In Colorado, a grad student, untreated in his mental illness, walks into a movie theater and 15 minutes after the movie's start, mows down the cinema goers. Just a week or two later a neo Nazi, untreated in his mental illness, goes to a Sikh temple and kills parishoners about to worship. A 23 year old student in Tucson went to a shopping mall and killed 6 people while wounding many others, including Gabby Gifford a US representative, was sentenced yesterday to life imprisonment. 12 years ago, my oldest son Ron, untreated in his mental illness, swallowed a hunting rifle and ended his own life. Who is to blame? We want to name the responsible party and punish them. We want to close the existing loopholes in our present system. We want to take steps to prevent such things from happening again. Some say allowing people to pack a piece when they go out is the answer "If someone had a firearm in that theater then that maniac could have been stopped!" Others say limit the sale of assault weapons. What legitimate hunter uses those things on wild game anyway? Still others want to blame the psychiatrist who failed to predict his/her patient was on the verge of murder, or blame the parents of the young man who commited suicide asking "why did you, the son's father, fail to see that he would end his life?" No matter how closely the helping professionals and parents watch, untreated mental illness may continue in its disguise. Where do we draw the line between wierd or quirky behavior and imminent danger? When do we intervene and limit personal liberties? The pain of the victims families will never go away. Things will never be normal again. There will be a new normal wrapped in grief and loss.
We will adjust our systems and environment, hoping that we can unearth more predictors of violence. We can shift methods of treatment for those who are mentally ill but still, with some, we will miss the mark. They will go unnoticed and untreated. It is the shadow side of God''s greatest gift, human freedom.