Monday, March 17, 2014

From Columbine to Columbia

     Fourteen years ago when we all heard about the shooting of students at a high school in Columbine, Colorado we never thought that that shooting would be connected with a shooting in Columbia.  Last week in a press conference Police Chief William J. McMahon spoke of how the shooter at the Columbia Mall had researched shooting at a variety of schools and malls.  In timing his shooting for 11:15 am he seems to have connected his act to Columbine which also occurred at 11:15 am.  This may explain why he was in the Mall for over an hour before he started shooting.

         When the shooting occurred at the Mall most of us had thoughts of how often we have been in the same area of the Mall.  How many times we have taken our grandchildren to ride the carousel on a rainy day.  When I saw the picture above I immediately recognized the bench the shooter was passing as the same bench my family sat on as we waited to have our family pictures taken at the Mall on a Saturday morning only a little more than month before.
       Last week's news conference held by the Howard County Police gave us some information about the shooter and his actions that day.  His motive for choosing the Mall and his victims is still unclear except his intent was to shoot and kill people before committing suicide. A copy of the note taken from one of the shooter's notebooks shows the writing of a very troubled young person.

    As a society we still struggle with how to prevent this type of action by troubled young men.  What is it about young men that these feelings can only be relieved by the killing of other innocent people?  Police Chief McMahon spoke of how the stigma of mental illness still prevents many people from obtaining treatment.  This reality along with the limited insurance payments for receiving mental health treatment leaves us as a society vulnerable to some people acting violently.  Add to this our entitlement to own guns and we have a long way to go in addressing how to prevent these violent incidences.
    The reality of addressing how to identify and treat individuals with mental illness in many cases begins many years before the violent acts.  Looking back at the life of the troubled person the signs of problem behaviors on then become apparent.  Hoping that the young person will eventually "grow out of it" or writing off aggressive behavior as just "boys will be boys" only gives us the excuse of inaction.
     Although nothing that we know about the Mall shooter indicates that he was bullied we do know addressing bullying is important in addressing many of these violent acts.  Howard County Schools and Government is to be commended for developing an Anti-Bullying Initiative. Police Chief McMahon also spoke about the County's actions to address the needs of persons with mental health issues by the development of Mobile Crisis Team to respond to any incident that has a mental health issue.  This team operating in connection with the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center provides Howard County with a level of coordination between mental health professionals and the Police Department that is a model for other communities.  The Howard County Mental Health Authority has a resource guide to a comprehensive list of mental health resources in Howard County.  The Family and Children's Services of Howard County at 410-997-3557 and NAMI-Howard County 410-772-9300  are two good places to start if you are trying to get someone mental health treatment and family support.

     I think we should be proud of how well the Howard County Police and Columbia Mall employees have been trained to handle situations like the January shooting.  The fact that the Police have worked closely with the Mall management and have trained often in the Mall for just such an incident undoubtedly helped to make the situation from being a worse tragedy.

     You can debate the effectiveness of gun control laws all you want but the fact that the shooter in the Columbia Mall only shot nine times with a shotgun as opposed to 188 shots fired with automatic weapons in Columbine and 154 shots fired in 5 minutes in the New Town massacre does point to the importance of controlling the access to automatic weapons and large bullet clips for those weapons.  I can never understand how we can outlaw citizens from owning machine guns but not automatic weapons.



grandpoopy1 said...

Dear person who wrote this article: Did it occurr to you that this perp who committed this crime is just full of hatred and rage and not mentally ill?

duanestclair said...

While we can debate the definition of mental illness anyone who hears voices, as the shooter related to his doctor, fits the definition of someone with a mental illness.