Sunday, April 19, 2009

April is the cruelest month

Buz had an occasion earlier this week to journey to Emmitsburg, Maryland, home of the campus of Mt. St. Mary's University, a small Catholic liberal arts school in the Catoctin mountains close to Pennsylvania.

Buz thought he had been picked up and dropped in  heaven! And the presence of Catholic priests walking around in their black outfits with white collars added to this thought.

He was struck about how idyllic and peaceful and serene the campus looked, and he remembered that  not too long ago someone had fired a shot thru the window of a dorm room there on the campus. (Frederick County, where MSM is located, is a mostly rural/suburban area with lots of woods).  And, a few weeks later, gunshots were heard in the vicinity of the school, and were heard again as the unarmed campus safety staff responded to check it out. In both cases the school activated its version of an emergency notification system, keeping students informed about what was going on. (they were grateful!). Of course, there has not been a public determination by anyone who fired the shot(s), and whether they were the same person(s), or whether the school was targeted in any way. MSMary's, like most colleges in the U.S., has a small, generally unarmed, campus safety force, and relies on the local police force or state police to respond to dangerous, serious incidents.

Your consultant's thoughts turned to April. Today, April 20th, will be the tenth anniversary of the attack on that high school community by two of its own students. And just last week passed the second anniversary of the Virginia Tech "massacre"--32 killed by one of its own, who never felt part of the VT scene. Buz is pretty sure that the availability of an emergency notification system, such as used at Mt. St. Mary's, would probably have not made much, if any, difference at either Columbine or the home of the Hokies. Though updates to students might have helped a little. Other than that electronic innovation, and school "Thereat Assessment Teams", not much has changed in the American landscape of security against mass killings. It's still pretty easy for any crazy or semi-crazy or just plain upset person to get a gun around about anywhere.

Just this month:
  • Three police officers were killed at one time in Pittsburgh by a nut-job with a rifle.
  • Thirteen people were killed in an immigrant center in upstate New York by another nut-job, who blocked a rear door with his car to maximize death from his "going postal".
  • A family in Washington State was killed when dad thought mom was fooling around; if he couldn't have her exclusively, nobody else would. Oh, might as well kill the kids, too.
  • And a guy in Frederick County, ironically not too far from MSM, killed his wife and kids and himself because he felt like it.
  • This list can probably go on.
  • And, of course Columbine occurred in April; a new book has come out about that mass killing, vigorously researched by a Salon reporter, Dave Cullen. Buz hasn't read that book yet, but it apparently has a lot of new info challenging many long-held assumptions about that incident.
  • And, of course Virginia Tech occurred in April; apparently, not much happened in VT response to nut cases, despite the occurrence of Columbine a number of years before.
  • Oh, and just before April began, a parolee in Oakland, California shot and killed 4 police officers on the same day: 2 initially, then 2 members of the SWAT team later, shooting and killing them right thru a house wall.
Policy prescriptions, anyone?

Hundreds of colleges and universities have spent millions of dollars on "emergency notification systems", which now include text message and email alerts, as well as sirens on campus to alert people on campus to "significant threats to the campus community".  And, apparently, the latest department of Education rules under the Clery Act require them to have some sort of notification system. Most high schools, however, don't have such systems, except the time-honored public address system, and the ole fire alarm. While better than nothing, these systems largely ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room: the Secret Service study of school shootings (though somewhat dated now), estimates the vast majority are over in 2-4 minutes. The actual Columbine shooting of others was over in less than 15 minutes, though it took some time later for them to decide to kill themselves. Those involved, police, students, etc., thought it went on much longer, because no one at the time new that the cowards had already killed themselves. Police are now trained to respond immediately, as soon as practical, to get into the school (or wherever) to try to stop the shooting. Usually, it will already be too late.

By the way, Columbine High School did have an on site "School Resource Officer", an armed, unifomed police officer on duty at the school, but he was driven away from the school, along with another colleague, by the heavily armed students.

Many schools and colleges are trying to create "threat assessment teams" for figuring out what to do with loony students who scare others. This is the only real answer: to separate disturbed and distressed students from the rest of the campus, at least temporarily, to find out more about them, and to try to learn if they have firearms, if possible. And to have a way for students to alert campus authorities to potentially dangerous folks. [Of course, none of that worked at Virginia Tech, where teachers repeatedly tried to get help for future gunman Cho, but he kept falling thru the cracks, since VT, like most schools then-and probably now-do not have the mechanisms to deal with people like him.]


Bmore said...

Hey buz!

Before going to UMBC. I went to Mt St Marys for a year and a half, back when it was known as a college instead of university..isn't it a wonderful campus? its small but in winter its a beauty...

One thing to add to your April list of carnage: There was a newly wed women in Elkton who shot her husband in the head either today or last night..THREE WEEKS after they got married..she then shot herself..of course

Im starting to fear the repercussions of a God-less society..I myself am not too religious, but i believe that the whole idea of religion (god/satan, heaven/hell) is needed in our society..with out it i think we can expect the monthly murder-suicides, random public shootings, street level murder etc etc to continue to rise....the exception may be the ability of the police to "some what" curb street level murder....but the random shootings and the familiy murder-suicides are virtually impossible to predict, in my opinion.

buzoncrime said...

Hey, Bmore, glad to hear from you once again. Hope you're staying as a regular reader!

Yes, the campus is a beauty; in spring, also.

Didn't know about the Elkton lady (?) when I wrote this post. I guess she decided she didn't really like him after all. Talk about shooting yourself in the head!

And then this afternoon, we learn that the county cops are on the scene at the Sheraton North hotel in Towson with 4 dead in a room. April carnage continues! The County is being real mum on this one so far; we haven't a clue.

I'm not too religious myself, Bmore, but I believe in the basics of the Judeo-Christian framework of ethics. But I don't think one can point at any single factor in these mass shootings, or even the family murder-suicides. It's probably pretty complicated.

However, most of these mass shootings, such as Columbine or VT are not random. There is a clear rationale, such as it is, in the shooters' minds. The target(s) of their ire are usually quite specific as to place, though the victims themselves may not be specifically selected for any particular reason. Evil and mental illness are usually both present. Most mentally ill people are not violent. Betcha there was use of alcohol or illicit drugs (and/or legal drugs) in their systems (3-1).

We as a society have been struggling with domestic violence for a while now.

I'd like to know the autopsy results for alcohol and illicit substances in these suspects, also, though.