And? What exactly were police supposed to do with that information? You can’t lock someone up just because the person is hearing voices. Or as one Newport police officer told The Washington Post, “People make a complaint like that to us all the time.” A sergeant called military police at the local naval station and faxed them the report, but it’s not clear whether anyone there followed up.
“No one connects the dots. People live and work in silos,” said Carolyn Wolf, senior partner at the Abrams Fensterman law firm in New York and director of its mental-health law practice. She specializes in getting people the care they need and in setting up systems to recognize mental-health issues that could lead to workplace or campus violence.
When one of these mass shootings happens in America — yet again — the people who knew the shooter often nod their heads. “Nobody’s surprised when they find out who it was,” Wolf said.
But the tragedy, of course, is that those dots are connected after a blood bath. Our challenge is to find a way to make those connections before that quiet rage and anguish become a lethal burst of gunfire.
It won’t be easy. Not everyone who hears voices is dangerous.
Spend some time at a downtown park. You’ll see the man in pressed Bermuda shorts and a fine Panama hat talking to himself and his skim latte. You’ll see the woman with the shopping cart screaming obscenities into the night air. You’ll see the woman who smiled at me and then spit in my face.
Do all of these people pose a threat? Probably not. But we have no mechanisms to know.
Years ago, our babysitter occasionally had her son pick her up. He was adorable — he played with the kids, got down on the floor and crawled around with my baby. Then, one night, he attacked someone with a knife at a 7-Eleven. In my silo, I never saw his dark side. Neither did his mother. But at the 7-Eleven and his former workplace, they knew.
He was bipolar and had a hard time getting his medication. We tried to help the sitter navigate the health-care system to get her son help; it was a nightmare.
The people who knew Seung Hui Cho at Virginia Tech; Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson; James Holmes in Aurora, Colo; or Adam Lanza in Newtown, Conn., all saw pieces of mental-health problems. Teachers saw scary essays. Families saw erratic behavior. All of those bits and pieces of dysfunction raised little red flags, not one big epiphany.
Wolf believes that the key to connecting these dots is building oversight teams that can discern the big picture.
“It’s a mechanism like we do with terrorism: ‘If you see something, say something,’ ” she said.