December 16th, 2012

A few more thoughts on Newtown and the Pied Piper Impulse

At Sandy Hook Elementary, did actions such as those of Mary Ann Jacob prevent even more deaths from occurring?

Within seconds, a school secretary warned [library clerk] Jacob there was a killing machine in their midst. Then she heard the sounds of bullets flying.

“I don’t remember how many,” said Jacob, who has worked at the K-4 school for five years. “It was bang! Bang! Bang!”

Jacob coolly followed school protocol, blocking the library entrance with a file cabinet before steering the youngsters into the supply closet.

The kids, following her directions, walked inside in short order. They remained in the closet for about an hour, even as an eerie postshooting silence descended on the building before police arrived.

Many teachers and aides at Sandy Hook Elementary did something similar, and all the children thus protected seem to have lived. Their hour or more in these secret hiding places, terrorized yet trying to keep the children calm and above all quiet, must have been traumatic almost beyond description.

And it’s interesting and valuable to know that the school already had a protocol in place to deal with such attacks (although, unfortunately, it did not include having an armed guard at the entrance, which at least might have helped in this instance).

However, here’s my question, and it’s not meant to take away from the courage of the particular teachers: did their actions in fact save any lives? The reasons I wonder is that nothing I’ve read has indicated that the shooter went from room to room trying and failing to find these particular victims after he’d shot the others. It does appear that, after he went to the two kindergartens and methodically shot every single person there, he entered a first grade classroom where teacher Victoria Soto had already told her charges to hide in cupboards and closets and lied to him to protect them, telling him that the children were at the gym instead. Then he shot her, and she lost her own life.

And then at some point after that he took his own life.

But none of the other teachers seem to be reporting that he entered their classrooms while they were hiding and failed to get them. That’s not to say it didn’t happen; preliminary reports are often garbled, incomplete, or incorrect.

Why am I pursuing this question anyway? Why care? What difference does it make? My answer is: perhaps none. But I’m interested in what makes people tick; always have been. And that includes the problem of evil.

I’ve noticed a curious fact about these types of shootings: at some point the shooter[s] sometimes just stops killing others and kills himself, even though there are probably more victims to be had for the taking. Is it because he’s down to his last bit of ammunition? Or does he sense police on the way and want to avoid arrest at all costs? Or is it that for some of these shooters there’s a certain amount of killing rage that has been satisfied for the moment?

You may recall that the latter phenomenon occurred at Columbine, although initially (and if the shooters’ plans had gone as they’d hoped) the intent was to explode propane bombs in the cafeteria that would have killed over 400 students. The bombs failed to explode, and although Harris and Klebold seemed to have had a tremendous amount of homicidal energy at the beginning, at some point it began to dissipate:

After leaving the cafeteria, the duo returned to the main north and south hallways of the school, shooting aimlessly. Harris and Klebold then walked through the south hallway into the main office before returning to the north hallway. On several occasions, the pair looked through the windows of classroom doors, making eye contact with students concealed inside, but neither Harris nor Klebold attempted to enter any of the rooms. After leaving the main office, Harris and Klebold walked towards a bathroom entrance, where they taunted students who had hidden inside, making such comments as: “We know you’re in there” and “Let’s kill anyone we find in here.” Again neither attempted to enter the bathroom. At 11:55 a.m., the two returned to the cafeteria where they briefly entered the school kitchen, only to return back up the staircase and into the south hallway at 11:58 a.m.

Not long after, they killed themselves, apparently in unison.

These acts are unequivocally evil. But it almost seems as though after a while they got tired of doing so much evil. You might say it lost its charm for them; perhaps its accomplishment wasn’t quite as they’d imagined or hoped, and their destructive rage was taken over by ennui. Pity they didn’t find that out beforehand.

As for the question of, “why did the Newtown shooter choose very young children as his targets?”, my answer would be that in many such cases it’s in order to maximize the evil and the resultant horror and revulsion. Harris’s and Klebold’s choice of victims is more easy to understand although no less evil: the perps were teenagers who attended the school they attacked, and knew many of the students and teachers there. Their targets were for the most part their own peers, although they seem to have spared their friends. Lanza chose small children rather than teens, and did not seem to have known his victims or had any connection with the school (initial reports that his mother worked there appear to have been incorrect). So, why?

As time goes on and more information is revealed, I may change my mind about this, but until then my leading theory is what I’ve come to think of as the Pied Piper Impulse. I briefly referred to it here, but I’ll add that if a person is filled with inchoate rage at almost everything and everyone in the town around him, what better way to exact revenge then to kill the town’s youngest, sweetest, cutest, most beloved, and most vulnerable residents—its kindergarten children? And what better way to impress on the world what a cold-blooded and to-be-feared killer he is/(was)?

Child-killers, even serial child-killers, usually operate from very different motives than a mass killer such as Lanza. They are often pedophilic kidnapper-rapists who then murder their victims. Other single or multiple child-killers are harshly punitive parents and/or parents gone mad. But mass murderers of children often have a political agenda which we define as terrorist (for example, the Beslan horror, in which terrorists caused the death of over 300 people, many of them children of similar age as the victims in Newtown; and the shootings in Norway in which Breivik killed 77 people, most of them teenagers). Terrorists seem to operate under the Pied Piper Impulse of “get them where it hurts” in order to maximize both their leverage and the fear and grief their acts engender.

My guess is that Lanza chose his targets for similar reasons. Evil is like that.

[NOTE: I just read that Connecticut's governor reported that Lanza committed suicide "as first responders closed in." If true, that appears to conform with my question in the above post, "Or does he sense police on the way and want to avoid arrest at all costs?"]

33 Responses to “A few more thoughts on Newtown and the Pied Piper Impulse”

  1. SSG Christopher Whitaker Says:

    One of the mistakes I see people make is that they keep looking for a Why they will never find. You made reference to the fact that this individual was simply Evil. People and pundits often look for a more profound reason than that, but sometimes a person is simply so bad, so evil, that is the only reason they need to commit their heinous acts.

  2. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “Some men just want to see the world burn”…if that’s not rebellion against creation itself, then I don’t know what is…

    Targeting kindergarteners is definitely ‘getting back at the world’ and he must have been filled with the inchoate rage you aptly label it as.

    Personally, I don’t think one can gain insight into the nature of evil without considering its spiritual component. Evil is in rebellion against God, in rebellion against the very concept of sacredness.

    His rage at his mother and the world is ultimately rage at God who he no doubt viewed as ‘unjustly punishing him’ with his life. I strongly suspect that he viewed himself as the ultimate victim. Happy children would greatly aggravate his unhappiness, the old misery loves company syndrome.

    Arguably, the Judeo/Christian tradition is essentially a set of ‘instructions’ on how to attain ‘life everlasting’ determined by how we live and if so, then perhaps there’s some insight into the nature of evil may be gained by reflecting that ‘live’ spelled backwards, yields the word evil.

    Inconsequential coincidence? I think not.

  3. Occam's Beard Says:

    Curiously, we don’t have any liberals bleating that we should “Coexist.”

  4. T Says:

    Just two observations schools. One of the reason that schools are targeted is because they are easy pickings. Most people know that schools are gun-free zones. They perpetrators seek out those who can’t defend themselves.

    Second, the fa

  5. T Says:

    Second, the fact is that the media aggrandizes these events by giving them prurient wall-to-wall coverage. If there were no publicity associated with such killings, there would be less incentive to seek out and murder helpless human beings. Over at Instapundit they are referring to it as “death porn,” which, in my opinion is very close to the truth.

    Matt Lewis has an essay out today on the despicable news coverage of Newtown:

    http://theweek.com/bullpen/column/237905/the-media-should-be-ashamed-of-its-connecticut-coverage

    and over at Volokh Conspiracy there is an entry noting mass murders which were held in check by citizens with firearms:

    http://www.volokh.com/

  6. Gary Says:

    Regarding the question of why these people stop killing:

    1) As you say, they might commit suicide if they sense the police closing in. But it’s probably not just to avoid arrest. A lot of nasty things can happen before they’re disarmed and cuffed. For example, they might take non-lethal bullet(s) to the arm, leg and/or torso. Or maybe after they’re disarmed, the cops beat crap out of them for “resisting arrest.” I think they don’t want to risk any of this happening so they do themselves away before the police can get too close.

    2) These guys inhabit a mental universe of “inchoate rage” and revenge fantasies. But reality can be a bit more jarring than fantasy. I suspect it takes a very special type to commit and see the blood-and-guts carnage up close and not have some kind of gag reflex. These are seriously f-ed up people, but probably not in the brutally-hardened manner of serial killers, who’re so warped that they actually enjoy the carnage. My guess is that after murdering several people, a kind of shock sets in that at least begins to counteract their rage.

  7. KLSmith Says:

    Why kindergarteners? It’s probably impossible for sane rational people to ever know what makes a monster tick. Obviously, they were small and defenseless. Maybe he associated his own problems with when he began school.

  8. thomass Says:

    Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “His rage at his mother and the world is ultimately rage at God who he no doubt viewed as ‘unjustly punishing him’ with his life. I strongly suspect that he viewed himself as the ultimate victim.”

    Agreed. Their failure to be leads to despair. If you have not read him you might be interested in reading this summary Kierkegaard. Specifically the 2.5 section on despair. Luckily most people in it tend to just take it out on themselves….

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_S%C3%B8ren_Kierkegaard#Despair

    I’ve found it useful for understanding the alienated… which includes a lot of leftists.. and most people with weird cultish ‘dance in a circle together’ politics.

  9. parker Says:

    “And it’s interesting and valuable to know that the school already had a protocol in place to deal with such attacks (although, unfortunately, it did not include having an armed guard at the entrance, which at least might have helped in this instance).”

    neo,

    The elementary school where I work has a procedure to respond to an armed berserker. This is the standard in every school in the country, public or private, as far as I am aware, and has been since Columbine. Lock down in place is practiced 4 times a year at my school. I happen to be one of two staff members who are charged with the responsibility to make sure all restrooms are empty, all classroom doors are locked, and all lights, including hallway lights are off. We take this seriously.

    As far as armed guards are concerned, it expensive and may be ineffective unless there are several guards present. After all, if there is but one armed guard all the psycho has to do is take him/her out first. There is no easy and inexpensive solution to this dilemma except one. I favor requiring schools to designate 3 or 4 willing staff members to undergo range training and serve as armed guards in addition to their other duties. (BTW, everyone who works in a school under goes a thorough, not always effective, background check.)

  10. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    I’m back after decorating the tree and dinner with my parents, truly special people.

    Here’s a relevant fact I did not know till today;

    ” Examining all the multiple-victim public shootings in the United States from 1977 to 1999 shows that on average, states that adopt right-to-carry laws experience[d] a 60% drop in the rates at which the attacks occur, and a 78% drop in the rates at which people are killed or injured from such attacks.

    To the extent such attacks still occurred in right-to-carry states, they overwhelmingly take place in so-called “gun-free zones.”

    The above is from a cogent argument; Letting Teachers Pack Guns Will Make America’s Schools Safer

  11. vanderleun Says:

    One can run and one can hide but, over and over again, it must be noted that the only thing that can stop a man with a gun is another man with a gun.

  12. rickl Says:

    Or a woman with a gun.

    The Colt revolver was called “the equalizer” for a reason.

  13. thomass Says:

    Just in; Obama decides to use speech to politicize the tragedy.

    http://news.msn.com/us/obama-at-newtown-vigil-us-will-have-to-change

  14. rickl Says:

    Here is yet another good post by Karl Denninger:

    Solutions For CT: There Are Some

    I like his suggestions for hardening doors and windows. I’m a gun owner, but a couple of years ago I had some doors and windows replaced with an eye towards enhancing security and preventing break-ins. I spent a lot more money on the doors and windows than I did on the guns and ammo.

  15. Jimbo Says:

    I live in Florida (a concealed-carry state) and I was informed by my teenagers that each school in our district is patrolled by an armed officer wearing a protective vest. Most communities can afford this measure and many do so. In Israel, teachers and school bus drivers are armed and many civilians are members of the reserves and keep firearms. Despite being an inviting target for many of the world’s most evil terrorist groups, Israel is safer than many US communities. There have been a couple of shootings in churches where armed congregants have stopped the attackers. It is well known in the South that no mass murderer will target a baptist church as he is sure to be riddled with bullets from the congregation, including many armed “church ladies” such as my wife.

  16. Mr. Frank Says:

    A rural district in Texas will allow teachers to carry.

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,404721,00.html

  17. Soviet of Washington Says:

    Neo, you might take a look at this article written back in September after the Aurora shootings by UPenn Sociologist Randall Collins for an interesting discussion. Get beyond the early pro-forma anti-gun boilerplate and down maybe 5 paragraphs into the behavioral discussion.

    Note: I stumbled upon this from a comment thread on the Clackamas Mall shooting in Portland. There was a local TV report on a self-professed CHL holder in the mall close to the initial shooting (despite being a gun-free zone) and his claim that the gunman killed himself shortly after he pulled his weapon. Maybe some additional credence to Professor Collins’ theory.

  18. Jim Kearney Says:

    Two things. WHO is dearest to God? WHO is dearest to US? WHO are the purest, most innocent? Those are the ones Satan would destroy, to strike out at God. At us. And this evil imbued boy…..WHO was dearest to his mother? perhaps more than himself in his eyes? Did the little ones get too much of his mother’s attention? Then he would be the engine that Satan will use because they were very much in resonance in their rage. At God. At us.

  19. expat Says:

    I am pretty ignorant about firearms, but I have a question about another possibility. Had someone used pepper spray on this guy, might that not have given people time to rush and disarm him? Are their alternatives that people who aren’t great shots should keep in mind if they are ever confronted by a gunman?

  20. T Says:

    expat,

    I’m no gun expert, but I do shoot for sport. The problem with items like pepper spray is being close enough to a shooter to utilize it (the old “bring a knife to a gunfight” scenario).

    I have read, however, that one of the most persuasive defenses against discharging a firearm is a laser sight on a gun pointed directly at the assailant. There are articles which note that seeing that little red dot appear on a perpetrators own chest really makes the assailant think twice about firing. Now, would that have had any effect on a Lanza or a Klebold? That I couldn’t answer.

  21. T Says:

    Expat,

    One other thing abour handguns. It’s not possessing the handgun that is important, it’s one’s willingness to use it and use it effectively. A life or death situation is no time to consider whether to pull the trigger or not; the time to do that is well before one is ever in that situation. If one has decided that, for any reason, one is not willing to fire on another human being, then better not to carry firearms at all—you only provide your assailant with another weapon to use against you.
    Clearly such decisions require profound thought and preparation, both of which only come with familiarity and training.

  22. OBSIDIAN Says:

    This piece of crap just wanted to kill and injure as many as possible while spreading the pain to everyone who heard or saw about it.
    Once that aim had been achieved he was through, a coward who killed himself to deny any justice or vengeance being brought down on him.
    There is no difference between this and a suicide bombing and it is pure and simple a terrorist act.
    The weapons used wasn’t a semtex belt or a VIED but if firearms wasn’t available I’m sure he would have used those instead.
    The killer was just an ass whole who wanted everyone to feel pain.
    Now millions of people will feel that pain as they are castigated and stripped of their rights. Perhaps more will die if the current plan includes a gun ban because No, not every gun owner is going to give up peacefully and yes I would imagine it will come to IEDs being used much as they were in Iraq and Afghanistan if not in hopes of keeping or bringing back those rights then just because vengeance is what’s this whole gun ban talk is all about. Not for the killer but revenge on American’s who simply own firearms. In their views, veterans, Police and gun owners are to blame, not Hollywood for their ultra violent movies, not criminals and certainly not terrorist.
    If the gov. get enough folks mad all at one time and this country can turn into a Libya so fast your head will be spinning six months later.
    But, ya’ll do what ever ya’ll feel like ya got to do, you can be assured the anti- everything and the government will! “Even if they have to kill 25 million American’s to achieve that goal.” >William (Bill the weatherman) Ayers<

  23. armchair pessimist Says:

    One reason why less violence comes out of the Right is that we’re more detached from the entertainment culture. They don’t like us, we don’t like them, although we feed them. But so many of these shooters dress according to their favorite Hollywood fantasy before they go forth to kill.

    To my knowledge the first person to make an explicit connection between the culture and violence was Cervantes. The chivalry books were the Batman movies & video games of his time. The figure Don Quixote has been romanticized in modern times (“Dream the Impossible Dream”), but the book is clear that he was a nut and a public nuisance. There’s likely a meaty blog essay about the rise of the cult of the lone anti-hero and to what extent it provided the petri dish for the shooter- bacillus.

  24. expat Says:

    Thanks T,

    I thought I read that the principal and another staff member ran at him to try to disarm him. I assumed that they had gotten pretty close, but I really don’t know.

    Last year in Paris, someone tried to get my wallet from my pocketbook. I wacked him on the head a couple of times with the wire shopping basket I was carrying. Boy, did that ever feel good. At least I know I’m not a total wimp, but that was a far cry from facing an armed maniac.

  25. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    It’s time to take down those “gun-free zone” signs around schools. To those who believe such signs are appropriate, I guess they represent some sort of wishful thinking about schools as safe places that — by now — everyone ought surely to recognize is futile and false. To a logical, not-insane assailant, such signs advertise that the school is full of defenseless targets. But worse, it seems possible to me that — in the angry, disturbed and chaotic mind of a person capable of an act like last week’s — the signs may serve, on an illogical gut level, simply to ASSOCIATE the concepts of guns and schools and thus give birth to the idea of using a school as the scene of a mass killing in the first place.

    Although we know little about how such people think, I imagine we can agree that they don’t think like the rest of us. We should stop assuming that those signs work as the dreaming do-gooders who hung them intended, and instead consider the possibility that they may trigger a person like Adam Lanza to think, “Oh yeah? I’ll show YOU just how gun-free that zone is.”

  26. T Says:

    Expat,

    Your incident with the thief speaks to the basis of all of this. To Hell with analyzing the “root causes” that causes one to be a thief. The fact of the matter is that thieves and gunmen look to prey on those who are incapable of defending themselves (that’s why such mass shootings often take place at schools—no guns for defense).

    In a snarky Tweet I read today, some liberal-type asked why doesn’t someone shoot up NRA headquarters (instead of a school)? While the Tweeter’s intention was to wish pain and destruction on the NRA, the response is quite simple, obvious and totally unfathomed by the Tweeter. People don’t shoot up NRA headquarters because NRA types carry guns and they-will-shoot-back. The illogic of his/her own anti-gun position is contained in his/her very own Tweet.

  27. neo-neocon Says:

    Mrs Whatsit: gun-free zones are like target signs, if someone is determined to kill.

  28. T Says:

    Mrs. Whatsit (@1:27),

    “the signs may serve, on an illogical gut level, simply to ASSOCIATE the concepts of guns and schools and thus give birth to the idea of using a school as the scene of a mass killing in the first place.”

    That’s an interesting and profound observation. I’d bet no one hanging such signs ever ever thought of them as advertising that their population was defenseless. Let’s carry that idea one step further; if you want to discourage someone from your property you might advertise “Beware of Dog” (i.e., a mean dog which bites lives here).
    What, exactly, is one advertising with a sign announcing you’ll find no guns here? It’s like walking down a dark alley in a dangerous part of town with $100 bills hanging out of your pocket and then being shocked that you get mugged.

  29. Molly NH Says:

    Someone asked about pepper spray. I have a metal pepper spray “gun” that I bought from amazon (neos portal here). It shoots a strong spray ( like a water pistol) that has enuf velocity
    so that it dosen t get distrubed by wind, it shoots about 15 feet. The pepper spray is a cartridge & they give you a water filled one to practice with.
    It has an LED light that shines where you are aiming it, if you need to use it in the dark.
    You can see lots of effects of pepper spray on YouTube, on animals, on volunteers. One guy who took a face pepper spray managed to get out a few words that ” it wasn t having any effect ” then he went bananas screaming about his eyes.
    He said he was still un comfortable an hour later.
    There is a high velocity pepper spray that is used as bear repellant & its effective. There is youtube video that actually shows the pepper spray gun that I bought.

  30. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    Neo, I agree, but I think that’s assuming a level of logic that we do not know is present in the mind of an Adam Lanza. As I noted above, I’m afraid the signs may be even worse than that and go beyond advertising the presence of targets to a rational thinker. It seems possible to me that when read by somebody with an irrational mass-killer’s mind, the signs may actually generate an association between guns and schools that was not there before and give birth to the idea of carrying out a mass killing. I’m not positing anything so rational as thoughts like “will I get caught? will somebody shoot back at me?” but instead something more jumbled and chaotic that simply places guns and schools together in a deranged and violent mind, when they were not so joined before. I see we are both thinking along the same lines in any case and may move my comment above to that thread.

  31. Mrs Whatsit Says:

    T: it certainly does seem that signs stating, “This school is patrolled by armed guards” would be more to the point.

  32. Ymarsakar Says:

    In order to accomplish a life and death mission, one must value one’s own life. The person who keen on dying at the end of the mission, will usually not have the correct judgment to choose when the best time is to use up his life for the cause.

    In this sense, those keen on vengeance or evil, eventually burn themselves out, simply because life is an energy source and those too keen on being masters of evil and carnage, eventually run out of steam. Even if they are young and full of hormones. The energy it takes to prosecute, plan, and achieve a fatal mission to the very ends, takes a certain amount of mental fortitude, discipline, and love of life. Hate burns brighter than love, but while love is self replenishing, hate is self destructive the hotter it goes. Similar to how geniuses burn themselves out faster than dumber people.

    After a certain point of combat stress, people use up their energies and often have to find a motivation to continue on. IN war and battles, this is often the cause, the mission, or just to keep on fighting to keep their comrades in arms from dying a needless death. Otherwise without a sufficient motivation many people would just surrender, or even lay down and die, in war.

    As the consequences of mass murder encroach closer and closer, the sheer meaningless of their own life is exposed. For if it is all too easy to shoot all these people, it will be even easier for a hundred armed men to render him non existent. He gains power in extinguishing others, yet fears the fact that others will have the very same power over him.

    That fear, combat stress, worry, and need to plan and achieve survival, eventually reaches a critical mass where it consumes the person’s motivations. And he has to find new or stronger ones. Idealistic, far reaching goals like “i’ll em and become famous after I’m dead” is worthless. Unless you have a personal, short term, goal to keep on killing/living in battle, you won’t be living for long.

    Even revolutionaries fed on a diet of idealistic zeal and religious fervor, burn out once they realize the cause they were really fighting for.

  33. Ymarsakar Says:

    As for the teacher’s actions in question, that was true valor in the face of death. Such steel is to be admired and respected. It is perhaps to be expected that it is paid with in death in such a country however.

    I’m more than 50% confident that if the shooter has to come around a class room door corner like that, I can terminate him in a few seconds with just bare hand methods alone. No brain, no gun that goes around killing people.

    Unfortunately, this country is full of people who keep voting in the option “I want to be a Leftist slave” so they neither arm themselves nor do anything else to destroy the wolves. And the wolves, not being entirely stupid and suicidal all that often, comprehend this and go after the defenseless, rather than those of us that could terminate them, whether they have guns or not.

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