Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy in Newtown

I want to start this out by saying I personally know children that were in that house of horrors today.  Luckily they are fine, physically.  Emotionally, well that is going to be something that time will only tell about.

I grew up in Fairfield County, Connecticut.  I lived in the other side of the county, about 35 minutes away.  So this hits home for a number of reasons.

In most instances, we find out days/hours later that the shooter is mentally ill.  I have written about this in the past.  I have a mental illness.  I suffer from Major Depressive Disorder.  I can clearly remember the symptoms showing up in about my freshman year of high school.  I was 13 at the time.  It has a major effect on the trajectory of your life and the lives of people around you.  There isn't an aspect of your life that isn't affected.  You may be able to hide it for a while, but sooner or later it comes through.  How much the people around understand depends on the education level of mental illness within that person.

Today, a 20-year-old man shot his mother in the face, killing her.  Drove to the school she allegedly worked at (this aspect of the story is still cloudy), walked into the office of the school shot and killed the principal and school psychologist, continued into a classroom of kindergarteners and massacred them.  20 dead children in all, and that number could very well change in the next few days.

All every one wants to know right now is why.  A question that we never fully have answers to since the shooter killed himself after he did his dirty deeds.  His mother, whom he was living with, is also dead.  His father and brother lived in a different state and apparently did not have a great deal of contact with him.  The brother, who was originally called the shooter in the early hours in the fog of reporting has told police that his brother had a personality disorder (gee, ya think) and was either suffering from autism or asbergers.  Neither of which are known for this type of depraved violence.   So we will be forced to make assumptions on what his motives were.

But what I can tell you is that this type of act isn't thought of in one day.  He had to have had this planned out in his head.  But before we even had a body count, the cries of "GUN CONTROL" were being heard loudly and clearly.  Well, as I said I grew up in CT.  I can tell you they have strict gun laws.  He was not able to buy these guns legally.  He was under age.  He also committed this horror in a gun free zone.  Obviously he didn't care about the laws.   Today, in a much less reported story, there was an incident of 20 children and a teacher being attacked by some knife wielding lunatic.  Luckily none of those children were killed as far as I know.  But it just goes to show you, if there is a will, there is a way.

Look, I dont' know what really happened today, and neither does anyone else.  We know that far too many died.  We know that the surviving children that were in that school today are going to be traumatized for quite some time, if not forever.  There will be children who will be afraid to go back to school.  First responders are having a hard time with the scene they witnessed today as well.  The town of Newtown have already started pulling resources together to get counseling for those who will need it.

What I do know is that we have many issues that could have contributed to why this happened today.
  1. violence in our culture is glorified.  Look at almost any movie that is out today.  I loved The Dark Knight movie.  But it was horribly violent.  It is far from the only that is.  Jaime Foxx was just making jokes last week that he killed all the white guys in his latest film due out on Christmas Day of all days.  
  2. We live in a 24/7 news cycle in this country.  Where these incidents are plastered all over the news for days on end.  We have You Tube where any idiot can post things to make themselves look "cool".  We have an obsession with becoming rich and famous; in this case becoming infamous.
  3. Mental Health issues are so stigmatized in this country that many people are unwilling to admit that they, or a loved one, has a problem that needs to be addressed.  I happen to live in a state that has a law that insurance companies must cover certain illnesses at a medical problem instead of a mental health problem.  Which many of them are.  Many other states do not have these laws.  They should.  Mental health care should not be something to be ashamed of.
  4. People in the U.S. are largely uneducated about mental illness.  We make these assumptions that if you are not in need of straight jacket sitting in a rubber room that you some how are not really mentally ill.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I am a living example.  I have journals that I was writing in during one of my really downward spirals.  I was able to plan.  My plan was to kill myself and make it look like an accident.  I wanted to make my loved ones wonder.  It was some sick sense of revenge that I was going through at the time.
  5. Yes, we have lost our moral compass in this country.  We have a culture that says if it feels good, do it.  We have become rude and that seems to increase almost daily.  We have lost respect for ourselves, for our communities, and for worst of all for each other.
  6. Parenting, and I mean real parenting, is very lacking in this country.  Go to any mall in America and watch how children behave.  They run wild and parents do little to stop it.
  7. We assign labels to virtually every childhood ill these days.  Autism, ADHD, and Aspbergers.  I don't deny this things exist, nor do I say that there are not children who honestly need to be medicated.  But many that are being medicated can very likely be more in need of a firm hand at home.  By that I don't mean spanking, I just mean a parent that is truly parenting.  Setting limits for your children is loving them and being the best parent you can be.  All children need boundaries.
I have said this before and sadly, I will have to say this again.  We fail people with mental illness in this country and we fail them in a big way.  Mental illness is not a something that you choose to have.  The same way you do not choose to have a heart problem.   It isn't something that you do to yourself.  It isn't an illness that is brought on by lifestyle choices.  It is a chemical imbalance in your brain.  That imbalance can make you hear voices.  It can make you so paranoid that you do quite literally put on a tin foil hat.  That saying came from something that is real.  Many believe that the televisions are sending signals to them.  It can make you barely be able to get out of bed, to cry incessantly.  You will over/under eat.  You will lose friends.  You will lose jobs.  You will have a difficult time holding relationships.  Another thing I have heard people say is that it is so selfish.  Why yes, yes it is.  That is another part of the illness.  You can't see beyond your own pain.  The rest of the world be damned.

Until we start having the difficult conversations in this country and talk about the underlying reasons that these shooting keep happening, all the gun control in the world won't change it.  I am all for common sense restrictions on guns.  We should have  a permitting system.  We should have background checks for mental illness and criminal activity.  But what we can't do is take guns away from law-abiding citizens that allow them to protect themselves.  Do I want to see every school in this country full of  armed people.  Heck no.  The idea of that repulses me.  But maybe we are getting to the point that at very least every school entrance must be locked on the outside and metal detectors are installed.  As sad as that makes me, it just may be necessary.  As I said, I grew up near Newtown, CT.  It is a sleepy little town that has virtually no crime.  It is a very family friendly environment.  It has one of the largest American flags in the town square that I have ever seen in my life.  The people in that town take pride in that flag.  On summer weekends people are watching their kids compete in sports and having neighborhood BBQ's.  It is the kind of town where most people know your business.  This is one of the places that hear about these things in a far away place.  The people who live there say to themselves how terrible, but go to bed feeling safe it will never happen to them.  But today it did.

So thanks heavens that Leslie, her children, and Graham all made it out ok today.  I am thankful for that.  But the time has well past that they have the difficult conversations and deal with the real problems instead of political talking points.


Individualist said...

Very good article!

Mental illness seems to be a much trickier disorder than problems with other parts of the body because in a very will way the brain houses the soul.

I always wonder about the research because so many drugs given to counteract metal illness seem extremely powerful.

When I first heard this my initial thought was is this another kid that was put on riddlin so he would keep quiet in class. So many of the other shootings of this kind (Columbine, Giffords) come to mind where children that were on that drug.

HArd to say because there probably are people that need those drugs but I think we forget the people can't just take them and the problem ends. They affect how someone thinks.

I just don't know. I am sorry for this circumstance. There is nothing I can say there. I am glad the people you knew were alright.

net observer said...

Very well-stated, just. Your last several paragraphs should be copied en masse and passed onto each and every one of our representatives.

Who has a problem with a more serious and open approach to mental health? Who has a problem with common sense restrictions on highly lethal weaponry? I would really like to know.

And fwiw, generally speaking, I don't know that we've necessarily lost our moral compass as a nation. If I'm honest, it depends on what we're talking about. In some ways, I say we have become MORE moral. Yet in other ways, we have clearly gone south.

Yes, we seem to glorify violence more than in previous generations. Our current penchant for violence in movies and video games can be disturbing at times. Yet still, most of us aren't internalizing those twisted fantasies, much less acting upon them.

Having said that, I can certainly agree with you on a separate and more specific front: I remember a vastly different high school norm pre-1986 (specifically, I was a black teen in an all-black neighborhood back then).

Post-1986, the extremely violence prone crack cocaine trade had fueled gang activity to unprecedented levels, while at the same time, fatherless households had become a new standard. And I don't think we ever recovered from that very wrong turn.

From '80 to '83, I literally can't remember any instance of a student even being seen with a gun at my high school. Metal detectors were literally unimaginable. No one EVER feared recent graduated randomly visiting their alma mater.

But by '88, unbelievably shocking stories of teens murdering teens over sneakers and jackets had become arguably normal. Definitely an indication of a real moral decline.

With that being said, I still can't say that the vast majority of Americans are less decent than in prior years. When my car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, I fully expect some random stranger to help me out, and that's typically what happens.

I expect that because I know the kind of society I live in -- one full of decent people. And frankly, it really doesn't matter what part of town I'm in.

From a bird's eye view, we're a less racist nation; we're a less sexist nation; we're less homophobic. This is moral progress in my view; not regress.

We're less religious and more spiritual depending on how one defines "religion" and "spirituality". But does either of those trends necessarily translates into less or more moral? I don't know about that.

Having said all that, we can always improve.

Race Bannon said...

Very well put. I agree100% regarding parenting today, and the results we are seeing. It never fails that the Mrs. and I are told that our children are the most well behaved, disciplined children ever...while we say to ourselves later, 'compared to what?' Well intentioned parenting is not enough.

...and it ties right in with what you said about how we fail people with mental disorders. It's one in the same, we don't look at the results of our actions, we look at how our efforts make us feel. The tragedy was not caused by the firearms or the bullets, they were just the instruments. Lets see if the President and the mainstream media can connect the dots...Tucson, AZ...Aurora, CO...Newton, CT...they DO have something in common, and its not the guns, or the gun laws...

Anonymous said...

Child like thinking, what a stupid person. I betyou believe in a god. Retard

Individualist said...


Don't troll someone's private blog like that.... it shows a lack of character

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