18 April 2007

Cybershrink on the Virginia massacre

What motivated the killing of the Virginia Tech students? And what triggers such tragic events? Cybershrink comments.

What motivates a rampage killer and what exactly triggers such a tragic event? Could you be at risk from something similar? CyberShrink comments. Available information is still sketchy about the massacre at Virginia Tech University, but there are aspects to this grim occurrence that definitely deserve comment.

This may be the largest massacre at an educational institution, but such events are not uncommon, specifically in America.

The first example one easily recalls was the sniper in the Tower at the University of Texas back in 1966. But there were also the killing of 13 at Columbine High School, the slayings in Montreal when the killer yelled that he "hated feminists", and last year's killing and maiming of the schoolgirls at an Amish school in Pennsylvania.

So often the killer is a bitter loner, who has possibly been disappointed in a love affair (real or imagined). This person builds hatred and resentment not only against some specific individuals whom he holds responsible for having caused his grief, but also against all the rest of us.

It's as though he sees the world as divided into two teams - him versus the rest of us. Thus, like most terrorists, he sees no possibly innocent victims - so long as he is unhappy, nobody else ought to be happy, and we are all fair game to him. This is the ultimate loser's revenge.

This time, the killer was once again a young male student, apparently Asian in origin (which is rather unusual). There is talk of a possible website on which this individual may have written of his gripes and shown pictures of himself with guns.

This is not out of the ordinary. We know that such material has been posted online by other such killers, as in the Columbine and Montreal cases. If, as we are told, the CIA monitors emails worldwide in their pursuit of terrorists, is there perhaps a way in which such personal websites could be monitored for sites which reveal a dangerous degree of alienation from society in general, combined with a love for weapons?

Triggers for rampage killings
It appears that a trigger for these tragic events may have been the killer's split-up from a girlfriend. Split-ups are sad and annoying, and can be hard to cope with, but why should love, even love frustrated, lead to such hatred and the killing of others obviously not involved in the affair?

Did anyone else notice the oddity, as the word "serial" (from "serial killer") has become a slang word used to indicate something serious and gross, that one of the victims who had narrowly escaped the killer, when interviewed, kept unwittingly referring to the event as "serial"? This was a rampage killing. Read more about serial killers.

Part of the frustration of the victim communities is that these events usually end with the death of the killer, either by suicide or at the hands of the police. While this may end the killings, it also often ends the possibility of getting answers to the many questions that continue to trouble victims. He's not around to answer the questions, not even as an easy target for our anger.

Response to the incident
There are grounds for concern at how the incident was managed. What astounded me from the early reports, is that the campus authorities and police seem to have decided that the initial incident which left two dead, was a mere domestic quarrel and a murder-suicide - though there were no weapons at the scene! How on earth does anyone manage to kill someone, and then themselves, with no weapons left within reach?

This was an astonishing assessment of an admittedly alarming and unclear situation. Had they even considered the possibility that these could have been the first two victims of a gunman still at large and probably still lethal, the situation would surely have been handled differently.

There were two episodes in the previous week of bomb scares which had proved to be false alarms - one wonders whether these might have been dry runs by the killer, to test out the emergency response routines. He seems to have been prepared to lock or bolt the doors at the site of the massacres, preventing the escape of his victims and the entrance of potential rescuers.

Reporters need to be cautious that, while remarking on the awful scale of this event, they don't encourage such unhinged characters to feel a sense of competition and the challenge to produce a bigger and better masacre. And national and internal responses ought to be cautious and muted too. How else, apart from major political assassination, can these otherwise useless losers command worldwide attention and gain comment from Presidents, Prime Ministers and Queens?

I wonder at the eagerness with which the Red Cross and other organisations have set up counselling stations to serve the wider community here (mostly people who were not themselves directly involved, but are merely understandably upset at what has happened nearby). There is no good scientific evidence that such counselling is helpful to people in that situation. A surprising amount of good research shows that it may well do more harm than good.

Senseless events?
And yet again, following such a mass tragedy, we both declare the events to be "senseless" and demand that they must make sense. But such killers are not being sensible to begin with. There are no sensible reasons for a massacre. It is, genuinely, non-sense.

While, as I have said, there are reasons for concern that the events were not well-managed, we must also be wary of our motivation for wanting to blame the authorities when such things happen. Emotionally, such scape-goating is a way of convincing ourselves that this could not happen here (although it might). It gives us some satisfactory target to blame, when the actual blameworthy killer has removed himself from the scene.

As usual, a major factor has to be America's uniquely passionate devotion to guns. Through a habitual and deliberate misinterpretation of the Second Amendment to the American Constitution, they insist that the right for every nut to bear as many guns as he likes, is as holy as the right to freedom of speech or any other freedom.

I, and others, see the amendment as being very clearly about the right to bear arms within a properly organised and controlled militia or army, affirmed at a time when the young nation felt itself at threat and wanted to remain able to defend itself.

It's hard to imagine that those who wrote that section of the Constitution wanted to insist that for all time, any idiot who wanted to amass arms and ammo to make war on his neighbours, must always be allowed to do this with ease.

While weapons remain so readily available in America, there is no form of security that could protect that society from such acts of viciousness. So long as the Guns for Nuts lobby rules America, it will always be possible. – Prof. M.A. Simpson, Health24's CyberShrink.

Watch this space: CyberShrink will explore further themes during the next few days.

(April 2007)

Profile of a rampage killer




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