Why are so many
disturbed young men in the United States carrying out massacres?
Just one day before a
crazed young gunman killed nine people in Oregon last week, police arrested
four males who planned to go on a bloody rampage at their high school in
central California. Fortunately those four juveniles are now in custody—but it
doesn't lessen the pain of the families who lost loved ones in the Umpqua
Community College shooting in Oregon.
What is happening?
Why are so many disturbed young men in the United States carrying out
massacres? Consider these four recent cases:
Christopher Harper-Mercer, 26, killed nine people at Umpqua Community College
in Roseburg, Oregon, Oct. 1, 2015, using five handguns
and a rifle. He killed himself after the rampage. An unemployed loner, his
parents were divorced and he lived with his mother. He suffered from mental
disorders, and neighbors said he sometimes paced the floor of his apartment
until 4 a.m. According to posts online, he was fascinated with guns and
frustrated that he didn't have a girlfriend. When he broke into a classroom
last week he asked some students if they were Christians before shooting them
in the head.
Dylann Storm Roof, 21, is an avowed white supremacist who shot and killed nine
people, including a pastor, in Charleston, South Carolina, on June 17, 2015.
He used a .45-caliber Glock pistol. His mother left his father before he was
born, and his father was later accused of abusing his second wife. A high
school dropout, Dylann used drugs, showed signs of obsessive compulsive
disorder and was convinced that African-Americans are taking over the world. In
his online posts he talked of starting a civil war. He will stand trial in July
Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a bloody rampage on the University of
California/Santa Barbara campus on May 23, 2014.
First he stabbed three Chinese men (two of them his roommates), then he shot
three students at a sorority house using three semi-automatic pistols. Then he
killed himself. Coming from a divorced home, he was described by those who knew
him as a loner who had been bullied in school. In a video he posted on YouTube
just before his shooting spree, he said he wanted to punish women who had
rejected him, and to punish sexually active males because they had a more
Adam Lanza, 20, was responsible for storming into the Sandy Hook Elementary
School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012,
and killing 20 first-graders and six adults. He murdered his mother first,
then used her rifle to shoot his victims, and then killed himself. After the
incident, investigators learned that Adam suffered from numerous mental
problems. He loved horror movies and was fascinated by mass killings. Adam had
had a strained relationship with his father since his parents separated in 2002.
A growing number of
young men—even teens—are snapping. What is causing this?
The debate rages
today about gun control—and certainly a case can be made that these men should
never have had access to handguns or rifles. But this dilemma can't be solved
simply by stricter background checks. (Elliot Rodger, for example, stabbed
three of his victims with a knife, one of them 94 times. In other cases, they
used guns owned by family members.)
In the cases I've
described, each young man came from a broken home marked by abuse, rejection or
neglect. Each was tormented by inner demons that caused him to be fascinated
with conspiracies, weapons and violence. And after each massacre, people who
knew these young men said they detected that they were deeply disturbed and
Other factors may
have played a role, including drugs, video games, violent entertainment and
broken relationships. But one clear factor is mental illness and an obvious
lack of support for families that struggle with this problem. A lot of young
men in this country today are battling anxiety, compulsive behaviors and
serious psychological problems, and we can't sit back and wait for politicians
to solve this.
We need spiritual
answers—and the church must step up to the plate to provide more help to people
like Christopher, Dylann, Elliot and Adam before they reach the breaking point.
That's why I'm grateful California Pastor Rick Warren and his wife, Kay (whose
27-year-old son battled depression and committed suicide in 2013), have organized
a conference on mental illness that begins today. The Gathering on Mental
Health and the Church will convene at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest,
California, Oct. 7-9.
"It's time to
break the silence and stigma surrounding mental illness," says Kay Warren.
"Every church, regardless of size or location, can be a place of refuge
and love and compassion for those who need it most."
Saddleback's willingness to apply the gospel to this taboo topic will result in
a wave of healing in this country. For too long we have ignored this
complicated problem—or we've deliberately swept it under the rug. The church
should be the place where families go to find answers to mental illness—and not
after a school massacre but before it happens.
For more information
on the Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, go to mentalhealthandthechurch.com.
J. Lee Grady is
the former editor of
Charisma and the director of The Mordecai
Project. You can follow him on Twitter at leegrady. Check out his ministry at themordecaiproject.org