Sunday, January 09, 2011

"If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast..."

Drudge has a link to this Washington Post article that details a classmate's encounter with the Arizona shooter in a college class. Here are some highlights:
From June 10:
"As for me, Thursday means the end to week two of algebra class. It seems to be going by quickly, but then I do have three weeks to go so we'll see how I feel by then. Class isn't dull as we have a seriously disturbed student in the class, and they are trying to figure out how to get rid of him before he does something bad, but on the other hand, until he does something bad, you can't do anything about him. Needless to say, I sit by the door."

From June 14:
"We have a mentally unstable person in the class that scares the living crap out of me. He is one of those whose picture you see on the news, after he has come into class with an automatic weapon. Everyone interviewed would say, Yeah, he was in my math class and he was really weird. I sit by the door with my purse handy. If you see it on the news one night, know that I got out fast..."

Across the country, there are other Jared Loughners out there--students who are mentally ill, and disturbing classrooms with little to nothing being done--either to help them or the other students. Their behavior is just to be tolerated. The Post article did say that Loughner was thrown out of class after 3 or 4 weeks but he probably just went on to disturb someone else. Welcome to classrooms across America.

A while back, I wrote an article entitled "Violence on Campus: Practical Recommendations for Legal Educators" along with two University of Tennessee Faculty members. In it, we outlined steps for teachers to take to reduce the chances that a student would commit an act of violence. For a while, no law review would take it. Why? The suggestions were apparently not PC enough. The Journal of Legal Education at Georgetown turned it down--stating that we "must be working with John Ashcroft" given the suggestions we made. Our outrageous suggestions? Have a designated person assigned in the school to handle reports of inappropriate behavior. We finally got it placed with a law review but that is not my point.

My point is that as long as schools and society simultaneously place the rights of the mentally ill above other citizens while refusing the mentally ill the help that they may desperately need, we will continue to see mass killings like the one in Arizona. People will seemed dazed and ask "why?" until they forget and another horrible killing takes place. The media will give the whole thing a political spin and indeed, perhaps there is one, but usually only in some idiosyncratic bizarre way that only the killer (or maybe a good therapist) would understand.

And while the media uses the killings for political gain, another Jared is brewing, ignored, feared and filled with fury, rage and homicidal revenge.

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Blogger Chuck Pelto said...

TO: Dr. Helen
RE: A Question

What was Jared DOING that was 'disruptive'?

What's my point? Anyone can call someone being 'disruptive'. One fellow was thrown out of city council chambers for being 'disruptive'. When all he was doing was asking a simple question about the legality of the council's action in a specific matter.

So he get's thrown out.

However, two days later, the city's legal counsel is quoted in the paper as saying the fellow was (1) right about the legality of the action and (2) thrown out improperly.

So, just to put thinks into proper perspective...what....specifically....was Jared doing in the class that was 'disruptive'?


P.S. Not that I'm defending an obvious mass-murderer, but I'd like to know and the article cited doesn't provide that.

7:52 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

I'm of the politically incorrect opinion that students should be mentally stable and physically able enough to handle a given class content. If not they should be removed. In elementary school we had a physically disabled student routinely slip out of his wheelchair and fall asleep on the classroom floor. In college I had to share a dorm with an agitated member of the Jewish Defense League and then later a suite with a girl who had a criminal record, a knife in the wall and a criminal boyfriend staying with her (both problematic students ejected by SUNY Albany, BTW). In my college Geology 101 class we had a mentally touched man who would have a yelling outburst when he felt he wasn't the center of attention, I sat near the door. Schools should be less tolerant and more rigid in their behavior requirements to protect the 99% of the student population who don't want trouble. I'm glad I'm an adult and can make the decision to leave an area when I don't feel safe.

8:00 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger Fr. Gregory Jensen said...

When I was an adjunct psych instructor, I had a student who felt unsafe around one of her classmates a young man with evident mental health issues. After talking the matter over with her parents--one of whom was a police officer in the next town--and then with me, the young woman filed a report with the local police department. The police came to campus, interviewed the young man and laid out for him the acceptable limits within which he was to relate to his classmates.

When the dean heard about this, I was called into her office and asked what I knew about the presence of the police on campus. I told the dean that the student had come to me and presented a compelling case that she was being harassed. I was then asked if I told her to call the police I said that I hadn't but that her parents had recommended that course of action. I was then asked if I discouraged the student from calling law enforcement. Again, I said no--as her instructor I didn't see it as my place to either encourage or discourage her from filing a complaint with the police since I had no first hand knowledge of what did or did not transpire between the students.

The dean reprimanded me for siding with the young woman,not intervening on behalf of the young man and referring the matter to the dean's office.

The young woman finished the class. The young man kept his distance and I was not invited back the following semester.

Ah well, it was worth losing the job the keep my students safe.

8:18 PM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fr. Gregory,

I am not surprised to hear what the dean said. I can give you a dozen examples of people and situations in which the deans at my undergrad alma mater told women being harrassed or stalked "just don't talk to him anymore", and did nothing to help these ladies get intervention.

Over time, it got worse, because the more that students realized that violence wouldn't be stopped, that assaults in dorms would continue, that stalkers would be allowed to stalk, the more students took matters into their own hands. Ironically, it ended up worse for men, too, because as women learned they only help was by going to the Cambridge, MA judges and getting restraining orders, the more they learned they could abuse that system.

As a grad student, I saw the issues from the teacher side. Having caught an individual cheating once, I questioned him, and explained that I was going to go to the Cmte for Academic performance, or whatever was the group that could throw you out of school. The man in question became highly agitated, and disturbing. I felt immediately threatened and unsafe, and could get almost no one to take seriously that I was concerned for my safety as an instructor. When I mentioned it to more experienced teachers, they told me that their experience was 1 in 100 such confrontations went to the freakishly disturbing range. Solution for most instructors? No confrontations, no reports of cheating. Even after I filed the cheating charges, and my concerns, I could never get anyone to tell me ANYTHING about the disposition of the case. It all violated "privacy" laws for me to find out if the student in question had a history of violence on campus, for example.

Universities work very hard to prevent people from knowing the truth--be that students or instructors. They think they are protecting themselves from lawsuits. But of course, they are just making themselves open to Titanic sized ones after lunatics kill people as a result of their inaction.

9:14 PM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what Loughner was doing that was disruptive, but I can tell you what other students have done that are disruptive behaviors in a classroom.

Continually yelling while the lecturer is lecturing. When a lecturer asks them to be quiet, they simply refuse and keep going. Speaking out about things that have nothing to do with the class--as in making strange exclamations, talking about God, screaming out names. Some are not loud enough to bother the lecturer but bother everyone around them with their mutterings and scribblings that reached frenzied levels. Some try to steal things from their classmates--paper, pens. Some are physically filthy, smelling so foul you cannot actually stand to be within 10 feet without wanting to vomit.

There were several times when I spent time in lecture halls noting the possible ways out of the room. Most lecture halls don't have good ways out in case someone is going to come in and start shooting. Escape plans weren't in the initial design specs.

9:19 PM, January 09, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I completely agree.

It is not only schools that are limited when dealing with the mentally ill. When a family member goes off their medication, the family can either wait for the person to sink far enough that the police will forcibly remove them or spend a day at Supreme Court attempting to get a mental hygiene warrant. Many families can only take this merry-go-round so long before the mentally ill person is out on the street- a threat to us all.

NYC tried to deal with this problem in 1987 the result was the Joyce Brown aka Billie Boggs case. A deranged women was removed from the streets and placed in psychiatric care. The ACLU came to her defense, the court refused to order forced medication and eventually ordered her released - right back to the sidewalk threatening pedestrians. The ACLU won the case but the mentally ill and their victims lost big. Every month or so there is another incident- someone punched, stabbed or thrown in front of a train by these individuals. Most times the victims of the mentally ill are family members, but even when the crime is against a stranger the incidents get scant news coverage. With so many prominent victims one would hope this incident would bring the issue front and center, but the media (our social conscience-ha) once again fails society. Without the public outcry usually generated by the media spin machine this issue will continue to be ignored.

This fairly long article in NY Magazine tells the whole sad Billie Boggs tale

10:45 PM, January 09, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

The excerpts paint a scary picture. Sacrificing the health, well being and lives of people to the PC gods has become the norm. Normal, everyday people don't count.

12:09 AM, January 10, 2011  
Blogger Bob Sorensen said...

Sometimes I wonder about the people that I deal with online. I have written some controversial things and have some extremely vile and unrepeatable comments. Even when they are fit to be published, some of these comments make me think, "Do these people even have jobs? Are they productive members of society?" The unreasoning hate and blind rate that I've seen makes me wonder if I have encountered past or future shooters.

7:11 AM, January 10, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

Chuck, I do not know what dude was doing to be disruptive and creepy, but evidently he was doing something that this young lady noticed and accurately understood.


8:54 AM, January 10, 2011  
Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

I wonder whether the crisis of maleness in society will create more tipping points that will provoke more alienated men to commit violence (like the guy who shot Giffords and the one who shot up a gym after being rejected by women for 20 years):

6:54 PM, January 10, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Actually the lady who wrote those emails was in her 50s. I would posit an older person in general has more experience with noting bizarre and dangerous behavior than a young person. While certainly some younger folks have excellent instincts or good training, many adolescents and young adults are so in flux emotionally and mentally themselves that they can't tell what behaviors are 3 or more sigma away from the mean, or when such behaviors signal danger. College life in general promotes such weird subcultures of behavior that it's easy to lose sight of "normal" equaling "healthy".

8:03 PM, January 10, 2011  
Blogger Xiaoding said...

We need to step up to the next level.

Compulsory scanning for people who are exihibiting these kind of behaviors. Who decides? A special court, designed to deal with these issues. People who bring false accusations, will be made to regret it.

Brain scanning can determine who the violent cases are. It is a metric that is reliable and verifiable.

Afte determination of violent tendencies, expusion from civil society, until cured. The notion of a sentence, set in time, for a particular crime, is outdated, and dangerous.

People who think this is extreme, or a violation of some kind of right, should be the first to be scanned. :)

9:39 PM, January 10, 2011  
Blogger Xopher said...

People in general do not want to deal with violence or acknowledge it outside the movie theater.

I learned years ago in suicide prevention training that no one commits these actions out of the blue, there are always warning signs. Most are unaware of these signs. You have to be willing to see them, and then you have to be willing to act on them. We have a culture that has been conditioned not only to forgo standards but to be extra forgiving, and god forbid, don’t make a mistake. Also, we have been taught we should not get involved, it is all for the “Authorities”. Add that to anyone can sue anyone instantly causing thousands in expense and the bureaucratic mindset and no one will take action.

Until people are willing to make a mistake and confront the issue, the situation will remain as is.

6:35 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Simon Kenton said...

Allison at 8:03:

Very true, and well-expressed.

9:14 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger M. Simon said...

I have been giving your husband nudges since at least day two that he should deal more with the mental health issues and less with the insane politics. Glad to see he has changed his focus some.

I have some bits on the subject: Mental Health


I Blame The Drug War

are two of my most recent posts on the subject.

Why do I blame the drug war? He was self medicating with pot and alcohol and when he quit doing that he went rapidly down hill.

9:58 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Jay Manifold said...

Missouri showed the way about four months back. Fortunately, our would-be assassin was much less competent.

10:31 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have been a social worker on one of those state psychiatric hospitals that's supposed to keep people locked up. 30+ years. Some observations.

1. PC isn't the right term. The focus on freedom unless one has demonstrated dangerousness long predates the ideas of political correctness.

2. Violence is notoriously hard to predict. All these cases which seem obvious in retrospect I can match with a hundred who sounded the same and murdered no one. How many false positives do you want to lock up?

3. When you get the bill for locking this many people up, people will get off this bandwagon fast. My hospital is cheap at $900/day. Plus, a lot of the involuntary admissions have jobs. You take them out of the economy as well.

4. Medication can do a lot, but people have to take it. And as the side effects can be nasty, making people take medications in some cases endangers them and shortens their lives. That's a pretty high counter-cost to pay.

5. Just to be aware, society continues to move away from the protective direction. Look up the Olmstead Act, for example. Disabilities Rights organizations in many states are gearing up for lawsuits finding us in violeation of Olmstead by keeping people too long when they could be treated in the community. Our average stay has dropped to 8 days, and we get lawsuits for discharging people too quickly, but that apparently isn't enough to prove we don't hold people too long.

10:43 AM, January 11, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I was also in SUNY Albany. There were several deranged individuals, including one that stalked and attacked myself and my (now current) wife on messageboards, and into other classrooms, threatened us with violence and in the final straw pushed my wife in another classroom.

All because neither of us agreed that everything was the white man's fault.

I mentioned this several times to the women's studies professor (Yes, I took women's studies) and she did nothing. Finally the disruptive student took it too far and I pulled out a printout of the emails and BBS missives and started grilling her in a loud voice in front of the class.

Who do you think was asked to leave for the class duration and not come back? I had straight "A"'s in that class and ended with a "D" because I could no longer attend class.

Guess who asked to leave for an unrelated medical matter for a semester and when tried to come back was told that I had to see anger management first? It had nothing to do with my mental state - but I HAD to see anger management. See where that kind of thinking leads? So now people get to state I have anger issues when I'm the same as anyone else.

It goes both ways. There's too little response to obvious cases and zealous overreaction to someone reacting to being provoked.

Then the politics... oh man.

It's a slippery slope, and we should definetly NOT jump to lock up anyone who shows signs of eratic behavior. Whoever's in control gets to use that.

10:49 AM, January 11, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Jay:

4. Medication can do a lot, but people have to take it. And as the side effects can be nasty, making people take medications in some cases endangers them and shortens their lives. That's a pretty high counter-cost to pay.

Amen. I pay ridiculous amounts each month. It is NOT cheap. And the side effects, Jesus! My body is a disaster. I had a TIA on Christmas day while my family was in Brooklyn. I'm 32.

I can't even begin to tell you how the very system some people are proposing be expanded has completely failed and screwed someone without their having those powers.

Let's go with proper training and less political noise in the field, then we'll talk about expanding treatments.

11:02 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Jay Manifold said...

Incidentally, I am reliably informed that there is frequent similar violence on the community college campus where the assassination attempt on Missouri’s governor occurred, and that it is swept under the rug. The September incident was unique only in that it couldn’t be covered up, due to the (relatively) famous target and media presence at the event.

11:03 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Michael K said...

When I was a medical student many years ago, I spent some months as an intern doing physical exams in a VA mental hospital. This was in the early days of anti-psychotic drugs which really did have serious side effects.

The chief of service was a psychiatry professor at UCLA who was one of the two most impressive men I've met in medicine. He had been treating psychosis for 20 years, well before the appearance of thorazine, the first effective drug. He used a type of behavioral therapy, later described by one of his residents as "Reality Therapy." He understood more of the dynamics of psychosis than anyone I have read or heard since. He was uninterested in neurosis, saying those people had problems but weren't crazy. He was only interested in those who were crazy.

My wife was a school teacher at the time and the LAUSD adopted Reality Therapy as an aid for teachers and the basis of dealing with troubled students. As a sign of what has happened since, the author of Reality Therapy (He still has the book in print 50 years later) was the medical director of the Ventura Home for Wayward Girls, and his interest was in treating sociopaths. Can anyone imagine such an institution now ?

I spent thousands of hours talking to psychotics and was planning to become a psychiatrist until I met other psychiatrists. I became a surgeon instead.

I should add that the hospital, which held about 1,000 patients had one ward for violent patients. The rest were harmless and one who was totally bizarre in speech was allowed to take the bus to class at UCLA where he was getting his masters in math. He had been shell shocked at Anzio and had been hospitalized since, about 13 years.

11:40 AM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

Scott: When I was having problems with my criminal suitemate , her knife and her room-sharing criminal boyfriend who didn't attend SUNY Albany back in 1982 I made the mistake of telling the Resident Assistant, who told me I should make a better effort at getting along with the girl. When I told my father about the situation he called campus security immediately, the security team was in the suite within minutes and they took one look at the knife in the wall and the criminal boyfriend and the dangerous suitemate was gone within minutes. Talking to university employees is a giant waste of time. If you are ever in the situation again talk to campus security and/or the police. Don't expect help from people who don't want to create waves.

12:01 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger SDN said...

"People who think this is extreme, or a violation of some kind of right, should be the first to be scanned."

And this is why I will never allow this to happen to me or my family. You will never be in a position to decide my freedom or anyone else's.

12:04 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

Also, Scott, here is an example of 2 Johns Hopkins college kids that lost their lives in 1996 because the Dean of Students at Hopkins opted to do almost nothing when the 2 students complained repeatedly about a dangerous classmate:

(I posted about this yesterday but either Helen or the autocensor deleted it. It was a long post with a link in it. Either that or I posted it in the wrong spot).

In this case the student, Robert Harwood, bragged about having a gun, people had seen him with the gun prior to the murdering. The gun was registered legally in New York but he couldn't legally carry it in Maryland. So that would have been enough to have his room search and to be arrested, but since the police weren't informed by the university about this dangerous individual they weren't able to take protective action.

The Hopkins dean did take the action she thought necessary. She invited the stalker and the 2 stalkees into her office and told them all to get along. The title of the newspaper article is, "Never Could Have Seen This Coming", and I vehemently disagree.

12:18 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Swen said...

Assistant Village Idiot makes several good points. It's not so much that the rights of the mentally ill are held above other citizens, but rather that patients' rights in general are held in very high regard, probably as they should be.

Consider two key part of patients' rights: The right to refuse treatment even if it is recommended by the physician, and the right to be treated confidentially. Neither if these is a bad thing.

If the physician was always right we would have no need to seek second opinions, refusing treatment until a second opinion can be obtained makes perfect common sense. It also makes it near impossible to force treatment or medication on the mentally ill without getting the courts involved.

It's also hard to argue that confidentially is a bad thing in most circumstances, but it makes it darn hard to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. I'm neither a doctor nor a lawyer, but it's my understanding that you can be batty as Carlsbad Caverns and your doctor can't report you to the authorities unless he judges you to be an immediate threat to yourself or others. As AVI notes, most of the mentally ill are harmless so it's understandable that doctors/psychiatrists play the odds and err on the side of confidentiality.

This is a good opportunity to reconsider the rights of the mentally ill, but we should be cautious of being panicked into "doing something even if it's wrong".

1:03 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger David said...

In my very nice neighborhood - north Capitol Hill, Seattle - two people have been killed by mentally ill people in three years - Shannon Harps was stabbed while going out for groceries and Joe LaMagno was bludgened with a hatchet while walking about - in addition to million-dollar homes the neighborhood has a "community mental health" center. Both of the perps were of the "I don't take my meds" variety, both were well known to the police and were in and out of jail - which of course is unable to do anything about their mental state, and neither, of course, was in a mental hospital where they belonged.

5:31 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Nancy Reyes said...

The point is that if someone is psychotic, they need help.

I wonder if his parents had problems like John Hinkley's parents did, in trying to force him to get help?

Most "violence" is in patients who are on drugs or alcohol, who hit their significant other. This is episodic, and ironically we can get them arrested for DUI or simple possession and forced into rehab.

But a psychotic patient with paranoid delusions? Send them in, they get a shot of Haldol and sent home.

5:50 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger Sigivald said...

Really, Xiaoding?

Which "brain scans" are those that reliably show who is "violent"?

I've never heard of any, and if one exists it's odd that clinical psychiatrists don't seem to use them for diagnoses.

(Note that "A larger percentage of violent lunatics had X feature of their brains" does not mean that "having feature X means you're a violent lunatic", as far as I know, for any X so far observed.

Likewise that would not be defensible under due process for eg. deprivation of any Constitutional right, such as firearms ownership, assembly, and the like.

Pretty dubious for dismissal from a publicly funded school, as well.

The problem is, of course, that there really isn't some objective way of detecting The Bad Crazy that you can just apply to everyone.

Or even to "whoever gets reported by someone" - and note again that since there is no objective, foolproof "scan" you can do, it's very hard to punish "false reports", since they're impossible to objectively determine.

So we're right back where we were, for the most part, except now The Other [sure, it starts with "the obviously crazy guy", but 10:1 it ends up with "the guy whose politics someone doesn't like"] can be punished by being forced to undergo a "scan".

Complete non-starter.)

6:01 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger MeTooThenMail said...

This terrible event reminds me of my first weeks as an intern, just after Laurie Dann entered a school, shot several children, took a family hostage before killing herself.

(My sister knew her when they were growing up and recalls her becoming "strange" in high school.)

The entire community was traumatized, even the doctors, nurses, and mental health workers who helped to counsel those effected.

Over the last 20 years or more, I have treated many dangerous and violent patients, and only infrequently has the individual been schizophrenic.

Having said that, it can be a difficult task to determine the "safety to oneself and others" as well as to convince the court to hold someone against their will ( a so-called "5150" hold)

And yes, in many (or most, perhaps) cases of those with mental illness, (in my personal experience) there were warning signs of instability and propensity to do harm before the violence occurred.

Lastly, to assert, let alone intimate that "political rhetoric" was in any way responsible for the Tucson shootings within minutes or hours after the event is utterly repellant and vile.


9:07 PM, January 11, 2011  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Assistant Village Idiot

Ensuring the mentally ill are forced into treatment does not mean keeping them locked up long term. The College Laughner attended was aware of the problem and sent a note home. Rather than rely on the family to act, a law that allowed the college to force him to be evaluated would be helpful. In NYC once someone goes off their meds the whole process starts from scratch- wait for breakdown to point of incident warranting police involvement or spend day at court. Some system that would certify someone is dangerous off meds and allow for immediate follow-up would be nice. Also forcing these individuals back on their meds immediately would help avoid hospital stays.

The focus on "freedom"- isn't that twisting the word freedom a bit to frame the argument. As in the Billie Boggs case it is usually the family members begging for help while outside interests argue over the mentally ill parties rights. I sympathize with the medication dilemma, but who should make the decision? The current status were the mentally ill get to declare themselves not mentally ill and refuse treatment just sounds - well crazy.

9:40 PM, January 11, 2011  
Blogger JJW said...

I went to a couple of community colleges about 30 years ago in an ultimately successful effort to accrue sufficient transfer credits to obtain a Bachelor's degree. (Admittedly a complete waste of time, energy and money, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.)

Back then, there were a number of people who were attending community college because they couldn't really function and needed something to occupy their time. It also served to provide them with some socialization. And, of course, anybody could matriculate. There were regular stories about students who "lost it" in class and had to be removed by police. And that's to say nothing of the many walking wounded who were able to keep it together but were obviously "not right." In other words, it's a fair guess the odds of running into an unmedicated mental patient at a community college are excellent.

Nobody knows what to do with the mentally ill who will not take prescribed medication. A hundred years ago they used to put them in cages and spray them with water to quiet them down, and then beat them if that didn't work.

And who's mentally ill? Who's truly qualified to pass judgment? Further government involvement guarantees some TSA-like agency will have final say on who is sane and who is not. That smacks of the Soviet Union, where a casual diagnosis of "insanity" was enough to have you sent to the Gulag for the rest of your life.

11:54 AM, January 12, 2011  

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