Life During the Age of Contagion — April and the Link to Mass Murder

James D. Diamond April 6, 2020 Published in  InsideSources

The month of April will be the among the most challenging months in American history. The physical, mental and emotional well-being of the nation is at hope’s edge, as our nation comes to grips with a global pandemic and dire economic consequences. For many mass shooting survivors and their communities, though, April is challenging for another reason: The five days between April 15-20 have been notoriously marked with the intentional spilling of innocent blood.

On April 15, 2013, terrorists killed six and seriously injured 280 in the Boston Marathon attack. April 16, 2007, was the school shooting at Virginia Tech University. On April 19, 1995, a mass murderer killed 168 innocent victims and seriously wounded more than 680 in the Oklahoma City bombing. And on April 20, 1999, there were the murders of 15 at Columbine High School in Colorado. The connection between the April dates is no coincidence.

Sadly, several killers sought to “outdo” the massacres that preceded their carnage and there exists a link between a series of massacres occurring in April, and the selection of massacre dates to coincide with the massacre anniversaries. It starts with April 19, 1993, the date law enforcement officials raided a compound near Waco, Texas, resulting in a lengthy standoff and 86 fatalities. Next, the two terrorists at Oklahoma City who drove a truck-bomb to the Murrah Federal Office Building selected the Waco anniversary; two years later, on April 19, 1995, they conducted a terrorist assault that killed 168 people. Then, with a goal of killing more people than the terrorists did at Oklahoma City, the two school shooters at Columbine High School picked April 19 for their massacre — postponed by an unknown reason to April 20. On April 20, 1999, the two high school boys murdered 15 innocent students and teachers, seriously injuring many more. The tragedy at Columbine, then, took on great importance for several rampagers who followed them. Killers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut and Virginia Tech studied and obsessed over Columbine, as did many others.

 

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Anguished students embrace during the rampage at Columbine HS (Photo April 20, 1999 by George Kochaniec Jr Rocky Mountain News)  

How do communities, victims and survivors deal with the aftermath of mass shootings?

In my book, “After the Bloodbath: Is Healing Possible in the Wake of Rampage Shootings?,” I examine the aftermath of mass shootings and compare community and legal responses to responses in indigenous communities, with special attention devoted to restorative and therapeutic justice. I compare the aftermath of several shootings with a fatal massacre that occurred in March 2005 at the Red Lake High School on the reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians in northern Minnesota. For example, at Red Lake, in contrast with other massacres like Newtown, the family of the killer did not have any difficulty finding a place to bury the shooter, and the killer was given a traditional funeral and mourning rituals, which were well attended. Just as in Newtown, at Red Lake, a family member, the shooter’s grandfather, was the first victim, and like Newtown, access to the guns used could be attributed to the family member. Yet, at Red Lake the shooter’s grandfather was counted as a victim and, in contrast to many other rampages, not blamed for the killings. The grandfather was given a hero’s funeral which was very well attended.

What was most remarkable, though, was that the tribe included the killer’s family in distribution of victim compensation funds, helping to pay for his funeral expenses. In Red Lake, parents of victims thought the murderer deserved some recognition from the community so he would not, as a human being, be forgotten. A number victims’ relatives forgave the killer and considered the circumstances preceding the massacre.

There are more than 500 American Indian tribes in the United States and more than 200 tribal court systems. Indigenous peoples have a long history of restorative practices and engage in something called “peacemaking courts,” where they invite in elders, relatives and spiritual leaders and move toward restoring social bonds and healing the frayed social fabric. There are more lessons we can take from how indigenous peoples deal with mass shootings. Parents and family members of mass murderers, typically mourning as well, should be given empathy and, at a minimum, not treated as community pariahs.

While the world struggles in April to deal with the very real public health emergency, community cohesiveness, kindness and empathy are at a premium. The festering wounds associated with the still unresolved public health threat surrounding mass shootings, the linked suicide crisis, and a long list of suffering survivors will be painful throughout the month.

We have a lot to do to heal our planet.

After 15 Years, Red Lake Shooting Survivors Are Still Suffering

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The following National View Column appeared on March 20, 2020 in The Duluth News Tribune 

 

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The Cedar Creek Singers perform in Duluth at a memorial for the victims of the Red Lake school shooting. Photo: Duluth News Tribune, 2005 

by James D. Diamond 

While the world struggles to deal with a very real public health crisis, community cohesiveness, kindness, and empathy are at a premium. There is a complexity to healing, though, and the newest threat does not eliminate those in the community already suffering — many invisibly. The wounds related to the looming public health threat surrounding mass shootings, the linked suicide crisis, and post-traumatic stress still fester.

Saturday, March 21 marks the 15-year anniversary of the school shooting at Red Lake High School on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northern Minnesota. Although occurring somewhat sequestered from the public spotlight and amidst an independent indigenous sovereign, in many ways the 2005 rampage resembled other school shootings. A suicidal male student stole his grandfather’s guns, killed his grandfather and his girlfriend, broke into his own school, and shot a teacher and teenagers before taking his own life. Sadly, it has become a common American narrative and pattern.

At Red Lake there were warning signs. There are always warning signs, which, somehow, if heeded, might prevent tragedy. The warning signs at Red Lake, each taken alone 15 years ago, were not so alarming to make him a likely mass shooter. After the fact, though, they painted a very troubling picture. Not uncommon, the shooter at Red Lake was an obviously suicidal teenager crying for help. And, he had access to guns.

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Can Hate Beget Healing? Looking Back at 2019 and for a Silver Lining in Responses to Rampage Shootings

In 2019, many lives were lost at the hands of mass shooters. These tragedies occur so frequently they have become the new normal. Nobody is surprised anymore. But, as 2019 came to a close, at least one small step was taken to address mass and school shootings—revisiting federal funding for the study of causes of gun violence.

We know so little about why men—and it is primarily men—go on shooting, mass murder rampages. As someone who spent decades teaching and practicing criminal law, my hypothesis is that the crisis is closely associated with suicide. Suicide is now the fourth-leading cause of adult deaths. Consider that in most, but not all, mass shootings, the killer expects to die in the melee in shootouts with responding police, or they actually kill themselves before the police can. Looking at the big picture, if you add in the availability of guns (powerful guns and ammo) plus the prevalent social conditions of depression, hopelessness, loneliness and isolation, bullying at schools, mental health and mental illness and intimate partner violence, the picture becomes slightly clearer.

What’s the best way to find out if mass shootings are really part of the suicide epidemic?  Medical research. Since 1996 the Center for Disease Control and the National Institute for Health were prevented by Congressional legislation from studying gun violence and causation in general. The move to cut the funding arose in response to efforts made in the early 1990s to begin treating gun violence as a public health issue. The 1996 legislation was called the “Dickey Amendment,” named after Congressman Jay Dickey of Arkansas. Dickey led the movement to add language to the 1996 federal budget that said that “[n]one of the funds made available in this title may be used, in whole or in part, to advocate or promote gun control.” Of course, medical research is not advocacy, but the language was included in every federal budget since. As a result, medical research became part of the overall gun control battle and fell victim to political gridlock. Some progress was made to clarify the intent of the research and the language in 2018, after the Parkland Marjory Stoneman High School massacre.

At the end of 2019, finally, $25 million was set aside set aside for the study.

Something else noteworthy happened in 2019. Some progress was made in how communities respond to mass shootings. It’s a subject I cover in a recent book, After The Bloodbath, Is Healing Possible In the Wake of Rampage Shootings? In the book, among other topics, I look at how a community responded on the reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians after a fatal shooting at Red Lake High School. Consider, in 2019, two sisters, Tana and Brooke Risley. Brooke is a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, and Brooke is a recent graduate of the school. Last month, there was a fatal school shooting at the high school when a 16-year-old student opened fire with a .45 caliber handgun, killing two students and injuring several others before firing one last gunshot to his head. In the aftermath of the melee, Tina and Brooke created a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the mother and sister of the shooter. Similarly, in 2005 the Tribal Council at Red Lake made efforts to support the killer’s family and help them pay for funeral costs.

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Memorials in front of Saugus High School, November 19, 2019. Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News

“It is times like this that we must band together,” wrote the Risleys, “not to support the shooter and his actions, but to support his family. It is time to spread love, support kindness … Kindness is unconditional and constant. You are kind even when you don’t need to be, even when it is not convenient to be.”

In showing compassion to the family of the Red Lake school shooter, the people in Red Lake were not looking for recognition. The same goes for the Risley sisters. These days it’s a struggle to find anything upbeat to say about the shedding of so much innocent blood. Yet, Tana and Brooke found a way to light a spark of goodness amid painful darkness. Perhaps more light will be revealed into the causes of this deadly scourge after further federal medical research.

If the sisters in Santa Clarita are the future—as well as the children of Parkland in 2018 and other brave children of 2019—perhaps there is still hope for the rest of us.

James D. Diamond is the author of the book, After The Bloodbath: Is Healing Possible in the Wake of Rampage Shootings? He is dean of Academic Affairs of the National Tribal Trial College, holds a Doctor of Juridical Science degree (S.J.D.) from the University of Arizona College of Law and is the former director of the Tribal Justice Clinic there.

 

 

20 Facts About Mass Shootings You May Not Know

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Jeffrey May at his home in Redby, MN on the Red Lake Reservation. 10 years earlier May saved countless students who were being shot by jumping the school shooter who paused to reload.  Photo: Jennifer Simonson, MPR News
  1. NASA Astronaut Mark Kelly saw mistaken TV news reporting that his wife, Gabby Giffords was killed in a mass shooting before he jumped on an airplane from Houston, TX to Tucson, Arizona.
  2. Liviu Librescu lived through a Nazi concentration camp in Romania only to be killed by the school shooter at Virginia Tech.
  3. The Marjory Douglas Parkland High School killer took an Uber to the rampage, packing his AR 15, ammunition and smoke bombs in his bag.
  4. When the UT Austin tower killer tried to take the elevator to the top of the tower to perpetrate the murders, the elevator was not working. He found a campus employee who activated the elevator for him.
  5. A significant number of mass shooters, at least 9 killed a family member first before going on a shooting rampage.
  6. While the school shooter at Red Lake High School, MN paused to reload his rifle, fellow student Jeffrey May tried to stop the attack by jumping the killer with a pencil; he was doing his math homework in study hall before the shooting.
  7. The killers at Columbine High School selected April 20th for their killing because it was Adolph Hitler’s birthday and was the anniversary of the Oklahoma City federal building tragedy.
  8. California woman Hannah Sindaha survived the Las Vegas Rte. 91 concert massacre, then a year later survived the Thousand Oaks barroom massacre. The day after Thousand Oaks she had to evacuate her home due to the Woolsey fire that claimed 3 lives.
  9. The F.B.I. does not have an official definition of a “mass shooting,” but Congress defined a “mass murder,” and changed it in 2013 from an incident with at least four fatalities to one with three.
  10. Mass shooters are male, with very few rare exceptions.
  11. Conspiracy theorists waged a campaign to convince the world the twenty children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School were not really killed, their coffins were empty, and their grieving parents were actors.
  12. In 1977 Stephen King wrote a novel about a fictitious high school shooting titled “Rage” under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The book became associated with school shootings. Finally, after a copy of the book was found in the locker of Heath High School shooter Michael Carneal, King allowed the book to go out of print.
  13. There are often visible warning signs before a mass shooter acts. In one unusual case, the case of the murders at the AME Church in Charlestown, a friend of the killer was arrested and sent to prison for knowing about the planned spree and failing to take action to prevent it.
  14. The mass killer at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado claimed he picked the midnight showing of Batman movie Dark Knight Rises for his killing, thinking there wouldn’t be children in the theater at that hour. There were. He killed a 6-year-old girl.
  15. Because he was such a prolific gambler the Mandalay Bay Hotel gave Las Vegas Route 91 concert killer a free luxury suite that usually cost nearly $600 a night and allowed him to move his luggage containing a vast arsenal in the service elevators. He killed fifty-eight and wounded more than 800 people.
  16. Christina Taylor-Green, the nine-year-old victim killed in the Tucson massacre was the granddaughter of former baseball manager and player, Dallas Green. Green managed the New Yankees and other teams in the 1970’s-1990’s.
  17. Newspaper reporters at the Capital Gazette massacre in Maryland had the difficult assignment of having to write about a shooting they themselves witnessed, one that claimed the lives of their colleagues.
  18. In preparation for the massacre the Columbine killers stored in their bedroom closets the bombs they built and used in the massacre.
  19. After a fatal shooting at Red Lake High School, which is located on the Reservation of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, the Tribe used donations to help pay for the funeral of the shooter. That payment is unprecedented.
  20. The phrase “going postal” is believed to have been originated as a result of the 1986 massacre in Edmond, Oklahoma where a postal employee went on a workplace rampage, killing fourteen and injuring 7. The employee, a former Marine, received a series of negative performance reviews and was reprimanded earlier in the day before the killings. One of the victims of the massacre was the thirty-three-year-old Mike Rockne, grandson of Knute Rockne, the legendary Notre Dame football coach.

[James D. Diamond’s 2019 book, After The Bloodbath: IS Healing Possible In The Wake of Rampage Shootings is now available from the publisher, MSU Press  from your local bookstore, and all major digital booksellers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble. ]

Parents of Mass Shooters Say They’re Sorry: It’s the Least They Can Do

He didn’t say much, but he wasted no time. The day after Sediqque M’s son committed a brutal massacre at an Orlando nightclub, leaving an astounding 49 people dead, the father of the murderer immediately surfaced and apologized:

“I am really sorry and have expressed this to the people of the United States, especially in this holy month of Ramadan. What he has done has shocked me … I ask God for help and guidance.

 He added:

“Those people who lost their loved ones, they are my family. I am as sad and as mad as you guys are. I’m very, very mad.”

I don’t know anything about the man’s politics, what kind of father he was, if he made other inflammatory statements, took questionable actions. The man deserves credit, though, for immediately coming forward. It’s not how the parents of rampage shooters used to act.

What will the reaction be from surviving victims, or those struggling to survive devastating injuries? What about the reaction from the scores of grieving family members of those young men and women whose lives his son tragically cut short?

Some will simply ignore him as inconsequential and meaningless as they cope with despair. Others may react with anger. Still others might find some quiet measure of appreciation, if not now, eventually. The victims, the survivors, in fact the world, cries out with one simple question: Why? What did my son or daughter, my sister or brother, do to deserve this? Why did your son take them away from me? What were their last words? What made your son act in this barbaric fashion?

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One thing Sediqque’s expression of sorrow, shock and anger was not: silence. Silence has been the default position taken by the parents of rampaging murderers in the past. The disbelief expressed by Sediqque is common. It is common that parents of rampagers cannot fathom their children could be capable of the unimaginable carnage they unleash. Parents are blindsided by the event and are simultaneously engulfed with an international media tidal wave. Police in arrive in SWAT gear and forcibly remove them from their homes, interrogate them as suspects: What did they know about their child’s plans and how did their child obtain weapons? The media camp out on their lawns, visit their employers, family members and friends. The images of their children and themselves are plastered on the television, newspapers and web and in infamy.

If their child is dead, as if so often the case, the parents, too, are in mourning. They have to figure out what to do with the dead body. Funerals and burials are difficult, or impossible, for fear of vandalism. The parents are blamed, vilified, hated. They receive death threats.

Expecting lawsuits and even possible arrest, parents huddle with lawyers. Lawyers advise silence. Statements made could be used against parents in big multimillion-dollar lawsuits, which in the United States, will no doubt follow. Statements might be used by criminal prosecutors looking to charge somebody, anybody, with “aiding and abetting,” as an accomplice for criminal liability or failure to prevent a crime, something called “misprision.” For lawyers, silence helps shield clients.

Parental apologies seem to have started in the age of Columbine. Prior to Columbine, parents often maintained silence, as did the parents of the 14-year-old boy who, in 1997 killed three classmates in a school prayer circle at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky. And in late 1999 when the parents of mass shooters made a statement, it came after a few days and great deliberation with attorneys. The statements were typically written and released by parents’ attorneys. An example is the brief statement released by the lawyer for the parents of one of the Columbine High School murderers:

“Wayne and Kathy … have been devastated by what their son … did.” They continue to grieve for all of the victims and their families. “Hopefully, there will come a time when they feel they are ready to speak publicly about their son and the horrible acts that he committed. But now is just not that time.”

Sediqque’s brief but immediate apology is more common today. It’s how most parents now react. In 2013, for example, a mother held an impromptu press conference in her Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment the day after her son murdered 12 innocent people at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. She stood in her living room and, with clergy standing beside her, read a brief apology, concluding that she was glad in her son’s death he could “no longer do harm to anyone.” Her words were preferable to the deafening silence of bygone eras, and there are countless examples of this newer trend.

A second development, much rarer but even more remarkable, is parents of shooters conducting private meetings with parents of victims. One such meeting occurred in 2013 following the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy where the father of the shooter met privately with grieving parents of one of his 6-year-old victims. Another such meeting between parents occurred between two fathers in 2014 near Los Angeles. Meetings such as these offer the slightest possibility of making sense of the senseless.

Experts like psychiatrist Aaron Lazare say apologies are “a validation of another person’s feelings, intuition and perception,” and, when sincere, are an important component of the healing process. The apology, he wrote in 2004, “is a method of social healing that has grown in importance as our way of living together on this planet undergoes radical change.” Radical change, indeed.

The meetings, the prompt expressions of apology and remorse like the one uttered by Sediqque don’t bring back the dead. But they just might help the living live another day.

 

Courage In The Face of Rampage Shootings

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Published in The Newstimes June 12, 2015

It has been one year (May 23rd) since a deadly rampage shooting near the University of California/Santa Barbara left six innocent college students dead. If it seems like we are routinely marking annual remembrances of rampages it is because we are. Mass shootings at schools and other places occur with startling frequency. Graduating law school students at the University of Arizona College of Law were given a harsh reminder of that reality last week at the commencement ceremony at the McKale Arena. Last week (May 16th) former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords joined her retired astronaut husband, Mark Kelly on stage to address the nearly 180 law school graduates. I was one of them, having returned to school to pursue graduate legal studies; I was one three students at the ceremony awarded a doctoral degree. Continue reading “Courage In The Face of Rampage Shootings”