No Easy Answers

Isla Vista shooting, Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times
Part of a memorial at the I.V. Deli in Isla Vista, scene of part of the shooting rampage Friday night.

Like just about everyone else yesterday I watched the morning news out of Santa Barbara - another mass shooting by a "crazy lone gunman." A whack job got a gun and did the unthinkable. Again.

Then websites published his "manifesto." So I read it. Well, I skimmed it. Every page. Finally, one of these lunatics has left behind something that might explain why. If nothing else, he's provided an opportunity to try to understand how this happened, and maybe how prevent it from happening again.

What he left behind should be used to try to find a way to help other people who have dealt or are dealing with the same problems. It shouldn't be quickly dismissed as the ramblings of a psycho. It actually doesn't ramble at all - it's coherent and written fairly well.

This morning I'm seeing lots of headlines about his misogyny, that it was all about his hatred of women. That was part of it, and it eventually turned into a lot of that, but it goes deeper than that. This is my interpretation of what I skimmed.

He seemed to have had a fairly normal childhood for a kid from an educated, successful family. Then seemingly out of nowhere his parents divorce and his family foundation crumbles. His father quickly remarries and his new wife becomes the priority when at his father's house.

When he gets to middle school, as is often the case, shit goes sideways and his shyness, which was likely social anxiety disorder, undermines his ability to fit in and make friends. He's teased and bullied and finds escape in video games.

(Just the other day I read an article about the pain caused by being ignored - it's as severe as physical pain and may leave even longer lasting emotional damage. Whether you're ignored by your parents, family members or your classmates, over time, it can cause severe damage.)

At one point he started acting out at school to get some attention - any attention - even if it was only negative attention. Then he became known as the weird kid and was further ostracized. It sounds like he had no involvement with any sort of organized/team sports or clubs or any hobbies or interests outside of video games, occasional skateboarding and wishing for a social life.

His escape into video games is no substitute for social interaction. It also can't help when your parents keep moving and uprooting your life. Eventually his cherished room at his dad's house is given to his baby stepbrother and he's moved to another room on the bottom floor of the house.

When he hits puberty, it gets a hundred times worse. Without close friends or a solid support system, he gets more and more isolated in loneliness and the hopelessness of ever fitting in and being like everybody else - i.e. finding a girlfriend like all his other friends (and everyone else on the planet) seemed to be doing with ease.

It's hard to know how involved his parents were (or weren't) in his life. It sounds like he was pretty close to his mom and there were family trips, but he doesn't ever talk about day-to-day or weekly family routines with them, or things they always did together.

I got the sense that his father was largely absent and he was left alone to do his thing. He's allowed to quit activities when they get hard, and switch schools when he's bullied or creates his own problems he doesn't want to face. He was emotionally immature, in a big way.

He seemed devoid of any true self-esteem and self-worth, not realizing you have to build those things for yourself. They can't be bought or given to you, and it takes time to figure out who you really are and how you fit into this world. There was nothing of substance in there, in his core.

He never mentions ever being required to earn anything he ever had, whether the skateboards, designer clothes, games, computers or the BMW he used in his rampage.

He kept steadily losing touch with reality, blaming the world for his problems and thinking material things would make the cool kids accept him. Then there's the racism - whoa - where did he learn that? And the delusion, believing he's better than all the other guys, god-like, (even though he'd never done anything to earn that belief) and that he would win the lottery and with wealth all his problems would be solved. As he spirals further down, the one friend he's had since childhood cuts him off and then he's truly alone.

I don't think this kid was just mentally ill - although in the end he was completely mentally ill. He felt totally alone in the world and didn't know how to build his own person. The sense of entitlement he felt is common today. Lots of kids are growing up believing the world owes them something because they always got a trophy just for showing up.

Parents want to give their kids better lives, but in some cases, that seems to be backfiring. If a kid grows up without a whole lotta structure, or the "structure" is being shuttled back & forth between houses and the houses keep changing, and then he's not not expected to contribute in some way (daily/weekly chores), and then given almost whatever he asks for and doesn't have to earn it in any way, of course he isn't going to learn the satisfaction of doing anything on his own or for himself.

And leaving a kid to his own devices most of the time isn't providing freedom for him to find his way. Especially an emotionally stunted kid who has significant trouble integrating into his world. Not every kid is going to figure it out on his own and might benefit from being in some sort of consistent, ongoing structured activity where you're sort-of forced to interact and bond from "being in it together."

Of course this is just all my opinion and we all know about those. It's all so sad. The kids in Santa Barbara who died and the tragic downward spiral of someone who is just one of how many more struggling with the same problems. We know he wasn't the first and won't be the last.

A comprehensive psych evaluation as a requirement for buying a gun might have been helpful - if written in a way to expose the ideologies he'd developed over the years. His own parents tried to warn the police when the videos were posted a month before the killings, but the cops thought he seemed OK and they didn't check to see if he'd recently purchased any guns.

If his parents were so worried, why didn't they go get him and bring him home? Why didn't they dig deeper to try to find out what was really going on? Who else but his parents could have stepped in to try to help? Whose responsibility is it to get involved and try to help? Would it have even mattered by that point? Would it have been enough? Or would he have stayed on that path anyway?

How do we reach these kids when they're still kids and show them how to build their own lives and find the support they need to be healthy?