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America’s Suicide Terrorists

by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 4/27/07

They are juveniles, mostly good or average students and usually described as “loners”. Often withdrawn and introverted, they usually don’t make friends easily and have difficulty interacting with their peers. They are not going to win personality contests. They are, rather, often the butt of jokes and objects of teasing. They may have been bullied in school.

They are often described as quiet and harmless but they may, in fact, be seething with an inner rage that is cumulative. They may fantasize about revenge against tormentors or even those they merely envy. They may daydream about getting even for real or perceived unfair treatment, rejection, ridicule or disrespect.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

Most cope with these feelings and contain them. They resign themselves to the fact that life is not necessarily fair. They retain confidence in their own value. They content themselves with a few friends who tend to be social rejects like themselves. They get past it all eventually, compensating perhaps by excelling in academics, hobbies or the arts. Some blossom into popular, socially active adults.

For what is, mercifully, a tiny minority, however, the rejection, teasing, bullying and loneliness become more than they can bear. Unless the symptoms are recognized and they get help, and sometimes even in spite of the help, they may feel compelled to act upon their rage and “get even”. The next day, the news media carry the grim details of another school shooting. A nation is in shock. A community grieves and asks “why?” There is a protracted search for answers. Psychologists, educators, politicians and pundits weigh in. The public is absorbed in the story for months. The killer has finally achieved the recognition and fame which had always eluded him and won a place in history.

Cho Seung-Hui was, as of this writing at least, the latest in a string of American suicide killers who have terrorized school campuses. Cho’s place in history seems secure. He murdered a record 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech, the prestigious university that the immigrant from South Korea was privileged to attend. It is a record that we pray will never be broken.

What drove him to the point where he felt compelled to extract such savage revenge on those who had the misfortune to be in his gun range? He left many clues behind in things he wrote and in strange conversations with roommates. We have the ghastly video which he calmly mailed to NBC between killings.

The video was flashed around the world and dominated the network coverage for two days before public outrage at the lack of sensitivity for the emotions of the survivors and victims’ families caused the media to pull it or at least reduce its use. But the killer’s twisted purpose had already been served. Cho wanted his story told and the media reflexively obliged.

The Virginia Tech tragedy was followed by the usual spate of threats and hoaxes targeting other campuses, shutting down classes and adding to the fear and stress, something else no doubt intended by the killer. No one can say how much of that can be attributed to the videos. No one can say for certain what could have been done to prevent this slaughter. No one can say with confidence that we can prevent the next suicide killer out there from acting out his rage. But there are clearly lessons to consider as we try to prevent the next one.     

Most are in agreement that such actions are acts of revenge against treatment, actual or perceived. Often, bullying and teasing is involved. Some teasing in school is inevitable. But surviving prolonged bullying without help should not be considered a rite of passage for boys. It can have a devastating effect and is made worse, not by adult intervention, but by adult inaction. Bullying is a serious problem in elementary and secondary schools. Cho was, according to high school classmates, picked on and teased because of his shyness and manner of speaking. He was anything but shy on that fateful day in Blacksburg.

Cho stalked at least two young women while at Virginia Tech. Talk is one thing but stalking is quite another. Yet police are too often reluctant to take prompt action against stalkers unless a threat has been made or another law broken. Even then, restraining orders tend to be ineffective. Laws against stalking need to be strengthened and second offenses should earn serious, mandatory jail time.

Difficult as it is for them to do so, the media must resist any actions which sensationalize or graphically memorialize the killer. The Cho videos should never have been shown to the public, not primarily because they were insensitive, but because they fulfilled the killer’s wish for notoriety and the attention of a world-wide audience. Make the videos available to the criminologists, psychologists and researchers. Summarize the content for the public, perhaps, but no pictures of the killer in control. Videos like Cho’s are an invitation to copycats. Potential copycats should be made to know that their evil misdeeds, not their pathetic life stories, grievances and motives, are going to be the focus of any news coverage and that the attention they so desperately seek is not going to be achieved posthumously by their attrocities. CRO

copyright 2007 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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