Several years ago my nephew took his life by hanging himself. At first I couldn’t understand why he would do such a thing because he was such a great kid. He was always smiling, always so kind, and always the one who wanted a hug when you were around him. Though he was such a great kid, one thing that troubled him was he would hear voices. What those voices told him is still unclear, but ever since that day, and because of my profession, I have read many mental illness articles, especially those pertaining to schizophrenia and the voices (hallucinatory talk) they hear that command them to kill.
Yesterday, after hearing the dreadful news about the beautiful children and courageous teachers killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I initially felt powerless against those who wish do us harm until more and more information surfaced about the shooter. Though nothing has been officially reported yet, it is clear to me that the shooter suffered from some type of mental illness. Please know that no one in their right mind could commit such a horrendous act, especially to so many innocent children (My heart and prayers continue to go out to each and every person affected). Being someone who has both read and dealt with individuals with schizophrenia, it appears to me that he suffered from some form of this illness and believe the anger and voices that come as a result of it played a significant role in yesterday’s tragedy.
Please do not misinterpret what I am writing here… nothing justifies or excuses this horrendous act of violence, nothing can be said to ease the pain the families affected feel right now, and no punishment for this shooter will ever feel like it is enough, not even him taking his own life.
However, as a protector of life, I must remain vigilant by doing all I can to understand what made this 20-year-old male act so viciously. In my personal opinion, and from experience dealing with individuals who wish to do harm to others, it is clear he was ill. Individuals who suffer from schizophrenia are 2 times more likely to become violent, are extremely paranoid, develop a strong resentment towards others, suffer from suicidal thoughts, and from the hundreds of stories I have read, often hear voices commanding them to kill others along with themselves. In a Health & Family article from Time (Read it here.) a very large proportion of mass homicides, including the brutal July 2011 attacks in Norway, the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that wounded Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, involve perpetrators with mental illness. The mental illness is believed to be schizophrenia and the attackers often hear voices instructing them to do it.
I have interviewed offenders who attempted to explain to me that the voices they hear are like having imaginary headphones on, and being told to do things over and over again. They went on to explain to me that they felt the only way to get rid of these voices was to obey them. Thankfully for many of us, we will never hear these voices.
Though we will never know for certain what transpired in the shooters mind yesterday, one thing we can be certain of, and something we can tell any child afraid of attending school next week, the monster who did this is no longer living and will never be able to take another precious life again.
To all the teachers and faculty who protected our children, I salute you!
Ronald D. Eastman II President & CEO Eastman Protective Agency