Suicidal psychopaths in our midst

There is a lot of outrage over the suicide attackers (gunmen or bombers) who target innocents in the Middle East. The straight-forward reaction is that there is no justification and no reason to understand why someone would commit such a desperate act. There is worry that such tactics will be exported to other countries where they are allegedly not so frequent (as has happened with the World Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks). I claim however there are many more suicide attackers in our midst (the so-called "civilised" world) who pretty much do the same thing and have inflicted significant damage already.

Consider this:

In Tucson, Arizona, on October 29, 2002, Robert S. Flores Jr, 41, a Gulf War Veteran, killed three people at the University of Arizona (including two of his professors) before killing himself.

In Queens, New York, on October 20, 2002, Jarrett Jordan, 23, shot three people, including his former girlfriend Diane Hicks' mother Dorothy, critically injuring two, and then barricaded himself into the house of his estranged girlfriend with two people, including his 4-month-old son, for several hours before killing himself.

In Vantaa, Finland, on October 12, 2002, Petri Gerdt, 19, a loner set off a bomb that killed seven people, including himself, in a crowded shopping mall.

In Whidbey Island, Washington, on June 20, 2002, Preston Dean "Hugh" Douglas, 27, shot and killed Marjorie Monnett and her daughter, Holly Swartz and then turned his shotgun on himself. Bruce Monnett and Sierra Klug were also shot.

In Cattle Rock, Washington, on June 14, 2002, Arnold Aguilar, 29, shot Jessica "Zuniga" Venegas in the head during an argument, then turned the gun on himself Thursday at a rest stop on Interstate 5.

In Erfurt, Germany, on April 26, 2002, Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, a recently expelled student from Gutenberg Secondary School entered his former school here and methodically killed 17 people, going room to room with a rifle and a handgun, before turning a gun on himself. This was Germany's worst mass murder since World War II. Steinhauser was from a typical middle-class family, and did not attract great attention to himself.

And lest we forget:

In Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, Eric Harris, 17, and Dylan Klebold, 18, wearing long black trenchcoats, killed twelve students at Columbine High School and then shot themselves just after the SWAT team entered the school. The gunmen were heard by witnesses proclaiming, "This is what we always wanted to do," "This is awesome" and "Today's the day we die."

This is just a sample of the events occurring in this country and across the world in the last few years. These people come from all walks of life. Many more events have occurred, and many other similar attempts were defused without much publicity. And I'm not even counting ones where the attackers wanted to survive (like the sniper attackers in DC), nor ones where the killer doesn't have a direct hand in the killing (like someone sending his/her followers to die).

While it may not be intuitively obvious, understanding why these people committed these murders, and then killed themselves, may help us better understand the mentality of the September 11, 2001 attackers as well as the Palestinian and Pakistani suicide bombers. Even though these large-scale attackers appear to focus their destructive energies towards a particular cause, the concept of taking other people's lives for no reason along with their own is not very new for humanity, and in fact, appears to happen fairly routinely on smaller scales. What separates someone who kills themselves, and takes others along with them, appears to be related to some innate psychopathic tendencies, fueled by society's encouragement that violence is an acceptable solution, more than the power of a particular cause the perpetrators have adopted to justify their actions.

There are enough common themes in all these cases, and a reasoned approach is called for, instead of one based on anger or a desire to seek vengeance, to minimise or prevent these sorts incidents from happening in our futures.

Pseudointellectual ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||