The person I wanted to hear from the most after the Newtown, Conn., shootings was largely silent. Peter Lanza, the father of America’s most recent mass murderer, has said little. I wanted to know how he raised his son, Adam.
What precautions did he take with the guns at his ex-wife’s house? Even if they were under her control, he must have known they didn’t belong there. Ultimately, the biggest question remains: What did the Lanza family do to protect the community from this man-child’s invisible demons before they became visible?
Someone in that family — the mother, the father, an uncle or the grandparents — must have known that boy had the capacity to do what he ended up doing. Yet, no one stopped him. We own our behavior, but if we don’t act on knowledge about potentially dangerous people, then we are equally responsible for what follows.
M. Scott Peck, physician and author of “The Road Less Traveled,” put it this way: “The difficulty we have in accepting responsibility for our behavior lies in the desire to avoid the pain of the consequences.”
If we look only to the government, gun laws, the police or firearms to solve this problem, we are looking in the wrong places.
First, we as men need to take responsibility for our own mental health. Sharing feelings shows strength; hiding them to the detriment of ourselves and others is a weakness. We need to protect our families not only by providing stability and security but by using our intuition and understanding to help other men in distress.
Second, there are documented patterns about these killers we need to know. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz, founder of the Threat Assessment Group, says, “The real issues with mass murderers is that all of them are both sad and depressed enough to be willing to die and also angry or paranoid enough that they are blaming other people for their suffering and misfortune.”
FBI profilers say it is often some event — a firing, breakup, divorce or some form of humiliation — that can change men into dangerous murderers bent on vengeance. Mass murderers often plan out their acts of terror for months. Who missed the clues about Adam Lanza that could have saved lives?
Third, we all need to stop enabling people. We enable alcoholics when we support their drinking and buy them booze. The case of William Spengler in upstate New York illustrates the worst kind of enabling.
A woman friend is accused of buying the 62-year-old several weapons. Spengler served 17 years for killing his grandmother with a hammer. The community knew he hated his sister and that she was planning on selling the house. He set his house on fire after killing his sister. When four fire fighters showed up, he wounded three and killed two others with the weapons his friend bought him.
Finally, we often enable sexual predators and abusers to continue to destroy lives. I am confident dozens of people — law enforcement officials and his own family and friends — enabled Bangor Rev. Bob Carlson to continue to abuse minors for decades by rationalizing his behavior or just ignoring it. They did nothing or not enough.
University of Maine graduate and NFL player Jovan Belcher recently killed his girlfriend and himself. What if someone found him help when he broke windows in his dorm and mistreated his girlfriend?
We need to have the moral courage to try to get people the help they need, whether they will accept it or not. Law enforcement, the courts and mental health professionals stand ready to assist people who will not accept help when they are hurting themselves or others. If we do everything within our power to help those on the edge of violence, we will be able to live with ourselves when something does happen.
Mohatma Gandhi, the great advocate of nonviolence from India, said this about our responsibility for each other, “Manliness consists not in bluff, bravado or loneliness. It consists in daring to do the right thing and facing consequences whether it is in matters social, political or other. It consists in deeds not words.”
Mac Herrling, a published poet, is presently working on a novel. He worked with troubled adolescents for 25 years and lives in Orland.