Michael Tabman

I am a Killer ~ You Will Tell My Story

In Crime and Security on December 16, 2012 at 7:54 am

I remember the call, “Boss, it’s bad.” Only weeks after assuming the position of Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Minneapolis Office, I was called to the worst school shooting since Columbine at that time – a massacre at Red Lake High School.  Sixteen year-old student named Jeff Weise killed nine people and then himself when confronted by the police. That was not the last time such a scenario would unfold before a disbelieving nation. We experienced murders at Virginia TechNorthern Illinois University, and other schools. The mass murder at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, dubbed the Batman Murders shocked us again. And just when we thought it could not get any worse, along comes 20 year-old Adam Lanza who killed 27 at an elementary school. There are sad similarities with each of these tragedies: There were no words to explain how it could happen. There were no words to provide comfort to grieving families and a community in deep despair and there were no words to assure us that it could not happen again.

After the Red Lake High School murders, we learned a lot about the perpetrator, as we often do. Weise left behind writings and drawings that showed he was a talented, insightful, yet very angry young man. He was angry with many things that happened in his life. For a 16 year-old, he had experienced loss and pain that would cause anybody inner turmoil and pent-up anger. We have learned that the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui had a troubled life, having suffered from mental disabilities. Lanza’s life will now be closely scrutinized. I have already found the words “flat affect” used to describe both Lanza and Cho.

The similarity that concerns me is that the story these murderers could not tell – the story of their struggles, whether real or imagined, is now being told for them, at the expense of many innocent lives. Many factors may have to exist to push someone who is teetering on the edge, to commit mass murder. But, is the opportunity to finally have his story told, to get the recognition that has eluded him, just enough motivation to take the leap?

Media coverage of a person’s life is, even though unintended, lionization of that person.

How many of us will have our life stories told? I discussed this with a news anchor, off air, prior to an interview about the Connecticut massacre. We questioned whether it was realistic to expect the media not to cover the life of the killer. I believe it is not. Media provides what the viewing world craves. We criticize the media for this coverage, while at the same time make smashing financial successes of books and movies that tell the same story. There is a reason “Son of Sam” laws – prohibiting murderers from profiting by selling their stories – were enacted. The stories of victims and heroes are often related as well. Yet, we know, it is the life and times of the mass murderer that gets our attention.

Will we shun coverage of a murderer’s life in hope of depriving at least one person the temptation to kill? Just as in our debate of gun control, we must look deep inside ourselves and decide what we are willing to give up for the common good.

We must dig very deep. This violent trend is growing.

  1. It’s a fine balance, is it sensationalising the event? Will a similar individual “copy” based on the details provided? We need to understand what makes these individuals so calculating and cold. Many people have been victims of bad upbringings, bullying or isolation during growing up, but not everyone makes others into victims as retribution. How do we stop this? How do we protect the innocent victims from this kind of attack?

    • You ask all the right questions. We must learn to recognize the warning signs and how to intervene. We must improve our mental health services. We must learn to be more civil and compassionate to one another. And, we must implement logical gun control to keep these highly efficient killing machines out of dangerous hands. No solution is perfect, but if we address this problem from many angles, we may be able to save lives. Thanks for your input and support, Michael

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