This good looking young man is named Jacob Tyler Roberts. He is also a dead young man. Sadly, on December 11th he took his own life as well as the lives of two others and seriously injured another using a stolen AR-15 rifle. This all went down at Clackamas Town Center, a shopping mall that is only a dozen or so miles from where I live.
The police haven’t verified how many shots he got off, but so far (from what I’ve been able to gather from various news reports) witnesses have said it sounded like at least twenty. And at one time his gun jammed, but he was able to get it unjammed, obviously, since he was able to shoot himself. From the descriptions of the witnesses, windows were breaking and shots were flying. It is truly amazing that more people weren’t hurt or killed, especially since he had several fully loaded magazines of ammunition .
I, like the police investigators (and probably the rest of the country), am wondering why he did it. What was his motive? He didn’t even know the three people he shot. His mother died when he was three and he didn’t know who his dad was. Were his aunt and uncle who raised him not like parents? Did they not love him? Was he troubled? Why?
We think that to do something as heinous as this kid did, he must have been mentally unstable. And if he’s mentally unstable, then obviously he must not be getting love at home, right? He must be living in a horrible abusive situation and just snapped. But why take his rage out on innocents? Maybe it wasn’t a case of nurture at all. Maybe it was nature. Maybe Jacob was just…broken. Or maybe he had a brain tumor–in some cases of violence, I remember reading that tumors or imbalances to our body’s chemical/hormonal concoctions can really mess us up. Or maybe he was on an anti-depressant that took him over the top. There have been cases of that happening, too.
The only thing good about analyzing the whys of this shooting is that maybe, if his act was born out of mental illness or some sort of physical defect in his brain, we may learn from it and hopefully create better therapies and medicines and we get better at catching violent cases before they become tragic.
But instead of analyzing the why, I think many of us really just want to cast blame. By casting blame, we feel we can say, “thus and such is responsible,” and then we can get our justice. Especially since, as this young man is dead, we can no longer get that from him. I’ve already seen comments on comment boards saying that the person who owned the rifle that Jacob stole it from should get jail time for not being a more careful, responsible gun owner. He should have locked it up. That’s jumping to conclusions. Maybe it already was locked up. Maybe Jacob knew where the key was. And if someone is really intent on stealing something, they will always find a way anyway. It isn’t the gun owner’s fault or the gun’s fault. Jacob is the one who pulled the trigger.
But if we blame–blaming the way he was raised (his family) or blaming the gun owners or blaming the gun, is it really about justice? Or is it about our need for revenge? Some families want “justice” for closure. They feel that by seeing the offending parties behind bars or dead, that they can finally rest. But I am more impressed by the families who press courts for leniency and say they have forgiven the person who did the crime. Forgiveness is the ultimate closure.
Or is casting blame more about our need to feel safe? When we can’t go into public places because we are afraid some “nutjob” is going to murder us, we want to punish anybody who has anything to do with making that a potential threat. We want to make examples of them.
Unfortunately, those examples don’t work. Determined people will always find a way to harm others, no matter what roadblocks may be there to prevent it. People have been killing and injuring with knives, bow and arrows, bombs, fire, poisons, diseases and chemical weapons for a long long time, so this isn’t just about guns, this is about people doing stupid, senseless, atrocious shit to other people.
Instead of casting blame and wanting justice/revenge, we need to see what we can do to help those innocents victims who were hurt. Not just the ones who were shot, but also their families and friends. They are victims, too. We need to help the family of the young man who did the killing–they, too, are being hurt by this horrible tragedy. It must be horrifying to know that your family member was responsible for the violent deaths of several people.
My heart goes out to the people involved in this tragedy. They all have my utmost sympathy. We are all collectively victims here–not as much as those directly involved, of course. But we all are shocked and saddened by these events. We all have had our personal little cocoons of safety ripped open. We need to figure out a way to regain our courage, go out into the world and go back to business as usual. Even when it doesn’t feel normal. Even when it hurts. We can’t let our fears get the better of us.
I plan on going Christmas shopping this weekend. At a mall. Yep, I’ll be in public. I’ll probably eat at the food court, too. I refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to allow the unknowable (When am I going to die? How will I die? Will I die violently?) to have power over me. We will all die someday. I plan to enjoy my life as much as I can while I still live.
Live, people. Be kind and generous. Forgive. Live and be well.
Some interesting reading:
- Huffington Post: Could You Forgive Someone Who Murdered Your Only Son?
- News Compass Blog: Pope John Paul II: Forgiveness And Compassion For Your Enemies
- Oxford University Press Blog: The Seven Myths Of Mass Murder
- Time Magazine: A Brief History Of The Tylenol Poisonings
- Los Angeles Times: Anthrax Killings: A Troubled Mind
- Slate Magazine: Going Postal Pre-Pistol
- The Butcher’s Bill: Non-Gun Mass Murders
- Washington Post: Getting Real With Mass Murder Stats