How Our Reactions Might Alter the Course of the Next Mass Shooter

I have had the great misfortune to be close to two mass shootings in my life.

The first was the Thurston High School massacre in 1998 when I was 14 and the shooter, Kip Kinkel, was 15. From the open study hall of my own high school, 10 miles away, I sat and listened to continuous coverage during my three free periods in the middle of the day. It was there that I first discovered how strange people's reactions to this type of tragedy can be.

A boy not much older than me stood up and rather brusquely turned off the radio that everyone else was listening to and said something to the effect of "turn off that crap." I was surprised that not only did he not want to glean as much information as possible about the situation — my own reaction — but that instead of just leaving, he chose to impose his desire on the other several dozen people there.

The latest shooting was Tuesday, at Clackamas Town Center, a scant three miles from my house. This is a place I frequent quite often with my two-year-olds, especially on rainy days like that day.

Again, I found myself in information-gathering mode. Not only did I look at the Facebook statuses of my friends but I figured out how to search ALL of the public Facebook statuses for Clackamas Town Center and read many of those. Most of the sentiments were prayers and well-wishes in one form or another. Some of the things I read turned my stomach. But as I read more and more and more statuses, patterns began to emerge in how people reacted to this bad news.

The reactions that bugged me — reactions that, to be honest, I myself experienced during the aftermath — were ones that I'm going to call Statements of Separateness.

Such as: This bad thing won't happen to me because I don't shop at malls. 

Or: Thank goodness the people I know are safe. 

Or: If only people would listen to me that nobody should have guns, this wouldn't have happened.

Or: If only people would listen to me that everybody should have guns, this wouldn't have happened. 

And, particularly: The shooter is a "nut" or an "asshole" — an "other." Nothing like me. Nothing like anybody I know and love.

Here is one thing I know for sure: The victims, the families of the victims, and, yes, even the shooter, are not so different from you or me as we want to believe.

Here's another thing I know. The issue in these particular cases is not really gun control. If you look into the details of spree killings, almost none of the gunmen would have been deterred with much less than a full repeal of the Second Amendment. They either stole their guns from law-abiding citizens or were themselves, up until that moment, law-abiding citizens.

And though I think mental health services are woefully inadequate in this country, neither is the issue mental illness.

This article in LifeScience reveals that mass shooters are unlikely to be psychotic because to carry out such a scheme it takes precisely the organization and focus that the mentally ill lack.

So what is it? Why does this keep happening? What is missing in the lives of these erstwhile normal human beings to feel so removed from humanity that they want to lash out at anyone and everyone?

Perhaps we need to look beyond the gun debates and the baseless self-assurances that completely random tragedies like this couldn't happen to us or the people we love.

"Many mass shooters, rather than wanting to be alone, have a history of struggling to connect," sociologist Kathleen Newman said in the LifeScience article.

What if...

What if instead of focusing on how different we are from those involved in this tragedy, we concentrated on how we are the same? What if we showed compassion? And not just to the victims and their families...

... what if we showed it to the shooter himself?

Can you even imagine? 

I admit, I struggle to. After all, those could easily have been my babies in the line of fire.

But I also can't imagine how Clackamas shooter Jacob Tyler Roberts was able to conceive of a Separateness so complete that he truly hated anyone and everyone.

It makes me wonder what would happen if somebody could conceive of a Connectedness so complete that he or she truly loved anyone and everyone.

A Connectedness on a scale as unimaginable as these killing sprees.

Is that even possible?

Update 12/14/12: I wrote this before the even more horrific elementary school shooting this morning in Connecticut. I decided to keep the above the way it is for I have no words after what happened a continent away. My deepest condolences to everyone involved in the senseless violence here and there. 


  1. Anonymous8:25 AM

    And this is exactly the difficult and brave response I was waiting for yesterday after being glued to the news. I feel like our first responses were so divisive when this conversation about community and connection is the one that needs to be happening now. Thank-you for sharing. Heather

  2. Thank you for your post. It helped me put some thoughts and feelings together that I had been tossing around. I did a little private writing today with some ideas that crossed over with what you touched upon, but you took my musings to a more complete conclusion. Thank you. Your courage and ability to articulate what is often difficult for others, is a healing force for my heart and head today. Big hug.

  3. This post is simply perfect.

  4. Beautiful. Thanks so much for these words - and for the shout out too :) Grateful for you!

  5. Your words sum things up so very well in this entire ordeal. It really leaves us thinking and sometimes we don't want to think about the hard questions. I think sometimes it's easier for people to numb themselves with media information and not think about the other important questions that the media doesn't choose to talk about.


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