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Possible reasons behind school shooting tragedy

This is Christmas time. In churches and in homes the Bible’s Christmas story will be told. Sometimes when it is read, a person will include a little verse that tells how Mary and Joseph fled into Egypt right after Jesus was born and the three wise men had departed. That section includes the following quotation from one of the Israelite prophets: "A VOICE WAS HEARD IN RAMAH, WEEPING AND GREAT MOURNING, RACHEL WEEPING FOR HER CHILDREN; AND SHE REFUSED TO BE COMFORTED, BECAUSE THEY WERE NO MORE."

They were no more, because King Herod, fearing the prophecy about a messiah, a king who would come and rule over the people, killed them. He ordered that every child under the age of two be destroyed, and his soldiers carried out the order. Can you imagine the horror and the sorrow of having your baby murdered?

Perhaps you can. It’s been all over the news that a twenty-year old man went into a school in rural Connecticut and killed twenty children and six adults, having already killed his mother and before killing himself. The children were all older than two; they were between six and seven. Pictures of some of them show just what you’d expect from a six or seven-year old. At that age innocence has not been destroyed by deceit. At that age children still want to cuddle and have their parents read to them. I am quite sure that in the moments before silence those still alive wanted their mothers and fathers.

When people refer to the sad loss of these lives, they usually leave out the man who shot these children. However, to me the tragedy includes him. Something regrettable went wrong in his life, and it left a lot of people inconsolable.

There are reports that he had Asperger’s Disorder. Pundits have claimed that that is not a mental illness but a neurological problem. In fact, though, it is classified as a disorder of childhood and listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association. Such disorders do not develop in vacuum tubes, and they cannot actually be understood outside of the unique individuals who also embody other, co-morbid problems of physical, social, and psychological natures. For instance, in children who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder there is often a cluster of maladies to observe: co-morbid learning disorders and the oppositional, defiant, and conduct problems that are exacerbated by social conditions in such places as the school classroom.

Children with Asperger’s Disorder grow up to be adults who suffer from it, and along the way they have had to deal with other children and even adults who find them to be “odd.” What is it like to grow up with most people relating to you as if there is something wrong with you? Such situations often give rise to bullying.

Children with Asperger’s have qualitatively impaired social interaction: they suffer from the inability to make interpersonal contact and may not be able to maintain eye-to-eye gaze, display appropriate facial expressions or bodily postures or other non-verbal gestures that communicate in social situations. They may fail to establish and maintain peer relationships. They do not seek out other people to share interests and achievements but prefer to focus on and interact with objects, often showing a preoccupation with the way things are ordered. They may lack social reciprocity — what we also call empathy. People with Asperger’s lack a developed theory of mind; they are not clued into the experience of others, even though they may exhibit intense interest in such things as bus schedules or the movement of insects around the house. When engaged by someone attempting to establish a relationship, they seem loose in their associations or tangential, because they veer off the subject, trying to deal with another person who likely seems challenging and difficult. They may display repetitive or stereotypical patterns of interest and behaviour, and they may manifest inflexibility in terms of these non-functional routines that become ritualistic. They may display repetitive motor mannerisms such as hand or finger twisting or odd whole-body movements. These disturbances are of the magnitude to attract the attention of others, and they result in impairment in social, educational, and occupational contexts.

In other words, children with Asperger’s grow up being thought of as odd, awkward, and loners who don’t fit in. This is how the shooter in Connecticut has been described, and he has also been characterised as having a personality disorder. Personality disorders are fixed and maladaptive, dysfunctional patterns of relating to other people. It would be natural to mistake an adult with Asperger’s as having a personality disorder.

I would like to add to this situation the tragedy of a system that bypassed a little boy with Asperger’s who grew up not fitting in, and who found some kind of terrible solution to his personal pain in shooting to death little children. This in no way is to suggest that people with Asperger’s are ticking time bombs in society, but something happened with this one. People wonder what kind of monster could have done such a thing. How could anyone see the expressions on such children and shoot them repeatedly in a heartless and lethal drill? It would take a person who sees other people as things and cannot establish a link between his own feelings and theirs.

How does a community address such a complex and difficult situation such as this?

When people in the USA now rush to restrict access to guns, will they address the lack of ability to care for the mentally disordered in society as well? It is not a matter of either/or. It is guns and mental illness. It is the social environment and the willingness to become one’s brother’s keeper.

It could be said that "A voice was heard in Newtown, weeping and great mourning, mothers and fathers weeping for their children, and they refused to be comforted, because they were no more.” That could also be said about the gun violence that has been taking place in Bermuda.

The blood of the innocents cries out to God from the ground, and He calls the living to account. Do the right thing. Do the difficult thing. People should not simply grieve or throw up their hands in a gush of emotion. Whether one lives in Connecticut or in Bermuda, make a difference for a change.

(AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Rain drops gather on a rose near a teddy bear on a makeshift memorial in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Connecticut, yesterday, as the town mourns victims killed in Friday's school shooting.

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Published December 18, 2012 at 9:20 am (Updated December 18, 2012 at 9:20 am)

Possible reasons behind school shooting tragedy

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