School violence ~ edited on 7/21/07

I’ve been quietly mulling over the Virginia Tech shooting, as is everyone, I guess.  It brings to mind another school shooting on December 14, 1992.  This one was personal.  It happened at Simon’s Rock College, which is where I got my AA in 1985.  In 1992, Simon’s Rock had about 350 students.  Wayne Lo killed one professor, one student, and injured four others.  Although certainly not the massacre of Virginia Tech or even Columbine, percentage-wise, this was comparable to Virginia Tech.  After his shooting, Lo’s rifle jammed, he called 911, reported himself as the shooter, and surrendered to police.  He is now serving consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole. 

In 1999, Gregory Gibson, the father of Galen Gibson, the murdered student, published a book about these events.  It is called Gone Boy: A Walkabout.  After burying his son, Gibson begins his walkabout created by an intense need to look into every detail – big and small – that led to his son’s death.  He looks into Simon’s Rock – what they did and didn’t do, into the gun – what it was, where it came from, how it worked, and finally malfunctioned, into Lo – what was happening with him?  He even meets Lo’s parents and learns of their terrible loss of a son as well.  Wayne, the killer, had been a gifted young man, who lost his mind, left them this legacy, and now rocked to distract his voices in a prison half a country away from them.  Another gone boy.

At work, a brain injury rehab, we talk about the Virginia Tech massacre, wondering about Cho’s brain.  “What kind of activity did he have going on in his frontal lobes?” we say.  Is he like so many other mass murderers, lacking activity there – lacking empathy?  Probably.  I read that Gregory Gibson and Wayne Lo have corresponded.  He and the Los have all spoken.  I wonder if Lo has allowed himself to be studied?  Has he had brain scans in addition to interviews?  What has been learned?  I’m glad Gibson and Lo have corresponded.  From reading the book, I know that Gibson found something he needed from his parents.  Has he found more from Wayne?  Forgiveness maybe?

Both Cho and Lo have been described as loners.  Yet, I’ve also read that school killers really aren’t loners – they are failed joiners.  They want to fit in, but don’t.  They often send out many messages of their hurt and pain.  They may appear like outsiders because they can’t find their place.  From what I have read of Wayne Lo, he was gifted and talented, but conservative.  Simon’s Rock is a very liberal place and I’m sure it was hard to find his place there.  In fact, I could imagine any anger he had boiling over there – a place full of gays (I read that 30% of Rockers identify themselves as non-heterosexual) and liberals.  What happens to joiners who find themselves in an environment where they can’t fit in?  Most leave and find a better suited place.  Others strike out – like Lo and Cho. 

What about the mental health system?  How can they be more responsible?  I’ve been on both sides of the system and believe strongly in rights for people with mental illness.  I work in this field and advocate for those among it.  In fact, most people with mental health issues, even severe, chronic problems, are not violent.  However, just like everyone else, some are.  And when they are it is big news.  This hurts the reputation of the majority who are quietly living simple lives, however the truth is paranoia and extreme anger can lead to violence.  What can we do about it?  Honestly, I have no answers.  Violence is not easy to predict – although in hindsight the signals are there.  Also, our society is full of violence.  In the scheme of things, the Virginia Tech massacre is nothing compared to the casualty reports coming out of Iraq and Iran.  It’s nothing compared to the numbers dying in Darfur.  For some reason, humans seem intent on killing each other. 

Another big question here for me is why are guns so easy for people to get?  Why is it that when we have other potentially dangerous tools available to the public, like motor vehicles, we require accountability?  To legally own a car one must register it.  To legally drive a car, one must prove oneself capable of driving and earn a license.  Those who cannot or do not do these things may not legally drive or own cars.  Simple.  I do not feel my rights are infringed upon because this is required of me.  In fact, I’m thankful that it’s required.  Everyday I work with people who were very badly hurt in motor vehicle accidents.  People whose lives will never be what they were.  No one thinks anything of making sure that those who drive are capable and accountable.  Why should guns be any different?  I know someone very badly hurt by a gun, as well.  Most in his position would have died.  Perhaps his injury could have been prevented by some accountability.  I know he wishes there had been some.

Note: I edited this post on July 21 after receiving the comment from Wayne Lo, dated 7/16/07 (Comment #6).  I corrected two factual errors I made in the original post.  I said the date of the Simon’s Rock shooting was 12/12/92, it was 12/14/92.  I also stated that I thought Gregory Gibson and Lo had met.  They have not; they have only corresponded.

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6 Responses

  1. Thank you for this. If we could answer these questions, we could go a long way toward stopping this kind of violence.

    It just breaks my heart.

  2. We have been discussing mental health and the VTech massacre also. It seems that people were aware of Cho and the potential but this country has so many laws in force to prevent the loss of liberty to the individual that the liberty of the majority is gone. I see no reason for the prevalance of guns in our society.
    Dare I wonder what Michael Moore has to say about recent events?
    In my town people implore that I obtain a gun. “Everybody has one.” Well if everyone has one what good is my having one going to do?
    Maybe more needs to be done to prevent and deal with conflict rather than how to “end” conflict.

  3. Thanks also for your comment on my blog – and I’d be happy to cross-link. I’ve got you linked now, too.

  4. I know, there are just so many factors to consider and so many “what could have been done differently” angles to think about. I have no idea what causes a person to get to the point where they plan out and implement an act such as this. It would be so beneficial if some of these criminals would let their brains be studied, if only for a peek into some answers.

  5. Failed joiner — that makes much more sense than simply “loner”. Also, I am certain his frontal lobes had issues. You make all sorts of good points about the mentally ill — I can’t imagine how difficult their lives must be period without all sorts of generalization and discrimination thrown in on top.

  6. The shooting happened on Dec.14th. I have not personally met with Mr. Gibson. The prison authority forbids such victim-offender meetings. We have corresponded a great deal. I think Mr. Gibson has asked everything he wanted to. I´ve done my best to answer them. No one has done any studies on my brain. MRZ´s done right after the shootings for the trial showed nothing abnormal. I was just an immature kid filled with anger and I chose to hurt others when I failed to solve my own problems. You are absolutely correct on the failed joiner point. Indeed – SRC and I were not a good match. I should have left – but again – my immaturity didn´t allow me to think clearly. Indeed it was too easy for me to purchase a gun. I couldn´t have rented a car to drive home, yet I could purchase a rifle. We certainly did not learn from SRC because if we did – Va Tech wouldn´t have happened. I certainly hope we will finally learn something after this horrible tragedy. Yes – there is no one to blame except for me and Cho – but it doesn´t mean we as a society shouldn´t enact ways to prevent these things from happening.

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