In the mind of a killer

At first I was furious.  PBS opens its special on rampage killers with a source placing possible blame on distant mothers.  Then the series broadened its investigation into mass murderers who were bullied as kids, didn't fit in, yet who, poignantly, longed to be accepted. And to be known.

What I found truly disturbing were the mug shots of young killers.  Their eyes were all like Adam Lanza's, bizarrely wide-open and staring.

According to the show, the majority of young rampage killers kill themselves. But not before, as in some cases, like Columbine, recording their profound depression and wish to die. 

Are these kids we can save?  No one knows.  But the brains of people who are depressed do show physical differences, Miles O'Brien reported in the PBS special.  Researchers use a test that asks participants to identify colors on the screen when they don't match the words.  For example, the word "red" may appear in blue.  It's harder than you think.

People who weren't depressed scored significantly higher than those who were, and scientists believe it may show that their brains are "wired differently," O'Brien said.

But there are many factors that create a rampage killer, according to the show.  Highest among them, a desire for fame.  A guarantee that they'll be known forever.  (Like Lanza, who sources say wanted to beat the score of the Norwegian killer of 77 people; see "So, it was a contest, Adam?", hotmedfax.blogspot.com, February 20). 

And the last, and most chilling reason of all: mass murderers want to kill a lot of people.

Sadly, most of these young (and older) serial killers just want to be understood.  They feel invisible, sources on the show noted.  Something I found most tragic of all -- one of the Columbine killers thought slaughtering his classmates would redeem his reputation and make him belong, once and for all.

It's not that most of these criminals want to see people die, the show posited, but that they want to be heard, to be acceped, to be present, to be loved.

No excuse, of course.  And tens of thousands of young people fit this profile -- young, male, substace abusers, difficulty to control anger, and fascinated by guns.  But only a miniscule percentage actually commit the crime.  Thank God. 

The show couldn't leave us with this bleak assessment so it also focused on a clinic in the Midwest where kids who commit violent felonies like rapes, assaults and even homicides (some as young as 11, the same age as my son) are treated.  As one said, "I won't stop till I see blood."  But these kids are not in prison but in an environment where they are rewarded for positive behavior.  Make the honor roll?  Get lunch brought in from McDonald's. 

The clinic can't give them the love and attachment they probably missed from birth, but tries instead to provide a "fair system" and caring, the PBS special said.  Stats show these boys are half as likely to commit crimes once they're released as those who were jailed.

So, what's the answer?  No one knows.  As sure as the sun comes up tomorrow, there will be another rampage killing somewhere.  My husband thinks I'm a hopeless liberal -- and I am.  And I would not feel this way if I were a parent in Newtown.

But I felt heartened by the show's conclusion: "It's never too early, or too late, to help a child." 








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