misgivings. This does not last long. He goes to live with the family of a ‘friend’. They are better people than I am. I would have been hard-pressed to offer him hospitality. On the morning of the shooting he told the family that he was not going to school that day. He said he ‘never’ goes to school on Valentine’s Day. That is a lucky family that was not to be counted among the dead that day. I can only guess that somewhere deep inside this already dead boy there existed just a bit of affection for them. But he knew that there were few options left. His time was running out. His, as well as a number of others.
The specifics are much the same as the other events. He proceeded to the school where he simply set off a fire alarm and as the students flooded the hallways he started shooting indiscriminately. There were no specific targets. He passed through all the 3 floors of the building firing and reloading. At some point he decided not to continue. It is not clear if he ran out of bullets. He dropped his weapons and took off a vest and jacket and simply walked out of the building as one of the students. He was apprehended about an hour later. He killed 17 in a matter of 6 minutes. 17 others were wounded. 3 of the dead were teachers. One a football coach and a security guard. Is it not reasonable to question, just question, if he could have made a difference if armed? He died trying to protect some of HIS students. He was at the mercy of the shooter. He was a true hero. I refuse to think it could not have made a difference. I would love to be able to ask his opinion. Maybe we could ask the opinion of the parents of the children who died. There are a lot more supporters of the idea than you would think, watching our mass media. You have to ask yourself why that is.
I believe that it is obvious that we need protection from guns, but specifically from guns in the hands of people who should not be allowed to own them. We need laws that protect us from people. We have thousands already and they don’t work so well. Anyone can disobey a law, a gun free zone is a good example, and anyone can ignore a gun law, and they do. We need gun owners to be responsible. With all the hysteria about the NRA, it is worth noting that not a single school mass shooting was perpetrated by an NRA member? Again I ask why is that? They are not a part of the problem, they are actually a part of the solution. When is the last time a ‘never again’ protester was asked that question? Or a politician demeaning the NRA. Wake up America! You are being scammed. And it looks like you don’t mind at all. If you really wanted a solution, you would care about these things. If not you are indeed a part of the problem.
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie wouldn’t discuss Cruz’s school records, citing a federal law that protects student privacy, but said he didn’t think providing Cruz with more school services would have prevented the shooting. “Based on what’s reported in the media, here’s a kid who’s lost both parents, he’s obviously got some mental health challenges,” Runcie said. “Let me just say if we provided every service that we could and did all that in exemplary fashion, if he can still get access to guns what’s the point of all this?” Really? Based on MEDIA reports? You are the county school superintendent! What exactly is it that you do? This damaged boy has been in your system for over a decade, with a potpourri of issues, and you watch the news for information? I don’t usually advocate individuals losing their jobs over events such as these but with his comments, it is obvious he needs to go, and yet, I have yet to hear a single call for that. But he did not fail to point to the access of guns. Make a note. Not assault weapons. Not semi-automatics. Simple access. Right from the DNC talking points. It begins already. He continued, “This is a systemic problem we have that isn’t about blaming one agency or the other,” he added. “What we need to do is move from trying to play the blame game and find real solutions.” We may not need to ‘blame’ but we certainly need to determine those that were remiss in their obligations and responsibilities. Sounds like CYA to me. All the signs were there for a catastrophe. If only we had competent people doing their jobs properly. Maybe we can pass another law!
And so we gather in the streets and lament the inhumanity of government when we should be protesting the inhumanity of man. I have no way of knowing who our next shooter will be. Is he 8 or 12 or 16? Is he celebrating his last birthday, ever, before making his own personal statement? Our cross section of the elite ‘shooters’ club has been 4 teenagers, 4 young men in their 20s and a single 43 year old. It is impossible to know where they are today, but they are out there somewhere. While we do not as yet have a woman president, maybe we can look forward to our next shooter being our first woman shooter. Wouldn’t that be historic? It will happen someday, you know. It will happen eventually. Watch the protests. These young women have hatred and frustrations written all over them. It does not take much more than that. Add a little mental instability and you have the perfect recipe for….. another massacre. It is inevitable.
All of these individuals were little boys at one time. They all had parents and they all had problems. In hindsight, some of them seem obvious, some not so much. Some an absolute surprise, even with their challenges. Remember that the next time you look at your own little Bobby or Jimmy or even Sally. Are you paying attention? Are you doing enough? They are your own sweet little time bombs. Try not to set them off. We’re counting on you.