Did media messages inspire Virginia Tech shooter?

April 28, 2007|By DEE MAYBERRY

Sadness, anger and a high degree of disbelief overwhelmed us when we heard about the massacre at Virginia Tech. We come to realize that it can happen - is happening - in small communities and large. Especially frightening is the fact that Blacksburg, Va., is not unlike the beautiful little towns in Western Maryland.

In that environment and considering Virginia's ethnic support system, what turns a boy into a brooding crazed campus killer? Where did he get the language, the religious references, the hatred and the well-planned strategies so common among terrorist killers?

Worse comes the awful question: How many others like him are out there?

Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia stomped hard on those who rushed to make the tragedy a gun control issue. He is right. The District of Columbia, with some of the toughest gun laws around, got itself labeled the murder capital of the country.

It appears we cannot legislate protection. Virginia was among the first to inaugurate "insta-check" to screen gun purchasers. The university banned such weapons on campus.


Obviously the state could close a loophole regarding sales to the mentally disturbed and could make a change here and there. Still, is it possible, remembering the bomb blast in Oklahoma City, that real protection can be had?

The answer could be yes if we stop filling the ears of twisted, borderline people with messages of hate. Perhaps we could express disapproval, even anger instead of hate about things we dislike. National generalities come to mind: The war abroad, the sitting president and rappers' ugly words.

As we concentrate on all this with a mix of rage and patriotism, as we look at sick and starving children in Africa, death and a climate of hate appear to have overtaken the nation's psyche.

In a situation like this we wonder what happens to the emotionally unstable as they dine on a steady diet of violence, plus oral and written manipulation.

A psychiatrist turned journalist said the Virginia Tech killer was not schizophrenic. With that disorder, he said, people are poorly organized, unlikely to plan step A, B, and C in a direct, coordinated line.

In the eyes of horrified viewers, the student more closely resembled Middle Eastern suicide bombers whose objectives are clear and well planned.

This is not to suggest that some secret terrorist cell ordered the Virginia disaster. It could be the student with serious problems found his ideas (and his excuses) in the incessant hate-America drumbeat in almost every communication venue.

The student body at Virginia Tech is not awash in cognac as the killer's tapes suggest. Its campus is not lined with Mercedes. No one spat in the Korean student's face, forced garbage into his mouth - or sought to slit has throat. Where did he get these ideas? In them is strong hint of the hate messages bombarding us from other parts of the world - as well as, to some degree, from our own media.

If communication is doing this, we need to stop it. We need the sense of responsibility that once earned a C or D rather than an A or B in schools of journalism. We need to discipline "educators" such as Ward Churchill who tell the impressionable that our nation and the American Dream are rotten and that our people are greedy monsters; and, by implication, worthy of execution-style death.

Like the Hokie Nation, we are the finest, kindest people in the world. But with the slime drooling from the lips of some, it can become hard to believe. Our core problem may be that we are too good, too fair for our own good.

We struggle to balance safety against right to privacy. We tolerate the outrageous in the name of free speech. The result of all this goodness? The world hates us and a twisted, angry student soaks it in, holds close the language of hate, spews it out in tapes and a manifesto, then systematically kills 32 people.

We hope for healing, but people who lose a child don't heal. Pain hits the gut unexpectedly for years. In its absence, what we can do is turn off those television sets, fire those professors who spout Middle Eastern doctrine at us.

We can walk out on any of our own hate-filled harangues. Most of all, we can remember that each and every one of us is entitled to the pursuit of life and of liberty and, most of all, of happiness. To that list we can add safety for our young.

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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