Once again, we have witnessed two major unpredictable violent events in our country. One was the tragedy at Fort Hood, TX, and the other occurred at the Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA. Though these kind of events occur far too frequently, they still shock and confuse us, and elicit fear and uncertainty about the safety of the world around us–specifically, for parents who have adult children in the military, and for those who have children in high school environments.
How do we answer unpredictable violence?
It is hard even as a professional to know what to say to those around us who want answers and a way to prevent these types of violent incidents. Neither of these situations was something that anyone would predict.
Fort Hood shooting
Ivan Lopez was a father of four children. It is generally accepted that he had a level of PTSD, though the Army said after its investigation and recreation of the episode, this rampage was not due to a mental health issue. However, a simple denial of a leave does appear to have been the catalyst that caused his violent response in which four were killed, including Lopez himself, and 16 others were wounded (according to Fox News).
Franklin Regional High School shooting in Murrysville, PA
Sixteen-year-old sophomore Alex Hribal was a quiet individual who seemed to have no significant signs of violent tendencies. He was perceived as a good student and rather introverted teenager. However, something apparently triggered him to use kitchen knives to go on a stabbing rampage in his high school wounding many of his schoolmates.
Hribal is now anticipating being tried as an adult for attempted murder. I am sure more of the story will emerge, but what a wake of fear, injury and trauma he caused in this horrifying incident.
It is not helpful to simply say if someone is introverted and quiet that we need to be aware of what may lurk beneath the facade.
What I think is important is to recognize that when we are observing the people in the world around us, we can make no assumptions. It is also important to know that sometimes it is what we do not know that can emerge as a threat or tragedy.
The private lives each of us experience are unknown to the world around us. For those who are silently struggling with mental health issues, bullying, PTSD, misperceptions, broken relationships and other related emotional or relational pain, unexpected triggers can become a catalyst to a response that can be extremely harmful.
We observe the tragedies like these and are alarmed, but what I see everyday is that people are being triggered at many levels.
These triggers represent emotions like anger and anxiety that could erupt into devastating consequences to family, friends, co-workers and others that people meet each and every day.
A possible lesson to be learned is that people who are struggling need other people to help them.
Everyone needs someone to talk to. If someone is struggling with a serious life-deficit, we need to encourage them to get support from a trusted friend or professional. As parents, we need to make sure to provide opportunities for communication with our teenagers. We know soldiers need other soldiers to talk to about their intense struggles with trauma and its impact.
School teachers need to be aware of signs that a child or teenager is not doing well, and to try to create a way for them to have someone to talk to. Training for professionals who deal with children needs to be available—particularly in trauma, brain states and some of the ways relationships can be used to help struggling individuals.
Rather than blame, shame or even attempt to explain, maybe what we can do is to create a sense of urgency.
I think we need a sense of urgency in our stewardship and care for those that we encounter each day. In any situations of concern, we can ask what difference a listening friend, fellow-worker, teacher or counselor might have made that could have prevented such tragic incidents.
I know we are all pressed for time, but maybe a note, phone call or just a casual and caring encounter can make a difference. A connection that takes just a few moments may help someone around us become less fearful or anxious. Maybe we can lead them to get the help they need when their private worlds feel out of control or in disarray.
We do have the great power of relationship to help those around us. We never know what our impact will be.
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network