What I think when I read about a mass murder

February 8, 2008 | By | 2 Replies More

It was a bloody night in Kirkwood Missouri tonight.  I live about twelve miles from Kirkwood, Missouri, which is normally a peaceful community.  At tonight’s meeting at the Kirkwood City Hall, however, things would be different.  And armed man, apparently a lunatic, barged into the Kirkwood City Council meeting and shot seven people attending the meeting, killing five of them.  the scene was depicted in detail by a newspaper reporter who happened to be at the meeting:

“He came from the back of the room,” said Janet McNichols, the correspondent. “He kept something about, ‘Shoot the mayor’ and he just walked around shooting anybody he could.”

McNichols said the shooter first fired at Tom Ballman, a police officer at the meeting. She said she looked up to see the officer shot in the head.

Thornton then targeted Public Works Director Kenneth Yost, who was sitting in front of McNichols. He was also hit in the head, she said.

“After that, I was on my stomach under the chairs,” she said. “I laid on my stomach waiting to get shot. Oh God, it was a horror.”

McNichols said Thornton continued to yell about the mayor, and from his voice and the gunshots, she could tell he had approached the dais at the front of the room where the council sits behind a semicircular desk.

At some point he fired at City Attorney John Hessel, who told McNichols he fended the attacker off by throwing chairs.

When many people hear of these sorts of incidents, they think about how horrible it is and how this sort of thing should never happen.  I agree with those sentiments, but I inevitably have another thought that I find more disturbing.  When I hear of these sorts of incidents I am almost always surprised that they don’t happen more often than they do.  Why would I say that? 

Because we live in a society of almost 300 million people, many of whom are living on the edge, financially and psychologically.  We live among too many people who have become socially isolated.  We live among millions of people who are suffering mental illness who are not getting treatment.  We live among numerous people who feel victimized for numerous reasons, and who look to government as one of the main culprits.

If you doubt that there are so many people on the edge, I suggest that you walk the sidewalks and streets of your city more often and look into the faces of the people you will pass.  Yes, most of them will be normal people, friendly people.  But one out of a hundred people have that look that they have been pushed to the edge of desperation.  Many of them violently take out their frustrations on their own spouses and children, in private.  But once in a while, one of them will take a loaded weapon into a place where peaceful people are meeting to seek what appears to them to be revenge.  After all, anyone pushed to a higher level of desperation can justify that anyone they decide to shoot deserved to be shot.

Combine this huge population of desperate people with the easy availability of weapons, plus the ubiquitous images of violence on television, and the situation become all the more volatile, it would seem. 

In no way am I justifying the actions of the madman who killed those five innocent people tonight.  On the other hand, I am truly amazed that more people don’t act in similar fashion more often. I am at a loss to explain why it doesn’t happen more often.  Many people assume that the status quo is some sort of floor, as though things can only get better.  If that’s optimism, it’s naive optimism.  The status quo isn’t any sort of floor unless we work hard to make it a floor.  I’m not convinced that we’re working hard enough to nurture and rejuvenate the all-too-many desperate souls currently walking the streets.

I thank my lucky stars that events like tonight don’t happen 100 times or 1000 times every night, from coast to coast.

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Category: American Culture

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (2)

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  1. Marlon says:

    Erich,

    My sentiments exactly. The cracks that many fall through in our mental health system are more like gaping chasms. I work part-time in a transitional housing facility, and the frustration and desperation that I see in some of these people is scary. We try to keep a helpful if wary eye on them. The most dangerous though are probably the ones who mask their problems, seem pretty normal, and then "snap". I don't know what we do about them. Anyway, you are right. It boggles the mind that more of this stuff doesn't happen.

  2. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Senseless murders happen more often than get reported by the media. About 2 or three years ago, an elderly homeless woman was sleeping near the river in downtown Nashville, when two young men threw her into the river where she drowned. There wer4e plenty of witnesses to the event, all of them homeless. the young men were quickly apprehended. They had driven almost 100 miles into Nashville for the purpose of attacking homeless people. They apparently saw nothing wrong in this and seemed to consider it a sport (or at worst just harmless mischief). They both admitted to doing this many time on the past. Their friends and family could not believe they had been doing these crimes.

    They weren't the only ones.

    There was a short period of time when severl homeless peopee were dowsed with gasoline and set on fire. one night 3 homeless men died this way, and when eventually caught, the perps were teenaged boys who thought it was fun.

    in 1993, a a family of three died when someone dropped a bowling ball sized rock from an overpass onto oncoming traffic. The rock smashed through the windshield, crushing the drivers head and killing him instantly. The resulting wreck killed the wife and infant child. An investigation indicated that ths rock dropping incidents had been happening for several months. The perps would always pick overpasses with no ramps, and the sheriffs department lacked the manpower to patrol all the overpasses all the time.

    A few months after the murders, I was driving home from a second shift job, and came upon a pickup truck, parked on the overpass, with the tailgate dropped down revealing that it was carrying several large rocks and pieces of concrete rubble. Through the rear glass of the pickup, a gun rack was clearly visible holdin two rifles. I pulled around them, and ask if they were having engine trouble (acting like I didn't know what they were up too) As I drove away, they jump in the truck and gave chase. The road was very crooked and hilly, and my car handled much better than their truck, so I easily got away from them. The following morning, I went to the sheriffs office and talked to the detective in charge of the investigation. I told him what i'd seen, described the truck, and the teens. THree days later, the teens were arrested. they were 19 and 15 years old.

    The point is this: when someone goes on a killing spree, it only makes the news if the media sees a story. The Virginia tech shootings got high profile coverage, while innocent bystanders who get shot in gang drivebys don't rate backpage coverage.

    There have been several incidents of people "going postal" at town council meetings. Mostly it makes the local news, sometimes the regional or statewide news. It seldom makes a national headline. The national news seems more concerned with Brittany Spears being release from psychiatric care than dead politicians, but dead politicians rate as more newsworthy than other murder victims.

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