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School Shooting: Meaningful Action on Mental Health?



It's been a lousy day on the news front. When your day includes a school shooting like the one in Newtown, Conn., where a 20-year-old Adam Lanza enters a school and heartlessly guns down 26 adults and children—to say nothing of the other(s) he may have killed at other locations, it becomes a day weighed down by sadness.---

According to a story on the Daily Beast, Lanza had allegedly killed his mom, Nancy, at home before unleashing his rampage at the school.

The same story noted that some who knew Adam said he displayed a form of personality disorder that may have been Asperger's syndrome. Ironically, on Dec. 3 of this year, Asperger's diagnosis was dropped from the American Psychiatric Association's manual, in favor of a more general catch-all: autism spectrum disorder.

Asperger's came up in another recent and hauntingly similar story, and one that occurred a little closer to home. In late November of this year, 25-year-old Christopher Krumm drove himself from his home in Vernon, Conn., (a town that's little more than a hour's drive from Newtown, where Adam Lanza is from) to Casper, Wyo.

After checking into a hotel, Krumm arose early on Dec. 1 and paid a visit to the home of his 56-year-old father, James Krumm, and his father's girlfriend, 42-year-old Heidi Arnold, both professors at Casper College. Using knives, Christopher killed Heidi Arnold outside her home and left her on the street. He then drove to the college to his father's classroom where he was teaching an early morning computer-science class. He shot his dad in the head at close range using a high-powered bow and arrow.

Astoundingly, the father was able to get up from the floor after being shot in the head and grapple with his son, which gave students in the classroom time to scurry out the door to safety.

The son then killed himself and his father with knives he had brought into the classroom.

Motives are always hard to come by. By all accounts, Christopher Krumm was brilliant, bordering on genius. He'd earned a master's in electrical engineering and had moved to Connecticut for work. There, he reportedly lived alone and had no friends. His mother had died, and he became estranged from his father.

According to news accounts, a Connecticut neighbor said that in recent weeks, Christopher told him he believed his father (James) had given him Asperger's syndrome and said his dad should be "castrated" to prevent him from having more children.

So, what the hell is this new madness bedeviling young men? And why is it becoming an epidemic? (Or is it? In an Aug. 6, 2012 article, James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, argues there's been no increase in mass shootings or body counts over the past several decades.)

Are these shooters in a state similar to an elephant's "musth"? Or is their illness caused by junk food? Vaccinations? Movies and video games? Parents who've lost connection? It's a guessing game of blame.

It's easy to point to guns and to call for more reasonable control. I'm sure Gabby Gifford, former Arizona U.S. representative, wishes the Walmart employee who sold schizophrenic Jared Loughner ammunition for his attack that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Gifford, at a Tucson Safeway on Jan. 8, 2011, could have observed Loughner's odd behavior and denied him the bullets. If he'd been drunk and attempting to buy booze, he would have been turned away.

We consider drunken drivers more of a threat than a mentally ill young man buying ammunition for a Glock 9mm pistol. And in the grand scheme of things, more deaths are caused by drunken driving than by crazed gunmen on a shooting spree.

Regardless what controls are put in place, someone hellbent on murder can swipe a gun or simply take one from the family's gun cabinet. And the lack of gun did not keep Christopher Krumm from using medieval weapons.

The real problem is murderous intent.

Today, President Obama shed his tears and promised meaningful action. I hope he means diagnosing and treating mental illness, because that's what's killing people. Parents, teachers, guidance counselors and ministers know well in advance when a young person displays sociopathic tendencies. But stating concern, insisting our youth get treatment and not letting them drift off uncared for into society is the real action that's needed.