Monday, March 30, 2009

"Stewart's ex-wife said he had been reaching out recently to family members.."

A man killed 8 people in a nursing home in Carthage, North Carolina Sunday morning, and police have no motive as of yet. What struck me was the information provided by his ex-wife:

While authorities declined to comment on a possible motive, Stewart's ex-wife said he had been reaching out recently to family members, telling them he had cancer and was preparing for a long trip and to "go away." Sue Griffin said she was married to Stewart for 15 years, and while they hadn't spoken since divorcing in 2001, he had been trying to call her during the past week through her son, mother, sister and grandmother.

"He did have some violent tendencies from time to time," Griffin said. "I wouldn't put it past him. I hate to say it, but it is true."

Prior to many of these brutal attacks, the perpetrator often tries to reach out to others. Most of the time, no one listens or responds, perhaps with good reason. People want to believe that these attacks "just happen"--and there is nothing anyone can do.

In my experience, this is not true. Anger is sometimes depression and frustration turned outward. If the underlying emotions can be addressed, sometimes tragedy can be averted. I have witnessed this first hand over my career and it is unfortunate that so many people--particularly men--have few places to turn. People are afraid of violent tendencies, especially in men and many fall through the cracks. I am not defending what this man did, for there is no excuse here. But understanding the causes of this type of violence and treating a person prior to a rampage is imperative in stopping it.



Blogger Misanthrope said...

My professor for Death and Afterlife when I was going to college in Kansas remarked that it was his observation that homicide and suicide are two sides of the same coin.

He recounted several times that he had counseled students having trouble, often in the early morning.

8:22 AM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Mike said...

Knowing that others think you're only human and that your sins are forgivable can mean a lot to people in that situation. One of the problems we have as a society, and I have found that sadly, this applies to even many churches, is that we don't accept people who come forward looking for help on violent tendencies or aberrant sexual fetishes. There is no appreciation for the fact that the person knows that they have a problem, agree with society that it is wrong, and want help.

There really is no incentive today for people to seek help if they can manage their problems and hide them. Of course, that makes people think that society is a lot nicer and healthier than it really is, but in many ways, it's increasingly obvious that we have a very mentally and spiritually sick society.

8:26 AM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Roci said...

...I have witnessed this first hand over my career...

While I understand your intend, this is not technically possible. Until a person actually resorts to violence, he is just talking. Talking him out of doing something he wasn't provably going to do is not the accomplishment you claim. Even talking a person down after a violent act is not proof, since he may already have spent his full desire for violence. The talk is not the provable cause of that effect.

The proof required to support your claim would be restraint in the act with no room for ambiguity of intentions.

9:42 AM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Cham said...

People with violent urges might be depressed, they might be angry and they might be treatable. The challenge is that it can be hazardous to ones' health to get involved with these violent types, unlike people whose depression manifests itself in different forms like despondency, alcoholism, drug dependency or other types of addictions.

Your basic health care clinics aren't set up for people who can become violent at a moment's notice, and might be carrying loaded guns or knives. In order to help the depressed and violent, local health care systems may have to set up specialized care centers. And if they do that, would those who are prone to violence use them?

I guess we have to do a cost-benefit analysis. Specialized health care centers would be very expensive. It might be easier to simply shake our collective heads and say that it's just a big shame that Johnny went off the deep end and killed 10,15 or 35 people, there is nothing we can do about it. Automatic weapons don't kill people, people kill people. Okay, maybe not everybody will do that.

9:59 AM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


Point taken. However, it is important to take some threats seriously--and to treat them as if they are serious. The key word you use is "probably." Yes, the stats are low that a person will go on a murderous rampage like this. But it is a possibility and helping someone turn their life from one of rage and helplessness to one of hope and satisfaction is, IMHO, a huge accomplishment. Diss it if you want, but I hope that there are some students out there who want to go into forensic psych or other fields that treat those who are potentially violent, for they are very much needed, though the rewards are small and the compensation typically poor.

10:43 AM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Trudy W Schuett said...

Another thing that I've noted in these cases is that often the guy who goes out and shoots a group of people is or recently has been on prescribed psychogenic drugs such as antidepressants, antianxiety meds, etc.

There's a lot of room for inquiry there, I think.

11:55 AM, March 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not so much the article itself, but some of the comments above that made a certain book spring to mind: Man Against Himself by Karl Menninger. I read it years ago, and the Thanatos impulse (I don't recall if that was the specific term Menninger used to describe the instinct for death) was analyzed in many ways to show how some people wish to die, but not be killed, or to die but not be alone when it happens.

Anyway, it's pretty interesting, and sad, to see how self-destruction and the death impulse can carry over to involve numerous innocent people.

I am also reminded of Tom Selleck's comments to Rosie O'Donnell during their infamous spat. Selleck said many men have been killing themselves for decades, but for some inexplicable reason, now they are taking scores of others with them.

I wonder who is doing serious research to understand this phenomenon.

12:00 PM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Roci said...

Diss it if you want...

No disrespect intended. Nor do I argue against the ability of trained and experienced counselors making a difference in someone's life yeilidng benefits for everyone around them.

Perhaps I was being overly pedantic, so I will stop now.

As for taking all threats seriously, we should examine that as a separate topic. It can be easily argued that "taking every threat seriously" can lead to institutional behaviors that are easily exploited to the point to causing more harm than good.

1:36 PM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Helen said...


"It can be easily argued that "taking every threat seriously" can..."

Agreed. One does not want to take every threat seriously but good training and an objective eye will help to distinguish those threats that might be serious and those that are not. Sometimes, it is hard to tell and I certainly admit that psychologists and others are often wrong as violence is hard to predict.

Kevin M.,

"I wonder who is doing serious research to understand this phenomenon."

J. Reid Meloy does research and writes on the topic. His book, "Violence Risk and Threat Assessment" is good.

4:38 PM, March 30, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Malcolm Gladwell made reference (I think in Outliers) to a number of studies showing that psychologists are LESS able than "ordinary people" to predict behavior.

I also independently heard that before I saw it in his book.

I think talk about "good training and an objective eye" could possibly be considered a bit silly in that light. But ...

1) Psychologists never want to address that issue or the issue of EFFECTIVENESS of their various actions and treatments.

2) With some psychologists (certainly not all), there is also an overwhelming ego that not only blocks out inquiry as in 1), but also makes their actions nearly laughable.

6:54 PM, March 30, 2009  
Blogger Laura(southernxyl) said...

Helen, have you read de Becker's The Gift of Fear? What do you think of it?

I don't have my copy any longer, but these lines from a review are descriptive: "People don't just 'snap' and become violent, says de Becker, whose clients include federal government agencies, celebrities, police departments, and shelters for battered women. 'There is a process as observable, and often as predictable, as water coming to a boil.' Learning to predict violence is the cornerstone to preventing it."

8:11 PM, March 30, 2009  
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