Predicting Violence

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

As we heard on the show yesterday, the suspected gunman in the Virginia Tech shootings showed signs of trouble long before Monday. VT Professor Lucinda Roy told us that she was "very concerned" about Seung-Hui Cho and tried to reach out to the police, and counselors, to try to get help. Back in 2005, we heard this morning, Cho reportedly was accused of stalking two female students at VT. He was also taken to a mental health facility over worries that he was suicidal. All of which makes you wonder, could this have been prevented? Nobody knows for sure what drove Cho to violence on Monday morning, and we will likely never know. But, can violence ever be predicted?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I'm a grandmother of a 9 year old boy who is under treatment for possible bi-polar or schizophrenia. I live in the Columbine High School neighbor and I worry everyday about my grandson being the next shooter.

What, if anything, what can families do to give these kids the best help possible and hopefully advert this future?

Sent by Debby | 2:23 PM | 4-18-2007

Your caller Nancy's suggestion of a psychological screening for admission to university and high school was a bit worrying to hear.

After Columbine, there was a witchhunt at my high school for "troubled" students. My misguided guided counselor wreaked a good amount of havoc on my life for what she later realized were completely unfounded reasons. What if that had somehow later affected my college admissions?

Sent by Zach in Chicago | 2:29 PM | 4-18-2007

Please say something about deinstitutionalization. For more than three decades mental hospitals declined in number at the same time prisons increased. Many of these people are now in prison mostly for non-violent offenses. The care they get there is often privatized and very poor.

Sent by Joe Phillips | 2:30 PM | 4-18-2007

One of your callers, who said he was a manic depressive, did target practice and claimed it gave him a self-confidence boast. Doesn't this person seem dangerous if he needs his confidence boasted by shooting guns?

Sent by Angela | 2:33 PM | 4-18-2007

Cerebral Forecast

If the weather can accurately be reported, then by the latest developm-ents in cognitive science and neuro-anaysis, we should be able to reduce outward acts (writings, social behavior) with inward messages to determine is someone is a zombie capable of horrible carnage. As a social science high school teacher, it is obvious this zombie had no conscience whatsoever.
It is a thorny issue because you can't arrest someone for what they believe, or what they think, or how they behave, but warnings by people like Lucinda Roy must be heeded.

Frank Greco

Sent by Frank Greco | 2:35 PM | 4-18-2007

Isn't it a federal crime to have a gun in a learning institution? I suppose that if kids are buying guns, they are not using a dormitory address? I am assuming, of course, that a postal address to a dormitory would block a would-be gun purchaser from being allowed to buy such weapons. What if it were required moving in to the dorm to register with the post office, might this help offset bringing the guns onto campus? I personally believe handguns should be outlawed, but in the face of such intense support for handguns, perhaps this could be one way to circumvent guns getting into the schools.

Nicole Labry in Austin, TX
(pronounced Luh-bree).

Sent by Nicole Labry | 2:35 PM | 4-18-2007

Statistically, we know that people with severe mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of it. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness ( and others have documented this.

There is so much stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness, that people with severe brain diseases who are doing well are very reluctant to ever share that diagnosis with people they know. When a case like this occurs, the media presents it as if this behavior were typical of people with mental illness. As a culture, we fear mental illness out of ignorance and prejudice. Television, movies and over-reporting of sensational news stories perpetrate the image of violence as if it were a typical part of mental illness. This simply isn't true. The opening of today's program could have just as easily have been: middle class American men...isn't there a way we can predict which ones will turn violent? I expect better out of National Public Radio. The false and underlying assumption of that opening statement is that violence is a part of mental illness. I hate to break this to you, but violence is part of human nature.

Sent by Helen | 2:36 PM | 4-18-2007

I have read that there is an increase in diagnosis of depression and of world population, I wonder how these relation in the highly competitive environment of the classroom.

Sent by Joel | 2:37 PM | 4-18-2007

in light of the events, how are you able to discuss the university being concerned about being sued versus the possibilities/realities of these kind of situations???
i find that attitude just as disturbing as what this young man did.

Sent by barbara jaksa | 2:38 PM | 4-18-2007

Although the caller who suggested alcohol/psychological testing for college admission brings up the important point of alcohol's relationship to violent crime, this kind of testing for admission is not a good idea. One reason is because negative tests would give a false sense of security. More importantly, this tool would prohibit many good and harmless people from attending college. To keep people out of social atmospheres of learning and exploration would likely increase the numbers of people who are so angry at society that they behave violently.

Sent by sarah | 2:42 PM | 4-18-2007

On the subject of screening students: last night in a nursing class dealing with death and dying a teacher who had been so sensitive to all of our issues throughout the semester brought up the fact that many students on psychotropic drugs were allowing many students who would not have previously been able to attend school to function enough to do so. He specifically brought up schizophrenia and bipolar disorder although he was aware that I am bipolar. I found myself offended at the suggestion that should I forget to take my medicine one day I was a danger to campus. I feel the idea of screening students is an extremely sensitive subject and unfair to those of us who make a valiant effort to be a functional member of society, only to now have an extreme stigma applied against us.

Sent by Jessica Nuccio | 2:42 PM | 4-18-2007

We as a country exsist in a culture of violence. Our government uses military strenght as a first option. From behind his desk our president issues orders that result in the deaths of thousands of innocents. We as a country have grown too used to the story of
mass murders on campus. Yet we do nothing to address the pervasive amount of arms in the hands of citizens, and the continuing deadly results. Why does the right of law abiding gun owners take precidence over those whose lives are slain. Children are dying so that we as a country can have the right to shoot a paper target or a deer?

Sent by Dana Colley | 2:45 PM | 4-18-2007

One of your callers that had a teenager who commited suicide mentioned that they watched him like a hawk even taking away his car keys. I don't understand how this child was able to get a gun. Most of the fatal suicide attempts end up in death because kids have easy access to guns. When a child, if I did have access to a gun I'd be dead today considering the inumerous times that I attempted suicide with a kitchen knife. The only weapon my parents ever owned.

Sent by Priscila | 2:45 PM | 4-18-2007

I agree with the writer above who states that the idea of required mental health screenings is a bad and scary idea. As a student of forensic psychology, I know that there just isn't any combination of testing that will accurately predict the risk of anyone committing violent acts against themselves or others. However, there are known protective factors against violence risk, among these is perceived support. A more sensible approach would be to educate young people in the school systems about how to approach a troubled peer, and provide that human element that is support of one another. This might go a long way to helping those who feel alienated and angry.

Sent by Wendi | 2:50 PM | 4-18-2007

We are not just talking about "people." We are talking about male "people" who are fed a diet of violence and pornography from early ages who are then encouraged to be dominant, because our society is male-dominant and says males can be on top and have what they want. Consequently, if they then don't get what they want, well...society betrayed them. When boys are not allowed to be soft, sweet and feeling their frozen tears can turn to bullets and no one, including our most esteemed pshyciatrists and psychologists, seems to understand what is happening. It is not rocket science. It is painfully and obviously clear what is going on here. It is also known that males are more prone to violent acting out when they lack moao, an enzyme found on the X chromosome.

Sent by Leslene della-Madre | 2:51 PM | 4-18-2007

I am a psychotherapist of 15 years and a graduate student of psychology. I feel that when evaluating risk for violent behavior, it is very important to consider the presence of impaired judgement coupled with violent thoughts and lack of social supports. Clients with impaired reality testing are always a concern for therapists as well as clients who use drugs and alcohol (which also significantly impairs judgement and impulse control). Psychosis or mental illness alone is not the greatest risk to the safety of clients and society. Social alienation and substance abuse are the true dangers in our community and are well within our means to change.

Sent by Beth Rhoads | 3:09 PM | 4-18-2007

Perhaps the biggest question is not, "Why did this happen?" but rather "Why do we not expect this to happen when we live in a culture filled with violence?" We feed our children a diet of violence in video games, movies, and music. We also pursue aggressive violence as a political solution. We are seeing the brutality which we accept come back to haunt us. We need to change.

Sent by May | 3:13 PM | 4-18-2007

As it seems, this guy had undergone treatment at some kind of mental institution. Provided the great advancement in technology that we enjoy nowadays, wouldn't it be possible to log into some kind of private file through internet to check this out from the very same gun store where weapons are sold? Just an idea... My deepest sympathies to families and friends of the victims from Madrid, Spain.

Sent by ENRIQUE ARROYO MIR | 3:45 PM | 4-18-2007

We are psychologists, not psychics

"our crystal ball is murky???" from the University of Virginia doctor on today's Talk of the Nation radio program, concerning the ability of professionals to predict behavior.

I am in my third year of doctoral training to become a clinical psychologist. My current practicum site is at a high school struggling not to be left behind, with many children, who in more ways than one, have already been. Different times this school year I have had to make decisions on how dangerous someone is, to themselves or others. Children I tried to get hospitalized were not, and I went home sick with worry. Those students who appear (but deny) being on the edge are perhaps the scariest, and you never know who will do what at any time. My crystal ball is not murky; I do not have one, nor does anyone else. I am pouring my heart and mind into being a psychologist, not a psychic. I have no predictive powers; only prayer, training, judgment, and excellent supervision. At some point, I have to remind myself, it may not be enough. To my chagrin, that is nothing I can help, if I've done all I can as a professional and as a caring human being.

Improvements in our systems and laws are needed, no doubt; but all of the legislation and research and training available, cannot stop or prevent every situation. If anything, I hope from this tragedy that the public will come to appreciate more the importance and fragility of mental health, and make an effort to make the necessary changes to our larger legal and health care systems. They are what is murky.

Valencia Stonewall, Louisville, KY

Sent by Valencia Stonewall | 3:49 PM | 4-18-2007

From the information I have heard and read, Mr. Cho seems to have been very isolated and socially ill-equipped. Whether this was a cause or result of depression or other mental illness, it was avoidable.
As our society (and I realize this is true of more than just the US) becomes more tied to technology than to personal interaction, we are likely to see greater numbers of these incidents. There are too many ways that people can be marginalized and dismissed and more people lack the support of community to sustain them.
It seems to be an unfortunate aspect of human nature to want to label and categorize people, which leads to "us" and "them" thinking. We need to find a way to foster a much more inclusive sense of "us" as a nation and a world.

Sent by Jennifer | 4:08 PM | 4-18-2007

I wonder at the effectiveness of screening people for mental illness when so many people have already been identified and are not being helped. I listened to an NPR show last year that was dedicated to the topic of suicide and there were more than a few stories from relatives of suicide victims stating that they had tried desperately to get help for loved ones. They were told that hospitals could only hold these patients for 3 days before being released due to insurance regulations. One father even lied in order to get his son arrested/confined in order to (unsuccessfully) get his son help. Let's face it we have 46? million people without health care insurance - what good would identifying these people do if we aren't going to treat them?

Sent by Adele | 4:36 PM | 4-18-2007

What about the ONE?
I am concerned that we have forgotten the pain and suffering of Cho Seung-Hui, a young man who was clearly hurting. Yes, the 32 families that are grieving as shocked and horrified. But there is a 33rd family equally in horror that has gone unmentioned. Cho was someone's son also. He was a young man, troubled, yes, but a son, loved and cared for by his parents.

The radical nature of the Gospel calls us to "pray for those who persecute us." Do you remember when the Amish shootings occurred and the Amish families went to the home of the shooter to console his family? Ought we not follow their amazingly grace-filled example and pray for the Cho family? They are hurting as desparately as all of the other families.

Sent by Pastor Renee Ahern, ELCA pastor | 4:44 PM | 4-18-2007

Research shows that a clinician's ability to predict suicidal behavior is no greater that the general public. How would you like to eveluate thousands of people over time and try pick the one that will go for it? If you miss on one side, you violate the person's civil rights, if you miss on the other side somebody dies and you might get some of the blame. If anyone thinks they can do better....step right up. Do not blame the mental health people.

Sent by Joe | 5:21 PM | 4-18-2007

When this incident occurred The school knew by then that this person had a high potential to be dangerous. Thus he was treated (hospitalized) 2 years ago. Why they- the School and the Mental Health System in the community - dropped the ball and did not continue to monitor this person and thus encourage-or if need be force yet another treatment when his condition yet again deteriorated is what I want to know. There are laws that address people who are mentally ill and dangerous. Or-If it was deemed during his mental health eval he had in a locked facility 2 years ago that he did not have an illness that would respond to meds but was a straight psychopath then there should have been a counselor assigned to this case whom he should have beenMnadated to be seeing on a reg basis who could have set some parameters when his condition was deteriorating. If he did not suffer from a mental illness (schizophrenia,bipolar etc) but was a psychopath/personality disorder and/or substance abuser (there IS a difference here folks!) then there are steps that could have been taken before this terrible tragedy occurred. This was not a totally random unpredictable event. He was in the Mental Health System and the school and the law were aware of him as well. Someone(s) somewhere need to answer for it.Sadly- as a mental health professional with over 25 years of inpatient psych experience I have to say that this never should have happened.

Sent by Barbara Perkins | 5:22 PM | 4-18-2007

Thank you Leslene (above) for being the only person on most any blog, letters to editors, "experts" being interviewed, and commentators and anchors more generally to address the gendered components. Not only is this an issue of male violence, but this was a man who *repeatedly* targeted women for his agitation, even hate. He stalked at least 3 women, took pictures of women from under desks, and evidently verbally espoused violence towards women he deemed "promiscuous," long before he sent bomb threats or killed anyone.

On the day of the shootings - whatever his rapport with his first victim and the man who tried to help her - the police and university saw things as an "isolated" incident because they considered it a "domestic" issue. This implies that if a woman is killed by someone she knows, the assumption is that the killer couldn't possibly be a danger to anyone else - as if a man killing a woman he knows is deemed "natural" enough, common enough (and it is) not to be a threat to the community at large. What??

Sent by Pamela Stewart | 5:39 PM | 4-18-2007

The killer was South Korean- was he raised here in the US, in this culture? I do not know, but suspect no one commenting does either. Regardless, most people do not become mass murderers no matter what TV they have seen, nor if they played with toy guns.
I do not think mental health screening is the issue.
College instructors probably do not report large numbers of students to the administration or the police for safety concerns. If Lucinda Roy was concerned enough to alert the school and police, golly they should have listened. You do not need to have some elaborate Orwellian screening plan, maybe just some common sense.
Also, one person with a concealed carry permit could have stopped the massacre- while the school officials and police were deciding weather or not to send out e-mails and "lock-down" the buildings. Thanks, but I would rather not be locked in when the authorities are speculating about where or how many criminals are around campus. What a stupid "plan."

Sent by Daniel | 5:43 PM | 4-18-2007

I wonder if Cho's parents recognized that he had a problem as a child, but did not seek help because of the stigma, especially in Asian culture. Even after the Iris Chang suicide, when depression was brought to the forefront of Asian culture in the U.S., I did not think there would be an substantive change in Asian thinking in this respect. I am especially interested in this aspect as a first-generation Asian immigrant.

Sent by Anita | 6:03 PM | 4-18-2007

Psychological screening for admissions could become a witch-hunt for many students and citizens. Our own son (an army Vet) suffers from bipolar disorder and has functioned well on campus with his prescribed medications. However, he has the total support of his family and friends who do look out for him and encourage him. The lack of such support and the isolation of the Virgina Tech shooter should wake us all up to become better keepers of our neighbor. A bigger problem which I have yet to see addressed is that it is extremely difficult if not impossible for the mentally ill to get any health insurance. If it were not for the Veterans Administration, who provides for our son's care and meds,I do wonder if he would be willing or able to pay for his care on his own (he cannot get any health insurance because of his illness). Could the cost of health care, and therefore the lack of it, be a contributable factor in the behavior of many mentally depressed or ill students?

Sent by Deborah | 6:04 PM | 4-18-2007

I am a mother of two boys ( 11 and 3) and my concern is this- there is plenty of analysis, but no one seems to want to do anything. I have noticed that people as a whole just do not reach out to anyone anymore. I have watched my oldest son- who has been brought up to reach out to people, be pushed aside by nasty, evil minded kids who just have no regard for anything. In todays society it really is hard to teach your kids to reach out to others, be a friend and be kind,understanding and helpful. As for this awful event, my heart is broken for the families touched by this tragic event and my hope for them is that peace comes soon.

Sent by Angie T | 6:05 PM | 4-18-2007

Despite what commentator Joanne Silberner might believe, the details of Columbine and Virginia Tech are exactly the same. In both cases you have angry young men who got that way because they felt dispossessed, excluded, and though it sounds like such a petty word--jealous. They saw popular people and they weren't allowed in, they saw successful people and they couldn't get a break, and they saw so many sexually active couples yet they couldn't get a date. These cases, and so many others even up to and including today's car bombings in Baghdad can eventually be traced back to anger resulting from exclusion.

Why the ongoing obsession with finding out why Cho did it? We already know why, but I suppose it's more comforting to look for the specific trigger that we can all mentally note and try to avoid in the future. What we don't want to do is admit that there are literally millions of Americans who are just like Cho, and the only way we can defuse them short of pre-emptive incarceration or forced medication is to somehow provide them with all the money, status, friendship and sex that they could possibly desire.

Or we could lock up all the weapons that could be used to commit a mass murder.

Randy Eischer, Jr.
Birch Run, Michigan

Sent by Randy Eischer, Jr. | 6:16 PM | 4-18-2007

Ban Guns. This mass murder is an outcome of Gun culture and revenge mentality. For instance in todays world we prosecute people who grow opium, who make drugs, who sell drugs, who possess drugs and to some extent who use drugs. (By the way at one time it was allowed to export opium to China by the British companies). On the other side we let people manufacture guns, sell them and possess them. The difference between the two is that one is often used upon self and the other upon others. The later has led to the mass murder of thirty two innocent lives. In my humble opinion millions and billions that are assocaited with the alcohol, tobacco and gun industry is the prime reason that we hypocrats fail to legislate anything against the gun culture in the name of constitutional right!!!.
Anser Azim, Chicago

Sent by Anser Azim | 6:33 PM | 4-18-2007

Handing out even more guns will not solve the problem. Just yesterday I heard several teachers who were watching live coverage from Virginia in the teachers' lounge laugh at the suggestion that school shootings would come to an end if all teachers were armed. No one would say why it was such a ludicrous suggestion, but I could imagine that the guns would quickly be withdrawn the first time a teacher shoots a student who had just told them to "Go f--- yourself."

Sent by Randy Eischer | 6:51 PM | 4-18-2007

I am appalled that anyone would advocate screening all students for mental health in order to only find those who would be violent. It makes me afraid when others try to paint all depressive and manic people as dangerous. We are neither more or less violent than the general public. Antidepressants do NOT make us violent, though some can worsen manic depression. We are human beings, doing our best to be productive members in a society that neither tolerates nor provides effect treatment of our illnesses. I bleed for the Cho family, as they have struggled for years with their son's problems. Is there an easy answer? No, but better, more thorough treatment, and insuring mental health at least as well as we insure the health of the rest of the body, would certainly help.

Sent by pat | 8:44 PM | 4-18-2007

I want to comment on the discussion line on gun control in the aftermath of the VT massacre. This is very tragic but, to try to remove guns from responsible citizens is totally off base. A person should have the right to defend themselves in the best manner possible. How do you defend against a gang of thugs who break into your home? Use a knife / baseball bat or maybe throw a chair or something? Get real! There are people in society who can't physically defend themselves. Do we let healthy thugs simply run shod over these people? No we don't, we allow a person protection in a manner that will even the playing field --a gun. A gun can stop a mob of attackers where a ball bat or a chair won't, it's just crazy to blame senseless killing on a gun. The gun is just the modus-operandus the person weilding the gun is the real problem.

Sent by Jon Smith | 9:21 PM | 4-18-2007

PARENTS~ My heart went out to the parents who called. Our adopted son always had emotional issues~ uncontrolled violent rage over small things, pathological lying, a bi-polar diagnosis that was overturned by another "expert", various medications that he wouldn't take, suicide attempts where the social worker in the ER decided that he "wasn't a danger to himself or others" --one told me frankly that only if his blood or someone else's was spilled would our son qualify for mandated treatment under insurance policy and state law. To make a long and painful story short, our son was out on the streets and involved with a life of violence and self-sabotage and is now serving 8-12 years. It is terrible, but I sometimes feel he is safer in prison, as I feared his doing unspeakable harm to someone else or himself or both. Our concerns as parents about the severity of his issues with violence were always downplayed or dismissed. As a society, we accept too much as being within the "normal" range for disproportionate rage and violence. My heart goes out to the mother of the little boy who seems to overreact violently to small provocations, and the mother who lost her son to suicide.

Sent by Claire | 9:42 PM | 4-18-2007

If you are going to claim that when you are stuck in a room with someone killing every one around you with a gun, knife or whatever that being armed yourself would not "solve the problem" then you should probably suggest a better solution.
Sane people do not just shoot someone for swearing at them- do teachers typically beat up or stab students who are trouble? People trying to argue against our right to bear arms always claim that it will lead to widespread chaos and shoot outs in the streets. If you actually look at facts, crime in states like Florida has dropped since they adopted shall-issue carry permits. Where are the higher crime rates? Cities like DC- where LAW ABIDING citizens can not get carry permits, or have handguns.
It does not make sense to prevent responsible citizens from carrying guns in the most likely places for mass killings to take place- the workplace, churches, SCHOOLS....

(by the way drugs are not protected by the second amendment, but arms are

I think bombs are BANNED in Europe- but criminals keep using them on trains anyway. Mayne we should think about banning bombs..

If someone is suicidal why would you leave kitchen knives, drugs, ropes, or anything else around- typically females do not use guns even when they are available. Suicide is a tragic end for someone that needs help- I am glad that you made it through Priscila. It is unfortunate the young man who did this killing did not find some hope....

Sent by Daniel | 10:26 PM | 4-18-2007

I feel that addressing alienation is as important as any other issue relating to this tragedy. One thing school shooters seem to have in common is being alienated from their peers. Professionals can address the complex issues of mental illness, but all of us can be on the lookout for ways to extend sincere gestures of friendship to people who are "falling through the cracks." While some people may be very difficult to reach, I believe that efforts to be friendly can oten serve as "preventative medecine".

Sent by Shawn from La Verne, California | 12:32 AM | 4-19-2007

Regarding the comment posted by Daniel at 10:26 PM ET, on banning bombs in Europe to prevent its use in trains: that reasoning is akin to banning airplanes in the US, flying around high rise buildings,...then,... airplanes should also be banned right?.. May be you are in the guns business and make a living out of it, or some kind of special interest on it, who knows, anyway I agree with you in the fact that it's almost impossible to prevent someone from suiciding if he or she is determined to do it. However I think it's easier to screen criminal and mental record of gun store clients, than screening criminal and mental record of people applying to some university campus. In some countries in the world, like Spain, automatic weapons are only available to police or armed forces, that kind of fire arms have got nothing to do with hunting traditions. Permits for hunting here, are highly regulated, you need a special permission of authoritues and police, and renovate it each year. If you have an automatic weapon, you are either a cop or a member of the armed forces. If you are neither of them, then you are not a normal person, but a criminal or a wacko. In the US, it's harder to tell the difference, due to high availability of weapons. I understand this rekindles the debate of restricting personal freedom in order to be safer, and comes along with technical and legal problems like making by law, gun store owners to check with US Police all personal and confidential files to track their clients mental and criminal record. That much cumbersome burocracy wouldn't make their business so smooth, and hurts privacy, but I think it might help. We live in the age of computers, it's just Police keeping a file of all people who have had troubles with Justice or have gone through some mental institution or treatment. If you have peace of mind, and nothing to hide, then you won't mind to be investigated if you want to own a gun. Otherwise you shouldn't own it.
Salutations from Madrid, Spain.

Sent by ENRIQUE ARROYO MIR | 4:37 AM | 4-19-2007

I can approach this topic from two different angles: My family has a multi-generational history of mental illness (I myself have been on medication for depression and anxiety for several years), and I am an American currently living in South Korea.

Just in the course of my lifetime (I'm 28), discourse in the US pertaining to mental illness has increased exponentially. While mental illness still carries a stigma, it is certainly discussed more readily than before. That being said, I still know people who have struggled with the stigma of being mentally ill as much as they have struggled with the illness itself.

I found caller Nancy's suggestion that college and high school applicants be screened for mental illness as part of the application process abhorrent. What Nancy is suggesting is discrimination based upon an illness. Just imagine what the response would be if someone were to suggest screenings for cancer prior to determining acceptance!

Treatment for mental illness (counseling, medication, hospitalization, etc) should be made more widely available, and consultations with mental health practitioners should be encouraged in much the same way that yearly mammograms are encouraged.

Sent by jane | 7:04 AM | 4-19-2007

People will do anything for recognition, including killing others and themselves. A simple preventative measure would be a worldwide moratorium on publishing the names and photographs of mass murderers. I mean publishing in the sense that it publicizes these individuals identities. For people to get fair trials, etc you have to be able to identify them, and they need to be able to identify themselves. But do their names and faces need to be promoted on the front pages of every newspaper? Doesnt that encourage other troubled people to emulate them?

Sent by david smith | 8:42 AM | 4-19-2007

I was glad to see the comments of a previous writer regarding gender and this issue. I have long wondered, in the aftermath of this and all the other past school shootings, why the perpetrators continue to be referred to as students or teenagers, or kids, instead of boys, young men or male teenagers. There cannot be any substantial progress on this issue until this basic factor of the equation is acknowledged and addressed, and the question is raised of why do boys and men feel that killing others is an acceptable solution to their personal frustration.

Sent by Barb M. | 12:06 PM | 4-19-2007

The one circumstance that seems to be common for school shooters is the treatment they recieve at the hands of their schoolmates.

Since Columbine, there seems to be an almost an obsessive focus on the minds of the individuals who commit these acts. Yet there seems to be nearly no focus/understanding of how the socialization that occurs in school effects these shooters.

We obviously can't blame society for the acts of these individuals.

Nevertheless, the culture of competition and degradation that exists in most schools seems to play a very big factor in the behavior of these individuals, as they themselves readily and repeatedly cite in their communications. This, it seems to me, is an area where there should be more focus.

Sent by Ryan T. | 5:45 PM | 4-19-2007

We have to understand that our society grows colder every day. We don't care about our neighbors, the new kid that comes to our school, or the lady that seems rude by rushing by our car in the freeway. We need to be caring and loving to one another, it may sound cheesy, but I think and feel that is the best way to prevent such atrocities as the ones we have witnessed in Columbine, Virginia TEch, or others. We should be able to smile at others, to say "Good morning" and be polite on the streets. You would be surprise how easily this small things can change your mood and the mood of others. Lets be sensitive to others problems, patient with the old lady at the store who doesn't now how to use her new debit card while we wait behind her. CAring about that rude lady in the freeway, who is honking at us to let her through, maybe her son is sick at home or she has had a bad day. It is our responsibility to make this world a better place for everyone not just for ourselves.

Sent by Paz Stutzman | 6:24 PM | 4-19-2007

Please, please, please don't degrade the awful Virginia Tech tragedy into an opportunity to advance failing liberal positions on gun control (or gun safety). The defeat of the Bush-Cheney monarchy and their heirs in the 2008 presidential contest is the paramount political decision facing our nation so far this century. The utter failure of the Iraq war, the restriction of personal liberties, tax cuts for the rich, shrinking of the middle class, etc, etc moved the huge body of centrist independent voters from the right to the left, handing the democrats victory in Nov '06. These victories however weren't good enough to warrant a return to knee-jerk liberalism. The democrats hold on the majority is due to the failure of the right, not an alternative. Your reporting that resurrects the traditional liberal plank of gun-control with the specter of the NRA as public enemy No. 1 will help move this vital center back to the right, thereby helping lose the real war in '08. Democrats and left-leaning media like NPR need to re-examine their long-term strategy if they are to prove they are something other than the party most capable of losing the most important elections.

Sent by Joe from New Hampshire | 10:45 PM | 4-19-2007

Laws allow mental staff who spend little time with patients to lock them up without trial by jury. This results in safe people being imprisoned while dangerous people are released. How much did mental staff learn about Cho? He wrote, "You wanna rape us?" People deny memories of sexual abuse, assuming they are delusions, even when they can't know this. People stay in denial because facing abuse feels crazy. Unfortunately, denial fosters an environment that allows abuse to recur.

Almost all the signs of common mental disorders are the same as signs of sexual abuse. Mental staff often oppose patients and control them so they won't feel so much. Unfortunately, this is also what abuse does. This can push patients into disconnecting totally from feelings. Cho laughed as he shot students, showing he had disconnected. Healing abuse survivors means encouraging them to reconnect with feelings. People who undergo abuse recovery rarely become abusers. Are mental staff trained in abuse recovery so they can prevent these problems?

Sent by Irene C. | 12:49 AM | 4-20-2007

EVERYONE IS MISSING THE POINT HERE. The question is, how did a person who had a documented history of being mentally ill and a danger to others ever get a gun? The store owner from whom he purchased it said he passed the background check without any problems. There are lots of people in our society who are mentally unstable and it really doesn't concern me too much, SO LONG AS THE DON'T HAVE A GUN. My other question is what's the NRA's take on this? Will they block any legislation to do background checks that are more thorough to stop this kind of person from getting a gun?

Sent by Chris Bailey | 11:14 AM | 4-20-2007

Gun control and proper mental treatment are both critical issues here. Here is an article by a psychiatrist who explains how locking people up and medicating them leads to violence.

The Real "Mental Health Lessons" from Virginia Tech

"Involuntary psychiatric treatment... tends to make people more angry, not less."

"mental health professionals, who as a group have no particular capacity to make such determinations, will decide that the patient is no longer a danger to himself or others."

'Note the reference to "irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity" in the label or package insert for antidepressants. That's a formula for violence.'

"The violence unleashed on the Virginia Tech campus should not lead to calls for more mental health screening, more mental health interventions, or more drugs. Instead, the violent rampage should confirm that psychiatric interventions don't prevent violence and instead they can cause it."

Sent by Irene C | 4:38 PM | 4-21-2007

I am horrified by this discussion. What you are describing is the nature of free will itself. Your experts are attempting to make "objective" definitions for normalcy and than suggesting that those cast outside of this definition be removed of their rights to free choice to "protect the greater public". This goes by stimatizing to make systemic the classification of the Other that already creates such a large (and yes, depressing) rift in our society.

Sent by Shaun Winter | 1:14 PM | 4-22-2007

I agree. Psychiatry objectifies people with generalized diagnoses that don't address specific issues in people's lives, such as abuse. Is it Constitutional for one doctor to decide whether a person should be locked up or released? Trial by jury would have brought out more information: abuse issues in Cho's writings, anecdotes of his isolated life, and records of stalking. A thorough due process would invovle experts in abuse, who could get Cho into appropriate counseling. "The right of trial by jury shall be preserved" for cases of common law, according to Amendment VII of the U.S. Constitution. Does locking a person up (or not) as a "danger to self or others" qualify as a case of common law because it adjudicates a conflict between individual rights and concern for others in a person's unique situation?

If not, mental hospitals still detain people based on spare notes; a doctor noted that Cho's "affect is flat." Is that a probable cause for seizure, as Amendent IV requires? Are psychiatrists' decisions reasonable when they do not involve experts on abuse, given that many symptoms of mental disorder are the same as signs of abuse? Does the Constitution even provide for what mental hospitals do -- putting people on trial for issues other than crime? Mental hospitals foster a pervasive threat that represses the emotions that people need to heal from grief. In contrast, abuse counselors encourage people to feel and heal.

Sent by Irene C | 9:13 PM | 4-23-2007

I very well could be wrong, but I do not believe this country incarcerates people or sends them to a psychiatric hospital based on violent crime probability. Mental health professionals can only treat those whose parents/guardians care enough about them to bring them to treatment. But when you have uninvolved parents often times that means there is no one taking them to their necessary appointments. Moreover, when an individual becomes a legal adult, they have the freedom to choose. Those who have serious mental illnesses as adults and choose to seek the proper treatment can lead productive lives. A certain percentage of those who do not have the means or the wherewithal to seek psychiatric help can turn into ticking time-bombs. It's only when such individuals commit serious crimes can the legal system then enforce imprisonment and/or psychiatric treatment. Until then, it's free will. Society cannot completely predict violent crime and to a large degree it cannot completely prevent it.

Sent by M. Listiak, MN | 11:01 PM | 4-23-2007

In response to the comments made by M. Listiak, you are misinformed. After reading Prof. Michael Perlin's Mental Disability Law Cases and Materials, I know a little about mental health law.

First, mental health professionals can treat anyone not just those whose parents/guardians care enough to bring them to treatment. Even adults can go on their own without parents.

Secondly, as an adult you do not have the right to choose. Mental health professionals and in many cases law enforcement officiers, or a primary care physician can petition a judge to have a person undergo involuntary examination/treatment while imprisoned in a mental insitution often for months or ten, twenty or thirty years at a time under court order. No jury, no trial just a very short hearing if that much. The person may not be permitted to attend, be read their constitutional rights or even have adequate legal representation.

Third, it is not only when "such individuals commit serious crimes" that they can be locked up indefinitely in mental institutions. The only requirements in most states is having been diagnosed with a mental illness and having a doctor or other mental health professional testify that he predicts that at some unspecified time you could possibly pose a danger experts do not have the ability to accurately predict dangerousness according to the American Psychiatric Association and experts such as Henry Steadman. No history of violence and no scientific evidence is required, just the "opinion" of an expert whose expertise doesn't meet even the minimal scientific standards for accuracy. No criminal proceedings/convictions are required in any state in America to have a person involuntarily committed. Even if you are not violent and are not dangerous, but may not be able to care for yourself, such as not having proper eating habits or personal hygene or stable housing, you may be categorized as gravely disabled and be locked up.

Your beliefs are very common misconceptions shared by most people including attorneys. No wonder so many people are unrealistically fearful of people who have a mental health history. In studies involving violence and mental illness, virtually all persons labelled mentally ill who have committed violent acts are both male and their mental illness is primarily substance abuse related. They are intoxicated/using drugs when they are violent. Please use caution when making statements about mental illness and the law. There is a reason it takes three years to finish law school and four years for medical school-lots to learn!

For more information, please visit Psychrights at They've done their homework and lots of it. Compassion and support go a long way in preventing violence and healing emotional wounds. Love and respect for others is what we need more of not violating the constitutional rights of others. God Bless.

Sent by Mary Ellen | 7:18 PM | 4-24-2007

For the answer to your question, please contact Dr. Henry (Hank)Steadman in Delmar, NY. He is one of the world's leading experts in the prediction of violence.

Sent by Mary Ellen | 7:21 PM | 4-24-2007