Sunday, May 25, 2014

Bloodbath in California Paradise

Guns and mental health are two issues that hit the headlines too often for anyone’s comfort, yet we have another troubled young man, armed to the teeth as it were, mowing down innocent people . It didn’t happen in the troubled neighborhoods of this nation, but in an upscale California town where the beautiful people have homes and send their kids to college.

How many times have you heard someone express shock when these shootings happen? How many times have you heard, “But I never thought it could happen here!” “Here” is everywhere human beings are found and there is no safe harbor from a mind obsessed with beliefs of discrimination because of their being somehow different. Different, too, can mean almost anything in the mind of a disturbed individual.  Stress, life circumstances, personality problems or any number of things rain down on their heads and set this destructive darkness into motion. 

Can you see it coming? Take a look at the information coming out regarding a 22-year-old young man in California, Elliot Rodger.  Rodger was a multi-racial child of divorce, raised in a situation of incredible affluence via his successful film director father, in a new family with a stepmother he wasn't entirely happy living under the same roof. Trips abroad and a luxury car were included in his young life and yet nothing but bitterness, anger and blame were the result. Why? It's not a question that can be easily answered or even answered at all.

What did he do and were there warning signs of the impending fury of horrific shootings and stabbings? Perhaps. The reports from the local police in Isla Vista just outside Santa Barbara indicate that a rampant shooting spree was planned and executed by Rodger in at least 10 locations. The plan was executed with some care. Three different gun shops were where the gun and ammo purchases were made over a period of months.

It all was put into play, apparently, after he stabbed three people to death in his apartment. This act of violence alone illustrates the fury he felt because stabbing anyone to death is an up-close-and-personal act requiring strength and extreme ill will. He then took three highly effective guns and 400 rounds of ammunition with him into his BMW and set out for the final kill. There was no anticipation that he would survive, as he admitted in his 141-page manifesto.

Who did he want to kill most? Not classmates, professors or other personnel at the community college he attended on and off. He wanted to shoot women because he believed they tormented him, refused to recognize him as a sexually desirable man and were worthy of his wrath. One fact that weighed heavily on his mind was that at 22 he was still a virgin and had never even kissed a girl. When it was over, the carnage would include seven dead and 13 injured, including the three in his apartment. Among the dead would be Rodgers from, apparently, a self-inflicted head shot.

Prior to the murderous rampage, Rodger posted a number of videos on YouTube in which he clearly stated his bitterness and gave a warning that everyone would pay for their deeds. The language, as I read some of it, sounds like it is straight out of a super hero video game. The theme, obviously, is retribution and doom for those chosen to be plucked from wherever they thought they were safe. Safety was not an option and he planned to find them wherever they might be hiding. A tone of omniscience was apparent.

Over the years, according to a family spokesperson, Rodger had received outpatient treatment with a number of therapists.  His most recent therapist had called the mother because it was evident that something dangerious was about to happen.  This is not uncommon and is what any therapist must do in order to protect the patient and others.

A classic case of intent to murder related in veiled terms to a college therapist is the infamous Tarasoff case. A young man indicated he was having dreams/thoughts of killing Tanya Tarasoff when she returned to campus. The slip-ups in communicating to the essential parties resulted in his carrying out his mission and she was killed.

In this case, the police were asked to make a "welfare check" on Rodger in his home. There the police found a polite, "kind and wonderful human" and seemingly undisturbed young man who said it was all a mistake and things would be ending shortly. The ending part does not seem to have been further explored or, if it was, he convinced police he was fine. Do you recall how convincing Jeffrey Dahmer was when the police asked him about a young man running in the street? He said the young man was a relative who just got upset over something. The police left the young man with Dahmer and you know the end.

Rodger, in his manifesto, related that the officers were there for only minutes and questioned him primarily regarding his having suicidal thoughts. Were homicidal thoughts discussed? If they had demanded to search his room, Rodger wrote, "that would have ended everything." He feared they might want to make this one move and he was thankful when they left without it.  It is unclear whether the police questioned him about gun purchases.

I know the police were doing a job for which they may not truly be qualified and it would be unfair to blame them for any slip-ups here. My question would be: Why isn't a welfare check done by a qualified mental health professional? I used to work in a mental health center and I went out on calls like this without any police present. You can often pick up clues that aren't readily apparent to others and there may have one or two here. We don't know.

Why was Rodger permitted to purchase these guns? Simple. He had no record of being institutionalized or involtary hospitalization.  Either would have raised a red flag. I suppose purchasing 400 rounds of ammo would have raised a red flag for most people who don't have these in their record. You have to wonder, don't you, why anyone would want that much fire power? But there probably are no central records database of these types of purchases. The NRA, after all, would say it's an infringement of our right to bear arms.

We're now being told Rodger had been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome as a child. This autism variant disorder carries with it a great degree of interpersonal difficulty, problems making and keeping friends and, often, poor judgment. They have difficulty reading social cues and can easily become upset, but violence of this sort would be seen as a rare occurrence. I've met at least one or two psychiatrists who carried this diagnosis and they functioned very well in their profession.

Where do we go from here? Again, it's a matter of getting the proper treatment and, perhaps, changing rules regarding gun and ammo purchases. This may not have been as horrific as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, but there are disturbing similarities between the shooters, their diagnosis and the ready available of powerful weapons of destruction.

I really don't want to hear, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Sure, but guns facilitate people killing in numbers too great to tally and it goes on day after day in every part of this country.