What killed these kids?
A community conversation | The Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings
The Daily Times Herald asked local decision-makers and those who are our first line of defense against school shootings and other heinous crimes to opine about the potential causes of and solutions to the shootings of recent memory.
Superintendent, Glidden-Ralston Community Schools
This incident has troubled me more personally than any previous acts of school violence. From a professional perspective, Glidden-Ralston was and is in the process of reviewing and revising our crisis plans. This recent event gave impetus to that effort. I know in the wake of tragedies like this we always reflect on how well-prepared we are. Could we have prevented such a tragedy in our school?
As I examine the details of this incident — at least as they are known or available — I find that Connecticut has some of the more stringent gun control measures in place, and the school itself has numerous security features and practices in place.
With those givens and that level of readiness, I turn to the mental health aspects. I know that we sometimes struggle to make the appropriate mental health supports available and even if the supports are available, there are still some stigmas attached to mental health that make it difficult for some to accept. The failure to recognize the need and to then get the resources in place in a timely manner have to be contributing factors.
Councilman, City of Carroll
I believe the perpetrators of most of these crimes had serious mental health issues — but I also wonder what their personal lives were like. Did they have friends in school? Were they picked on in school? In most cases I believe we never find the answer to the magic question of ‘Why?’ As long as people live and breathe on this Earth, I truly believe there will be people in our society who will have mental health issues that might lead them to do something like this.
Personally, I believe that guns and weapons are too readily available in this country and we must have greater efforts to control access and availability. I think about some of the gun law changes in our own state recently. Changes that have made weapons more accessible. (The previous law allowed for the local county sheriff to use discretion regarding issuance of gun permits.) Changes that essentially allow a citizen to walk down the street with a loaded firearm strapped to their side, just like the Wild West. Changes that allow someone to walk into any established business — including banks — or even a public park with a loaded gun strapped to their side.
I believe in the right to bear arms as put forth in our Constitution, but simply put, there are some people in our society who should never legally possess a weapon, and there are some places in our state that guns simply don’t belong.
My opinions certainly will run contrary to the National Rifle Association, but I sincerely believe that the lobbying dollars and perceived political power of this organization has led to the adoption of these changes within our state. The sad part is that our Legislature is too afraid of the NRA and our citizenry does not appear to care enough to do anything about it. Unfortunately something horrible has to probably happen before our Legislature will really take a look at this issue.
Lastly, I wonder, if weapons and more guns were the answer — as some will certainly advocate — why did our society evolve from the wide open gun toting ways of the Wild West that I saw in so many movies as a kid to the more controlled and reserved gun culture of today? Did history and the Wild West tell our previous generations that more guns aren’t the answer, or did we all just get soft?
Tougher gun laws will not be enough — we as a society have to change. We need to be less self-absorbed and more aware of the struggles of others. We need to be kinder to one another. We need to encourage our children to be a friend to the child who has none. We need to be better role models for our kids. We need to have the spirit of Christmas in our hearts 24/7 for 365 days a year.
Councilwoman, City of Carroll
If this horrific tragedy could happen in Newtown, Conn., a similar tragedy could happen anywhere. I also feel an urgency, for both local and national leaders, to address the issues surrounding the massacre of these innocent children.
In answer to your question about “some of the causes of the shootings [killings] in Connecticut and at other schools in recent memory,” it appears they are multiple and complex. Some commonalities: young adults with undiagnosed, or possibly ignored, mental health challenges; these same young adults’ ability to obtain weapons; and their careful planning and purposely targeting a group of vulnerable, unsuspecting children — without anyone’s knowledge. These factors created a formula for the recent school massacres and could lead to more.
It appears that a stringent and enforceable national public policy with a local-national partnership approach to preventing unstable, potentially violent people from obtaining weapons is necessary. This type of approach should provide local school districts, colleges, and universities, as well as local law enforcement, the flexibility to deal with unique, local situations.
Knowing it will be impossible to prevent 100 percent of these types of massacres, experts in mental health, law enforcement, educators at all levels, legal scholars, parents, and gun manufacturers must collaborate to address this challenge. A multi-faceted approach is needed to deter violent acts and to protect children.
Keeping the above in mind, I also hope that a serious look is taken at privacy laws, and what information may be shared with whom, in order to identify potentially dangerous, unstable people, and a serious discussion should occur about getting individuals the help they need, very early, when struggling with mental health issues.
Finally, the stigma that often comes with mental health challenges must be removed through education. For this to happen resources must be made available (local, state, federal) very early in a troubled person’s life. This may be one of the most effective deterrents to these school massacres.
Mayor, City of Carroll
It is really hard for me to tell you a cause for this shooting event or any we’ve seen the last 10 to 15 years. Each situation was different when I think about it. Some of the recent murderers had a known mental issue and others did not. Investigations have shown some of the shootings as deliberate toward their peers and others have been randomly done to general public or in this case kids that had nothing to do with the shooter.
In all these situations, there is a clear breakdown in what is right and wrong. There is clearly less regard for the gift of human life. There is clearly a lack of remorse and guilt. All of these rules in morality and the concern for the well-being of others needs to be taught to us from early childhood on, by our parents, guardians and in our faith.
There are many people with mental diagnosis that live long lives not killing other people and I am not in any position to make a case for why these things happen.
I am concerned that there is a bit of desensitizing going on in society. We see far more publication of these type of events. I wonder if this is creating something of an illusion that they are, or should be, within our realm of thought. I would agree we are subjected to far more violence on TV, in movies and the Internet. The violence we see in the media or on video games is far less filtered and far more real. It is not in my realm of possibility to put these types of violent acts into action because it was on TV or in a video game.
This situation is a random act of violence that could happen anywhere at any time. No amount of guns, law enforcement or mental health funding is going to change it. I don’t think these situations should be used as reasons to push agendas.
Locally, I think the automatic locking system and buzzers at our own elementary school are a very good step in keeping the children safe. If there are other good suggestions like these, the only thing I would say to lawmakers is truly commit and fund them. Continued discussion of disaster preparedness and emergency mitigation is very important. I think bullying education has gotten a tremendous amount of attention these past years, but it still comes down to: teaching our kids to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, learning to turn the other cheek, and “how would it make you feel?” These ideals are still just as important today.
I think residents need to be conscious that in society’s effort to not offend or oppress people’s feelings or “rights” we don’t lose sight of those core values and principles that guide our hearts and minds. Faith in God is not and should not be uncomfortable or made out to be bad. It is situations like these that we all must come together to pray, comfort one another and know we are not alone.
Carroll County attorney
Unfortunately a lot of children do not get much in the way of moral instruction. I have long been an advocate of keeping firearms under lock and key because you have no idea how well your kid’s friends have been raised. The news reports indicate that the killer’s mother made firearms available to her son knowing that he was emotionally disturbed. That is incredibly irresponsible.
We need take the veil of secrecy off mental illness and begin to deal with it like every other illness. Perhaps more people will receive treatment and be encouraged by their family members if we work for more understanding. It should be a crime to knowingly provide weapons to seriously mentally ill people. We have had killings in Iowa where disturbed people obtained firearms from family members. It might be a deterrent if they face criminal prosecution and financial ruin.
I oppose further impairing the rights of law-abiding people. In the last two decades, violent crime has been steadily decreasing. An emotional response leading to wasting public resources on ineffective measures avoids doing things that work. Let’s fund more outreach efforts of community mental health treatment.
President, Colorado College and Breda native
Like most Americans, I was both saddened and angered by the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a mother myself, I just wanted to hug my kids and felt pain for the parents that lost their babies and the families and friends who lost loved ones.
But I am also angry. That the lives of 20 children and six adults could be extinguished in seconds by rapid fire is just not acceptable. A national conversation about mass killings and gun violence is long overdue.
We must have this conversation and find a way to balance the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms with the calls for more restrictions on gun ownership. In particular, we should develop measures that curtail easy access to assault weapons.
In addition, the mental health issues that are contributing to so many of these mass killings must also be addressed.
Superintendent, Coon Rapids-Bayard Community Schools
Personally, when you deal with children, students, and teachers, and you’ve been an educator for over 34 years, it hits very, very hard. It’s unthinkable and unimaginable that someone would go into an elementary school and shoot innocent children and staff. It really makes you think very seriously about how safe our schools are and how precious life is in a time like this.
I don’t know how all those students, families, staff and school will be able to cope with what’s happened, but I’m confident, although their lives and community has changed forever, they will persevere through their caring and united efforts, and get through this tragedy.
I don’t want to get into a gun control debate, but to me, generally speaking, things are out of control with firearms and what’s available to the citizens of this country. Our local schools, families must step up and put pressure on our legislators to do more, and actually get serious about getting control of what’s available.
However, I’m actually more concerned about lack of empathy in our world today, and the decrease in funding for mental and emotional services for all those in need of such support.
At Coon Rapids-Bayard, our plans are to further limit access to our school by locking most all our doors throughout the school day. We have too much traffic in and out, and so we have to truly enforce our visitor privileges and keep most all doors locked throughout the day. We are also moving forward with the purchase of a keyless entry system for all our employees, as our district will be installing this electronic system for all our exterior doors in the next month or two.
Chairman, Carroll County Board of Supervisors
There are no obvious or easy answers as to the causes. Yet what they all have in common fundamentally is a presence of evil. Evil is very real and around every corner. Evil is nothing new. It has existed since the creation of man. It began with Cain and Abel and is well-documented throughout the Bible and world history.
So while these violent acts are nevertheless very horrific and their specific causes generally different in each case, at their very core is the presence of evil. And the only defense against evil is a faith in God and to prayerfully enlist His divine intervention.
This is much more than only a gun issue. So gun control won’t solve it. And more than a school security issue. Widely accepted measures of security didn’t stop this occurrence. This is also very much more than a mental-health issue. It’s like a weed: its roots and stalk is evil. The contributing issues are like its branches and leaves, extending far beyond, and growing. Prevention measures extend throughout a very complex set of contributing issues that it is nearly unrealistic to assume these can be stopped altogether.
Yet the one thing that can be done collectively is prayer. I’m not suggesting prayer alone as the one and only solution, but I sincerely believe in its power and its lasting contribution to defeat evil. That’s what I suggest as a great start. And there is no legislation or security measure that can end evil.
President, Kuemper Catholic Schools
Upon hearing the news of the Connecticut School tragedy, I had immediate flashbacks to the assassination of President Kennedy and the Columbine, Colo., school shootings. At those times I was fortunate enough to have a support mechanism around to support me. Last Friday my immediate thoughts were for all elementary students and teachers. I said a prayer that they would be strong enough to withstand such madness.
Since the beginning of time there have been individuals with personal and mental issues. These individuals need to be looked after — given guardianship.
If one wants to find a cause for Sandy Hook, look at the breakdown of the family. We throw away family responsibilities like we throw away fast food wrappers. Ask the question: how would a strong father in the home have helped prevent this? Answers: providing love and counseling; not allowing guns in the home; supporting the wife in the raising of a difficult child; and obtaining proper treatment or placement for a child outside the norm.
Instead the father divorced the situation for what is claimed to be financial reasons. He follows this by paying $289,000 a year in alimony. There was no divorce requirement that he spend time with, interact with,or attempt to guide his sons. Peter Lanza should be required to pay the previous $289,000 in alimony to the families of the murdered children.
Lawmakers and the general public must do everything they can to promote strong families. In the case of the Lanzas, what would have been better than observing a mother and father and two sons interacting and supporting one another in the most positive way?
Rev. Timothy Schott
Pastor, St. Lawrence Catholic Church
I think it is interesting that this shooter attacked children — and teachers who were an obstacle, trying to protect the children. If he simply wanted to kill a bunch of people, he could have gone to a mall, a movie theater, a basketball game, or many other venues where he would find crowds of people of all ages. It seems that he chose to attack children, perhaps because they are more vulnerable, innocent, and less able to defend themselves against an adult.
In any case, whatever thoughts, judgments, and motivations were swirling in his mind as he made his plans to go to that school, his primal instinct to protect innocent children had been so completely eroded that he believed killing children was permissible.
Contrast the actions of the teachers who instinctively tried to protect their students — risking their own lives — with the actions of the shooter. In terms of the interior life, in terms of values and morality and conscience, they and he occupied two quite different worlds.
Consider the pervasiveness of child pornography, child abuse, child trafficking, child prostitution. Consider our society’s contraceptive mentality that values convenience and consumer goods more highly than children and considers pregnancy a condition to be avoided. Consider our nation’s tolerance of more than one million abortions each year. We have fashioned — or at least permitted — a society, a culture, in which children are not highly valued, except by those who want them. We have fashioned a culture in which it is legal and OK to get rid of children we don’t want. Children are not valuable and precious in themselves. Their value lies only in whether someone wants them.
The heinous evil of killing a child, which by nature should be instinctive in us, is being compromised every day by our permissiveness, by our worship of personal convenience, by our legislators and judges who refuse to recognize the obvious truth that a pre-born child is indeed a unique growing human being, genetically independent of his or her mother and father, dependent on others, as all people are to some extent. Open legal warfare on children we happen not to want creates a mindset, a culture, in which the primal instinct to protect children is being eroded out of our consciences.
Whatever motivations, family dynamics, presence or lack of peer influences, or health issues contributed to this shooter’s choices, it is clear that — even though he himself went to school in the USA — he did not feel compelled by instinct to protect children.
How can that happen? The secular humanism promoted ever since the Enlightenment has failed us. It is liberal doctrine to believe in the perfectibility of human nature: all that society needs is enough education, enough financial resources, enough hard work and we can create a society in which school massacres and the killing of children will never happen. But this is impossible, without building on the solid rock of our having been created by God, by some Absolute.
Eliminate any reference to God, to the Ten Commandments, to prayer, to any absolute source of shared responsibility for each other, add to that approval of killing our pre-born children, and we produce individuals who are not deterred by the prospect of killing children. This is an issue of the heart, morality, spirituality, the interior life, our culture. Legislators who insist on more laws to protect schools and children while tolerating legal open warfare on pre-born children have their heads buried in the sand. They refuse to see reality, refuse to accept the science of human reproduction and prenatal development, and refuse to recognize the psychology of culture-building.
They are part of the problem. They are not the solution. Insist on a society that values all children because each child, from conception, is unique, unrepeatable, valuable in itself, wanted or not. We must create such peer consensus and pressure that no individual would entertain the thought of killing a child.
Legal abortion condemns us adults. Unfortunately pre-born children pay the price.
This will continue. We will continue to permit individuals willing to kill children so long as we ignore the truth, the value of each child, from conception.
Director, Carroll Public Library
As a school teacher and parent, this is your worst nightmare. A school should be a safe place for all students and over the past decade, we have had to incorporate so many strategies to make schools the safest places they can be. I cringe when I hear people talk about arming administrators or select teachers. I hate to think that is what our world will come to.
I had a salesman in this week who has a 9-year-old and a 4-year-old, and he was really having a hard time sending his kids to school this week. I told him to give them a hug and say a prayer over their heads. That might be the best way to protect them from this evil and for parents to be able trust schools are doing as much as they can to curtail this violence.
I believe every incident involved someone with a mental health problem. Over the course of my teaching career, I knew many students who were probably capable of this type of violence. Teachers, counselors and administrators try to work with them and their families to get them the type of help they need.
It is an extremely difficult decision for a parent to make when they have a teenager with a mental health issue to commit them for treatment, but usually in the long run it pays off. Many parents feel helpless and isolated when they have a child with a mental illness or a drug- or alcohol-dependency problem. Schools have ways to point parents in the right direction, but it is ultimately up to the parent to make the tough decision.
Of course, paying for treatment for mental health is another complication. If you don’t have health insurance, or it doesn’t cover mental health services, what is a parent going to do? A serious issue is the lack of facilities for teens with mental health problems which comes down to funding and professionals trained to deal with teens.
Captain, Carroll Police Department
I viewed the Connecticut school shootings on two levels: as a parent, and as a law-enforcement professional. As a parent, I can think of nothing more stupefying horrific than having a child brutally murdered. There is simply no way to cope that doesn’t involve anguish at a visceral level.
As a lawman, I thought about how I and my department would respond to such a situation. Regardless how much training and thought is put into preparation for these types of situations, being thrust into something like that would be chaotic to a degree that is difficult to fathom.
The root cause of incidents such as Sandy Hook lie in the realm of mental health. Sane people do not walk into a grade-school classroom and open fire. The instrument may have been a firearm, but the cause was mental illness. It doesn’t help that media tend to play the event up as if it was some sort of macabre calamity that needs scoring: “second most killed since Virginia Tech,” “more killed than at Columbine,” “more dead than the Dunblane massacre,” etc. Scorekeeping, to a mentally ill madman, is like a challenge.
We have also, as a society, slid toward an almost ridiculous level of permissiveness. We don’t hold people accountable for their actions, but rather look for ways to rationalize otherwise bizarre and anti-social behavior. We seek to assuage guilt rather than punish misdeeds. We reward mediocrity rather than extol excellence.
Here’s a harsh truth: some people need to be warehoused rather than turned back loose on society. It’s nice to believe that, given enough therapy and anti-psychotic medicine, everyone will do well in a free society. Not so. Evil people will do evil things if left to their own devices.
The citizens of Carroll are rather unique in that they have been very supportive, over the years, of law enforcement and the law-enforcement mission: keeping the peace. Our populace has always been very responsive when it comes to reporting suspicious behavior or something that just doesn’t look right. With regard to school violence, it is important that law enforcement and school officials be notified when something seems amiss. I think I can speak for our department when I say that we would rather investigate 100 false tips about suspicious behavior than respond to one tragedy that might have been averted with a simple phone call.
It is nice to believe that we can simply legislate away crime, but believing crime will stop because a new law or laws are enacted is folly. Criminals are what they are because they disobey the law. There was already a Connecticut state law that made murder an unlawful act, yet the Sandy Hook incident still happened.
New laws deter only those who choose to abide by them. An examination by legislators of current mental-health statutes and the commitment of the physical and financial resources to improve access and treatment would do far more than simply enacting another criminal law.