Another Senseless Tragedy?

The Scream by Edward Munch (1893). (Obtained from Wikipedia).

What Kind of Society are we Becoming?

I was walking through the business lounge at my office building when I heard someone ask, “What kind of society are we becoming?  Are we no longer safe when we go to a movie theater, the mall, or to an educational institution?  Do we have to worry each and every day we and our beloved ones step outside of our homes?” Terror struck my heart as I quickly learned that approximately 20 children had been shot in addition to several adults in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The children were between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, undoubtably the most innocent and vulnerable citizens of our society. This is now being called one of the worst mass shootings tragedy in history. Within the first hours of this incident most of the information is confusing and fragmented with various rumors as to what happened and why.  But the fact of matter is that in spite of what details eventually emerge, such an occurrence is brutally senseless. 

Another senseless tragedy

Just a few days ago we heard another report of a gunman who opened fire on innocent people in a mall in Portland, Oregon, killing two persons and himself.  And back in July this year, the media had been dominated by the shocking news of a gunman in who presented himself before the theater of a midnight premier of the Batman movie, “Dark Knight Rises” and proceeded to throw canisters of gas and opened fire onto the audience. This mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado left 12 people dead and dozens injured. It took days for our Nation to await word of the missing and those in critical condition. Even presidential candidates on the campaign trail took a pause from their activities. The audience at the theater consisted of all ages. One victim died on his birthday. Another had just narrowly escaped another mass shooting Toronto, Canada. Then in August 2012 a gunman randomly killed seven people in a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

The frequency of such killings

The site of the Aurora, Colorado tragedy was just 15 miles from Columbine High School, the scene of a 1999 mass shooting where two gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher, before killing themselves. But from the reports of so many recent mass shootings, it seems that these events have occurred in many different places throughout the country.  It has happened in wealthy as well as impoverished communities. As a resident of Chicago, every day brings news of local shootings resulting in several dead and even more injured. Good weather often portends a gun battle somewhere in the city. Statistics given by Fox News state that the Newton Community in Connecticut is affluent with an average yearly family income of $400,000/year. This amount is well above the now well-known quoted $250,000 tax bracket that is being debated as the top wage earners while our country approaches the “fiscal cliff”.

According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the United States has been averaging 20 mass shootings each year, escalating since 2005.  However, it was during the 1980s, that the term “going postal’ became popular as some separate incidences of disgruntled postal workers began picking each other off.  

I don’t know if everyone sees it like I do, but it seems to me that these incidents of mass murders have been escalating. It feels like a society on the edge. It is a lot like my perception of hurricanes, although a natural phenomenon.  I’m about a half of a century old, and I don’t remember hearing much about hurricanes and shooters dressed in military combat outfits opening fire on innocent people at all.  I have heard some even say that these things take on a conspiracy theory type of hue that threatens our Constitutional right to bear arms.

What is the motive of a mass murderer?

The first question that comes to everyone’s mind is why?  Some city homicides are due to gang violence and often are tied to drug activities. But what about a lone gunman who takes an arsenal into a crowded movie theater or to a school full of innocent kindergarteners and elementary students? Many say that it is futile to try to determine the motive of such a killing.  Stephen Albrecht, head of the San Diego Association of Threat Assessment Professionals told Skynews in a telephone interview after the Aurora, Colorado shooting that people “tend to rationalise the irrational behaviour of the people around us and thus skip over signs of an individual on the verge of violence.”  Basically even if someone is a suspect, they are not sure what to do about it. 

A person who acts strange, has mental illness, or even buys a gun is not usually a mass murderer. A person cannot be locked up just because they are different or eccentric. Even most who say they “feel like hurting someone” actually never do commit acts of violence. In my past work in a clinic, we evaluated for homicidal and suicidal ideation. This was largely based on the client’s own affirmation, those of significant others, and history. Then there are those who just plainly negate any such thoughts and have no history. The science of determining those who are a danger to themselves and others is not so exact due to the fickle nature of human beings. In terms of suicide, a person must say that they want to harm themselves, have a plan, and also have a feasible means of carrying it out.

While the examination of the factors and causes of a mass murder is really too broad to address in a short blog, some brief statements can be made. The nature of the killer, type of victim, and motives vary. There are killers who attack people they know and those who assail random strangers. Two main motives identified include revenge and the need for fame and/or attention (Wikipedia). The latter is the reason why many people fear copycat acts of violence after a major event. 

Also there is the question of whether the acts of an individual are really the symptoms of a sick society in general.  In the example of the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting, one can question the coincidence of the type of movie premier selected by the killer which was one noted for grotesque violence.  Witnesses state that the killer dressed like the “Joker” of the Batman movie and was carrying out a scene similar to the Dark Knight. There also have been questions made as to why children and even infants were at a midnight showing of an PG13-rated movie in the first place.

But what about innocent children who are just doing their lessons in school?  Or someone who might be out shopping for their loved ones for Christmas presents?

Talking about it actually helps to bring about healing

In the face of tragedy, silence is actually one of the worst enemies.Trying to hide or sweep something under the carpet only intensifies the horror and pain. Withholding conversation does not protect anyone especially children.  It only makes them feel that others are unavailable to help them. Although we do have to be careful how we approach the topic. I overheard one local student say that when his school made a special announcement that there was a tragedy today in our country, he thought that the December 21, 2012 “End of the World” was starting to be put into motion, that our city was under attack, or that someone had been assassinated. A panic set in his mind before the speaker explained the crisis in Connecticut.

Talking it out, answering questions, and remaining active brings about healing.  Rather than retreating in fear, getting involved in healing and giving expression to our feelings can help with overcoming trauma.  This can take on many forms which include art work, sending donations to victims, writing letters, praying, as well as participation in community programs.  Giving acknowledgement and vaildation of the pain experienced after such an event is important.

Reaction to mass murderer

Figuring out a cause of such a tragedy doesn’t take away the pain and shock. In fact, we cannot know entirely what it is like to lose someone in such a senseless tragedy unless we have experienced it ourselves. But we do share in some of the elements of the shock, terror, and sorrow of such an event.  As a society we all suffer. And in a way, such events that show the worst in some people, can also bring out the best in others. These are the times that communities can come together and people start to think about turning back to God and participating in their houses of worship.

My daughter’s own high school issued a statement that included the following words today: “Tragic events such as today’s also gives us an opportunity to pray together as a family/community to remember the fact that even in terrible situations good things happen in response (courage, self-sacrifice and love), and that if we are to have peace in our homes, community and world  — it always begins with each one of us.”

Let us never forget our source of peace, the Prince of Peace, through such difficult times. That our sorrows and sufferings on this earth are not in vain but can have deep spiritual value.

Obtained from the Catholic Study Fellowship Facebook page:

“Dear brothers and sisters, I pray God may open your eyes and let you see what hidden treasures He bestows on us in the trials from which the world thinks only to flee. Shame turns into honor when we seek God’s glory. Present affliction become the source of heavenly glory. To those who suffer wounds in fighting His battles God opens His arms in loving, tender friendship. That is why He (Christ) tells us that if we want to join Him, we shall travel the way He took….”  from a letter by Saint John of Avila
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