- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The issue: Ignoring warning signs
Our view: Be alert and respond
It never fails that following a violent incident like the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., or Blacksburg, Va., or Columbine, Colo., someone makes the observation that they could tell something was wrong with the person before the crime was committed.
Normally that’s followed with the statement, “I guess I should have said something to somebody.”
In almost every violent situation there exists a window of opportunity to prevent the potential atrocity. Usually that window is ignored because we have been socially trained to “stay out of other people’s business.” While the not-my-business philosophy is socially acceptable it also can be catastrophic.
We cannot afford to ignore behavioral warning signs — cries for help that go unheeded. There are lives at stake and we have a social responsibility to protect one another and those who cannot protect themselves. When 19 people, including a 9-year-old child, are gunned down for no apparent reason by someone who others now say “we could tell there was something wrong with him but it was none of our business,” then we as a society have a very serious problem.
How many Virginia Techs, Columbines and Tucsons must we endure before we recognize that ignoring emotional warning signs of others is a form of social irresponsibility? Rarely is there a post-violent incident interview with a neighbor where the person says, “He seemed so normal to me.”
It is time for us to be equally offended by those who chose to ignore the warning signs as we are by those who commit the crimes.
As recently as this week, a sophomore at a high school in suburban Los Angeles accidentally shot two students when a gun in his backpack went off. Both classmates were seriously injured and one remains in critical condition. The atrocity is that the same student had been caught with a gun at school before, it has been reported.
A gun brought to school by any child under any circumstance is a serious warning sign.
Reports are that Jared Loughner, the alleged Tucson shooter, showed six distinctive warning signs, identified by psychologists, that went unaddressed by family, friends and school officials at Pima Community College.
1. He showed classic symptoms of psychosis for an extended period of time.
2. He showed distinct signs of paranoia stating on several occasions that the government was seeking to control people through grammar.
3. He showed further symptoms of social psychosis by reading perverse poems in class.
4. He openly smoked marijuana and did so regularly, without concern for others around him or the legal ramifications.
5. He had five documented run ins with campus police at Pima Community College.
6. His classmates and teachers were afraid of him, so much so that one student wrote an e-mail last June stating she was afraid he would bring a gun to class. There are documents reflecting that many of his teachers were afraid to turn their back on him for fear he would pull a gun.
Hindsight is perfect, of course, but all institutions need to monitor students and employees who consistently act strangely. There was arguably enough evidence for Pima authorities to go to a judge and have Loughner involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, as Virginia Tech did with Seung-Hui Cho. At the very least, the college could have required Loughner to check in with a counselor on a daily or weekly basis.
It’s easy to stand back following a situation and place blame on an organization, a family or a business when these things happen. That process of wanting to shunt responsibility to others is a big part of the problem. Once we, as a society, realize that the responsibility to intervene at the first sign of insanity rests with all of us, then we begin to minimize the frequency of these incidents and save lives from being senselessly lost.
We must all do our part.
This editorial represents a consensus of The News-Enterprise editorial board.