Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virginia Tech murder-suicide

I'm still sorting through the fragmentary details of the murder-suicide at Virginia Tech last Monday, April 16, 2007, and still not ready to make much in the way of strong statements about the incident, but there are a few things that seem rather clear at this stage. I am not the kind of person to offer knee-jerk reactions to unfolding events, preferring to wait for the media-inspired frenzy dust to settle and for the true facts to get accurately reported.

My initial reaction was simply: So, what's different about this "school shooting" incident, what's new, or is this simply "another Columbine" and the fact that the number of deaths was higher was the only "real" news? Was it the raw number of casualties, or are there other factors that are different enough to be worthy of nationwide, if not international attention?

As I said, I am still not ready to draw strong conclusions, but here are the factors to be considered:

  1. Is there a rising trend of "school shootings"?
  2. Are more kids now willing to consider murder-suicide as an "option"?
  3. Would the incident have gotten as much attention if only a couple of kids had gotten shot?
  4. Was it the sheer number of deaths, the fact that it was a new "record"?
  5. Would there be as much attention if he had killed only, say, four or six or eight?
  6. Was it because the killer was "foreign-born"?
  7. Was there a terrorism angle?
  8. Is the incident being blown up for partisan political advantage?
  9. Would reasonably stricter gun control laws, policies, and practices really have prevented the killer from acquiring the gun and the large amount of ammunition?
  10. Is "mental illness" to blame?
  11. Should staff or even students have been responsible for reporting his off-the-deep-end behavior and mental state?
  12. Should some institution (the university, local law enforcement, some mental health or social service agency, the federal government, et al) have had clear responsibility to remove the soon-to-be killer from the community when he was judged to be a danger to himself and others?
  13. Are any new laws needed?
  14. Are changes to how existing laws are used needed?
  15. Is the family, the social community, society overall responsible for in fact treating the killer as an outcast and effectively "shunning" him by focusing on his unwillingness or lack of ability to "relate" as they judged that he should?
  16. Did well-meaning individuals make matters worse by essentially leading the killer to feel guilty and culpable for his lack of empathy and social alienation?
  17. Since none of the efforts to "help" the killer succeeded, what should family, friends, teachers, et al have really done to short-circuit the killer's fall into oblivion?
  18. Were his "warning signs" overlooked simply because he was performing reasonably well in school? Did academic "success" and some semblance of social "compliance" effectively give him a free pass to be destructively anti-social?
  19. Was it really "rage" that drove him to kill? If so, isn't it odd that he had no verbal or non-verbal expressions of "rage" during the shootings, remaining otherwise dispassionate through the whole event? He seemed more of a "hunter", on a "mission", calmly searching for prey, calmly aiming, calmly pulling the trigger, and calmly moving on. Something must have been driving him more than simply blind rage.

I have no immediate answers to any of these questions, and there are likely to be even more questions.

Here is about as far out on a limb as I am willing to go at this point in time, based on the limited information available:

  1. Fitting in socially the way his family, peers, and teachers expected was simply not a viable option for him. His "disorder", if that is the proper term, was simply too profound to rationally expect that he would be able to "adjust." That expectation simply increased the probability that a blow-up such as this would eventually occur.
  2. Neither his family nor his schools did him any service by acting as if nothing was wrong.
  3. There were clearly at least several points in time where he should clearly have been separated from either his family or school, but something prevented responsible authorities from taking prompt and definitive action, even long ago.
  4. Why did no one attempt to explain to him that he can in fact live at some distance from the social "norms" of behavior, but only provided that he simultaneously respects the rights of others to not completely relate to his difference from their norms? Some significant minority of people do in fact learn to live with both their inner sense of being "very different", while accepting that this does not make anyone else an enemy. Rather than trying to force him into a straitjacket of "normalcy", why couldn't family, acquaintances, teachers, et al welcome the fact that he was different rather than trying to squash his different-ness like a bug (or so it might have appeared to him)?
  5. Although there are plenty of people who may be even more different from the norm than this guy, the fact that he turned into a killer should not be any surprise. The only surprise is that more people don't "go postal" on a more frequent basis. Maybe this simply means that our "system" actually is quite effective, but that expecting perfection from the system is simply too great a demand.

Even as more facts come in, they might not change the overall picture from what I have described above.

Will it happen again, or even worse? I hate to pre-judge the future, so I would simply say that it is possible, but it shouldn't be a surprise whether such events do or don't happen again.

-- Jack Krupansky

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