Yesterday, we reported on the high school shooting that took place in Chardon, Ohio, earlier that day. At the time, one victim was confirmed dead while four others were left fighting for their lives. Sadly, the news has since reported that two more lost that fight today; we can only hope that the two still in the hospital are able to pull through.
In the aftermath, we are left with far more questions than answers. Of course for many, one question is inescapable: “Should someone have seen this coming?” Using what little information we have on the 17-year-old shooter, we now know that he did in fact make his intentions known on a number of social media outlets. While it’s still unknown whether anyone saw them ahead of time, one thing seems clear—nothing was done about it.
According to reports, the suspect made several troubling posts to his Facebook page in the months preceding the shooting. In one, he wrote: "Feel death, not just mocking you. Not just stalking you, but inside of you. Wriggle and writhe. Feel smaller beneath my might … Die all of you." He also reportedly sent out a message on Twitter indicating that Monday would be “a day when people at school suffered.”
Today, Keith Ablow, MD, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and contributor for Fox News, commented on the events in Chardon, saying that if someone had been paying attention, the comments “could have led someone–whether a relative or a friend or merely an acquaintance–to consider him dangerous and bring him to the attention of the police and/or mental health professionals.”
Based on what we currently know, no such "intervention" happened in Chardon. According to Ablow, this common level of inaction reveals a “blind spot” in the way the general public thinks about “extreme and bizarre” communication or behavior. In fact, he claims that people often deny that it exists, or simply become convinced that they are powerless to act.
“The denial is linked to a psychological game of probabilities, combined with a cost/benefit analysis, which all unfolds unconsciously,” he explains. “Our minds calculate the likelihood of a psychological thriller playing out across the street or in our very school system as close to zero.”
To get past those issues and take these potential threats seriously, Ablow advocates educating the public on several “core facts” about people with suicidal or homicidal tendencies, and how often these kinds of intentions are communicated and inevitably dismissed.
Nothing can begin to repair the damage caused in Chardon this week, devastating three families and leaving a school and an entire community trying to derive some meaning from a completely purposeless act. But we need to learn something. There needs to be some tangible progress toward improving how we approach efforts that could conceivably prevent such tragedies.
As Ablow points out, people who intend to do harm to themselves or others often communicate those plans beforehand. Today, the youth of the world spends an inordinate amount of time posting their innermost thoughts on Facebook and Twitter, so it’s only a matter of time before we realize that someone (or maybe everyone) needs to start paying better attention.