Is the Parkland shooter a monster?

Many of you won’t like this.

But I think the shooter may have acted like a monster, but deep down he was a deeply troubled individual and the product of a culture that simply wants to dismiss troubled children as “not my problem.” According to current reports, the shooter was a person with autism, suffered from depression, and had just lost his mother. (It’s important to note that those who suffer mental illness are no more likely to be violent than the general population.)

He was also adopted so we don’t know much about his early history. Many kids who are autistic go through life having never been invited to a birthday party and suffer from isolation, a lot of bullying and rejection. Sometimes their odd behavior and lack of social skills ostracizes them from social relationships which has devastating long-term consequences. They are more at risk for causing harm to themselves than others and children with autism are at higher risk of suicide.

We do know that ACEs, adverse childhood experiences, harm children’s developing brains so profoundly that the effects can show up decades later; they cause much of chronic disease, most mental illness, and are at the root of most violence. ACEs include exposure to divorce, physical or sexual abuse, violence in the home, a parent who suffers substance use disorder or mental illness.

Obviously it’s not decades later when he reacted violently. But kids exposed to toxic stress can often display tempers that go from zero to sixty–their strong reactions having been triggered by something in their past experience. They are simply unable to regulate their behavior as a result of constantly being in flight or fight mode at a critical time in their development.

How many schools handle bad behavior is by expelling kids. One school out in Walla Walla, Washington changed their approach to kids exposed to toxic stress in their lives and as a result graduation rates improved and expulsions decreased which is highlighted in the documentary Paper Tigers.

There was one school principal that did a study in her school and what she found out was that 30% of kids would attend for as much as two weeks without so much as anyone saying hello to them. Imagine the toll that takes on a person? Imagine never having a friend?

When you look at the shooter’s past, it just makes me sad. Sad for the parents who lost children in this horrifying disaster. And even their grief is unbearable for me having lost my own son in 2015. There is also sadness for an emotionally needy kid who slipped through the cracks.  There are just no winners here and I just can’t jump on the bandwagon and demonize the shooter. And at the same time, the act is so horrific, there’s no way to excuse it. I have to ask, how can a person with this kind of past waltz into a Walmart and buy a weapon like the AR-15?

Bullying, Autism, depression, grief, expulsions and rejection.

Now that I’ve studied early childhood experiences of all kinds, it is easier for me to understand how it can come to this. While I’m not an expert on early childhood trauma, the impact is unmistakable.

While most want to simplify this as a good guy vs bad guy scenario, it’s far more complicated than that.

The good part in all this is the passion the students have invested in questioning authority and the status quo, pushing for change and people are listening.  I think there will be some kind of change after this shooting although it might not be what we expect. I can only hope that it’s not simply another bandaid but real change in finding and nurturing kids who fall through the cracks. Because nobody is born a monster.

Remembering those we lost to this heartbreaking mass murder.

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AnneMoss Rogers

AnneMoss Rogers is a mental health and suicide education expert, mental health speaker, suicide prevention trainer and consultant. She is author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW. She raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost her younger son, Charles to addiction and suicide on June 5, 2015. She is a motivational speaker who empowers by educating and provides life saving strategies and emotionally healthy coping skills. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now that's the legacy she carries forward in her son's memory. Mental Health Speakers Website.

14 thoughts on “Is the Parkland shooter a monster?”

  1. This is such a great post, Anne Moss. Thank you for being brave and speaking truth into the difficult discussion about Parkland. So sad all the way around.

  2. You raised so many important points in this post, Anne Moss. And I do agree with your view on this tragic story. And the multiple following responses are also very informative and thought-provoking. I appreciate the reminder that very few indeed, statistically 1-3% of these crimes are committed by those with serious mental illness. The leap by many just focus on that as a fix is ill placed in my opinion. I also agree that automatic weapons and those such as bump stocks to convert to such have no place in our civilian World more or less walking into Walmart as a 19 year old. And let’s not forget how the FBI totally fumbled this play. Don’t hear much about that now do we?

    We know this is a very divided topic. People are passionate on their side. But I take real offense at whichever group, organization or nonprofit tries to further their agenda by scaring the public with false statements such as “there have been 18 school shootings since the first of the year.” Actually only seven of those involved shooting at school students or teachers. If you want the specific details here is the link to the article air by ABC News. I prefer to deal in facts and not scare tactics. This is scary enough all on its own. Thanks for everyone’s thoughts.


  3. While we’re on this topic, the issue with background checks and preventing mentally ill people from getting guns is complicated. From https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/politics/mental-health-gun-possession-explainer/index.html
    “Under federal law, a person can be tallied in a database and barred from purchasing or possessing a firearm due to a mental illness under two conditions: if he is involuntarily committed to a mental hospital, or if a court or government body declares him mentally incompetent.The other way to wind up in the database that could cause an individual to fail a background check for mental illness is if a court or government body were to rule that due to his mental health, a person is a danger to himself or others or is unable to manage his own affairs. The issue commonly arises when a court or government agency is appointing a conservator or a guardian for an adult because of mental impairment.”

    The majority of people suffering some form of mental illness haven’t been committed. They may be seeing counselors, psychiatrists or not seeing anyone at all. They may be hiding it like we know is very common. Should the government require counselors and psychiatrists to report all mental illness patients to national database? I think not. That is a slippery slope for reasons beyond gun control. HIPPA doesn’t allow it except for “ … certain circumstances, particularly if the person living with mental illness poses a danger to self or others, then healthcare providers may disclose necessary information.” From https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/15/politics/mental-health-gun-possession-explainer/index.html

    This ends up as always having to find the right balance between privacy and government intrusion.

    1. Honestly I like this approach for firearms. Like anything, it won’t work for every scenario but gives us parents a shot at doing something for our loved one and would also reduce suicides. Let’s face it. All of them are going to be sticky. But I’m OK with limiting someone’s gun rights temporarily even if I end up being wrong, it’s not like you are taking away a car and someone can’t get to work. Free speech has limits, too and it’s an amendment.

      I think we could get this through

      I cite a number of good articles at the bottom of this post

      1. The gun restraining order looks good to me. Handles it at the lowest level. One thing that always strikes me is these mass shooting homicides are way out numbered by gun deaths in general. And among those, suicides by gun are the majority. Mass shootings just make good copy with our news organizations. Imagine if they showed every suicide gun death every day. But most viewers would just see that as oh those poor crazies. Good conversation Ann Moss. And I know you’re not just talking. You are doing. Good for you. Which is good for others.

        1. Suicide deaths by firearm is 55% of violent deaths in Virginia. It’s 50% nationwide. I agree with you David. Murder and mass shootings make better copy. Most think “I can’t stop someone who wants to Kill himself” But that is just not true the majority of the time.

  4. Anne Moss Rogers illuminates the viewpoint required to fully reveal the issues and challenges behind this profound tragedy. The perspective of empathy allows us to accurately identify the causes and develop the effective and humane solutions necessary to prevent our children from being hurt or killed while attending school. Thank you, Anne Moss Rogers, for bringing this critical point to the forefront.

  5. Excellent questions, Mother of an adult recovering opioid addict. You’ve made me think. Thank you for posting. And thanks to you, Anne Moss, for having the courage to write this.

  6. THANK YOU for having the courage to write this post! Amidst all the public outcry and finger pointing since the tragic shooting occurred, it seems no one has been willing to look in the most obvious place of all ~the mirror. It’s easier to demand changes in laws than to ask the most difficult question: “How are WE failing the children?”. Many parents will look at the shooter and feel better about themselves by thinking “Thank God, MY child will never do something like that!”.
    Yet, will they even stop to think about how their child would be impacted if first one parent died, then the remaining parent died? What if their child needed psychiatric help they were unable to afford? What if they were unable to afford the medication their child needed to manage depression and anxiety?
    How many parents would be willing to be invisible so they could follow one of the ‘unpopular’ children from their child’s school for an entire school day to see how they are treated by other students and then to their home to witness their home life?
    How many of the students from the school that now want to march in Washington have ever volunteered in a setting such as a soup kitchen or homeless shelter where they were exposed to other people whose lives have not been easy? How many of those same students snicker and make hurtful comments about other students when they feel ‘safe’ within their own cliques?
    It seems many children today are searching to feel connected, searching to be noticed, searching to feel that someone cares, searching to feel love, searching to not feel all alone. I don’t know the answers, but I do believe it is time to start looking in the mirror!

    1. This is such a great comment and you ask so many important questions here. Questions I am often faced with when evaluating applications for beacon tree (we actually pay for childhood evaluations and treatment for children under 21 in Virginia)

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