#599 – Dick Bernard: Thoughts in the immediate wake of Aurora CO

UPDATE: Followup posts here and here.
Out and about this afternoon I noticed that Dark Knight Rises is playing at our local Woodbury Theatre, and the parking lot was packed. What these two facts might mean, I don’t know. The front page of the Variety section of this mornings Minneapolis Star Tribune gave the film Four Stars (out of four). This places the STrib in an awkward position this afternoon.
One has no doubt what the lead story on tonights news – all channels – will be. It is yet another tragedy, certainly not the first, and as certainly not the last in this comfortable-with-violence country of ours.
Waking to the breaking news this morning caused me to think back to an afternoon on April 20, 1999.
I was returning to St. Paul from a day-long meeting in Brooklyn Park, and along I-94 somewhere heard the announcement about school shootings in Littleton CO.
This elevated my concerns. My son and family had lived in Littleton for more than ten years, and Lindsay, my granddaughter, was 12 and in a Littleton school.
Those were the days before cell phones, and I couldn’t make contact till I got back to my office. There was an e-mail. All was okay with our family.
I learned the school was Columbine, which didn’t relate to me since no one had mentioned it before. I looked it up on the then fledgling version of mapquest, and found its location, which was misplaced on the computer map.
Turned out Columbine high school was about a mile straight east of where my kin lived, and Lindsay’s school was in a different attendance area in the massive Jefferson County Public Schools.
About a week later I was in Littleton – it had been a previously planned trip – and together we hiked up “Cross Hill” in the rain, and with hundreds of others, including pastor Robert Schuller of the Crystal Cathedral and his film crew, silently remembering and witnessing. Cross Hill was simply a pile of construction dirt, but it did overlook Columbine just a little to the east. It had its own controversy. The builder created and planted the crosses to each of the victims of the massacre at Columbine, including crosses to the killers, who had committed suicide after the deed. Someone else had come in and cut down those two other crosses….
Such is how grief works its way through, and in one way or another it will play out this way in the latest tragedy.
(It turned out that last night Lindsay, now married and living in the same neighborhood as in 1999, was at the midnight opening of Dark Knight Rises, but at another theater 20 miles away from Aurora.)
One never knows.
In the wake of Columbine I dug out an old handout from some workshop I had attended back in the early 1970s. It was one of those pieces of paper that seemed to be worth keeping, and I have kept it in its original somewhat primitive condition. A psychologist used the graphic to walk us through the stages of response to Crisis situations we might face.
(click to enlarge)

The stages in essence, and their approximate duration, are these:
IMPACT – Hours
This is what “normal” response to a crisis looked like to some psychologist in 1972.
How will this latest tragedy be dealt with? How will it be used? The following days and weeks will tell the tale.
A good friend, a retired prosecutor in a major city, sent an e-mail this afternoon with an observation which occurred to him: “Every mass shooting in the United States has not occurred in a large city. They have all occurred either in rural areas, such as the Red Lake Reservation school shooting, or in suburbs such as Littleton (Columbine high School) or Aurora Colorado and the school in a small town outside of Cleveland, for example. What does that prove, what does that mean? I have no idea. Nor have I read of any analysis of this phenomenon, and I have searched for one/some.”
May we all seek non-violence as a solution to our problems.
From Will:
1. Every time there is a national tragedy, every American wants the world to know where (s)he was and what (s)he was doing.
2. Are you saying, with no proof, that this film provoked the shooting? What if the theater had been showing a religious film and a shooting still took place?
3. Are you saying or suggesting we must start censoring, even banning films on the basis of their likelihood to provoke shootings? ACLU and CCR will come after you with both barrels!
4. If you believe Congress needs to pass stronger gun laws, use your computer skills and tell us which Congresspeople still in office received donations and in what amount from the NRA over the past five years and put it on your blog.
5. Write a letter to Sens. Franken and Klobuchar and your Congressperson—it’s Bachmann, isn’t it?—with your specific ideas on tightening gun controls.
Copy the NRA.
Response to Will from Dick:
1. Certainly, and why not? The only difference between now and 50 years ago is that most all of us can instantly communicate with most everyone anywhere.
2. No
3. No
4. Yes, member of Brady Campaign already, but not inclined to push my weight around in a blog. According to Brady Campaign, this year we already have over 54,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. and we’re only halfway through 2012. We are awash in weaponry, but to even think about voting for some kind of gun-control is, at this moment, a political death sentence. The public does have to make a difference.
5. See #4. But the odds of any candidate for office actively pursuing gun control four months before the 2012 election are essentially zero. Groups like Brady Campaign know that, but I’m sure they are fully capable of thinking longer term.
There might be one or two that have some thoughts as a result of my blog. That’s all I can expect. It is pertinent and timely.
From Greg:
As it looks now, Friday evening, evidence points to serious mental illness on the part of the shooter.
Serious psychoses typically begin growing small during childhood/high school years, then burgeoning during college/graduate school.
The man is undeniably bright. Eventually we will learn whether he voluntarily dropped out of graduate school or whether the University asked him to leave. We will learn what his professors thought of him, and whether they saw similarities with the Virginia Tech shooter. What did the professors/ administration do to bring this man to the attention of the county mental health authorities? Keep in mind also that Colorado as with many other states is facing budget shortfalls. Mental health services historically are among the first government expenditures to be cut. Reason: There is just no natural lobby to press the legislature to retain funding. Compare mental health services with funding for highway construction, school aid, etc.
The mother of the young St Louis Park man who shot and killed two convenience store clerks was quoted in a newspaper article saying she knew her son had severe mental health problems but was unable to get medical care for him. Everyone will be abuzz for a week or two about this man, then something else will come up. A new legislature will be elected in Colorado November 6th. There will be other more pressing issues with which to deal. There may be some talk about this tragedy but basically nothing will be done. It will be yesterday’s news by then.
Someone who knows him was said to have described him as a loner, another indicator of mental illness.
Saw his father on cable tonight boarding a flight in San Diego for Denver. Got the quick impression the father is well educated and perhaps upper income class.
If this is even close to being true, what efforts did the father make to lead his son to mental health treatment? This is a major flaw in our society, that parents have no legal obligation to notify police their adult child is mentally ill, receiving no treatment and just may be dangerous
If a parent knows this to be true yet does nothing to warn authorities that parent faces no legal liability, civil or criminal if the adult child then shoots up a theater. Moral responsibility yes, but no civil or criminal responsibility.
Back to the shooter, look at his photo being shown on TV. Is that his booking photo taken after his post shooting arrest? The almost smirk he seems to have; another indicator of possible mental illness.
Now, a person can be seriously mentally ill but not have an insanity defense to criminal charges. Insanity is but one type of mental illness. Each state has its own definition of what constitutes insanity. In the days ahead we will learn what the Colorado standard is.
Look at the planning that went into this attack. Tonight we learned he had about 6000 rounds of ammunition for the four weapons he possessed. He wore an elaborate costume with protective gear. He had to make an effort to purchase all of that. Then he booby trapped his apartment. From the preliminary description we have of the apartment he must have spent quite some time and effort to purchase the materials with which he constructed the booby trap. The prosecution will argue the booby trapping effort is further evidence he understood the difference between right and wrong and constructed the booby traps as a way of avoiding capture.
from Carol: OK, a little bit miffed here at some responses. While I have due respect for prosecuting attorneys (retired or otherwise), I take exception to Greg’s trying to blame the parents. He wrote: “Got the quick impression the father is well educated and perhaps upper income class. If this is even close to being true, what efforts did the father make to lead his son to mental health treatment? This is a major flaw in our society, that parents have no legal obligation to notify police their adult child is mentally ill, receiving no treatment and just may be dangerous…”
If, of course, the parents were divorced – the father abusive, alcoholic or whatever – then they would get blamed for THAT. From all indications, in high school and so on this kid was not any weirder than his peers. He is legally an adult. His parents may, or may not, have made efforts to “lead” him to treatment, but they couldn’t force him. Greg wants what to change, exactly? What is the age cutoff where he thinks a parent should be “legally obligated” to notify authorities that their “adult child” may be mentally ill? 25? 35? 50? How about a child who is in school, working, married, living in another state – possibly has cut off contact? Should the parents be legally obligated to force themselves into his or her life?
And what exactly does he think the police are going to do with that information? Even this kid’s apartment mates didn’t know he was collecting an arsenal, boobytrapping his apartment, and risking all their lives. If the police ran around checking on every adult child who the parents fear may be mentally unstable, they wouldn’t get anything else done.
Those who have daily contact with an individual are the best assessors. And in this case, you have the sinking feeling that there was very little to set off alarms.
It does seem the best indicator should have been that someone who in a short period of time bought several weapons, a ton of ammunition, complete bulletproof clothing, plus chemicals and bomb-making materials was in deep trouble, and should have been on the police radar. But we can’t have any coordinated database of this kind of thing, of course. That infringes on our civil rights – having our kids shot in a crowded theatre does not.

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