An adolescent human being acquires an instrument with one sole purpose, killing other human beings. At some point either before or after that, he formed the intent in his mind to actually do that very thing - and to target children in a setting where they should be as safe as anywhere they could be. In this case, he made this intention known ahead of time, publicly, via social media - so it seems we can assume that his plan did not include avoiding detection in order to make success (whatever horrible definition of success was in his mind) more likely. The act itself is as utterly inexplicable as it is horrific, and while I firmly believe that while there are no evil people, there are evil acts. This was evil, if there is anything that can be so called.
The response to it is maybe even more confounding, if predictable. There are those who say the answer is to increase the number of firearms by arming teachers, or putting more armed guards (police, private security, it hardly matters) on campus - even the idea of putting "man-traps" in schools, literally booby-trapping schools. And we used to think it was a problem that kids pulled fire alarms....
I have a pretty strongly-held opinion about whether more guns would equal less violence, but I don't even want to go into that now. I want to think about the shooter, and what it means that a human being made such a tragic choice. Not to forgive or excuse - there is no forgiving or excusing an act like this - but to recognize just how and why I am sure this is not the last time.
There's a lot of attention being placed on this kid's (and he was a kid, I don't care if he was 18 or 23 or 12) recent social media posts - "we're looking at his recent history" is what they are saying–the proposition being that the clues to what caused him to carry out this act and the signals that could have been detected to stop him could be found in the days and hours immediately before that moment.
There's also a ton of speculation about his mental health, again basically at the time that he made the terrible choices he made. Was he mentally ill (whatever definition of that you want to work with)? Did he have some kind of episode that caused him to "snap?"
What no one seems to be asking is what social world he was in, or felt himself to be in. How does someone become so detached from his own humanity that he is unable to recognize that same humanity in the victims of his actions? What had caused this person to view those kids, those teachers, even his own grandmother (whom he shot as his first act in this chain, also pre-communicated on Facebook), as so fundamentally separate in substance from himself, and he from them, that he could not only conceive but actually carry out such an act?
Since he is dead, shot in the classroom he had barricaded himself in, it's not likely possible to know the answers, but I can't help but think they are not to be found in the minutes, hours, days, or even weeks immediately leading up to that moment. Forget about his last post - look at his friends list. Look at their posts. Look at who's NOT on that list. Somewhere in there, this person became so utterly and thoroughly "other" that he did not see or feel the value of those 21 lives, or his own. That doesn't happen all at once. It's not because he was part of some group, or listened to some particular message, or had some particular illness or defect. He was detached. Disconnected. Ignored, or overlooked in general. He got separated somehow, and nobody noticed, or managed to bring him back in. And now 19 kids, two teachers, and he himself are dead, and everyone around all of them are traumatized and scarred forever. For nothing.
Like I said, if anything is evil, this is.
Somewhere along the way, this kid was recoverable. Now none of them are. It took 18 years to create the evil that would only need minutes to destroy so much. When we decide to let go of anyone, to let them drift off into otherness, when we cast off and discard a person, a group, a class of people, we create exactly the conditions needed for evil to grow and fester. I don't think I've ever used the word "evil" this many times in one post. But this is what it is. When all connections are severed, and all value is discarded, that is all that can result.