“And that’s when he threw an iron at my head,” I concluded.
I was a teenager, and I had just finished telling a pastor about my dad’s reaction to me leaving a book sitting on the coffee table. I had never told anyone anything this crazy, but I was hopeful that if I did, something would change. Maybe they’d send my dad to a doctor, give him therapy, or take me away to live somewhere safer.
“Well,” the pastor said, sipping his water uncertainly and avoiding eye contact. “A lot of people have anger issues. You should pray for him.”
And that was that. Nothing was ever done. The matter was never spoken of again. No one ever followed up to see how my dad’s “anger issues” were progressing.
These days, I don’t expect people to care. I don’t expect people to pay attention or comprehend a problem unless you rub their noses in it. Nevertheless, the level of apathy and negligence demonstrated by Broward County Sheriff’s Office shocked me.
In the years and months leading up to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward County Sheriff’s Office received an astonishing 45 reports relating to the shooter, Nikolas Cruz. The teenage boy was documented by deputies to have engaged in domestic violence, including hitting his adoptive mother, throwing her against a wall, putting a gun to her head, and fighting with his brother. Other reports mention violent death threats, suicidal behavior, and at one point, Cruz himself called 911 to tell police that he was traumatized and disturbed.
Despite this, Cruz was never arrested or admitted to a hospital for mental evaluation. Had he been convicted of domestic violence or institutionalized, Cruz would never have been able to legally own a gun. 17 children and teachers might still be alive today. To be sure, Cruz is responsible for his own actions, yet others are responsible for their inactions and not taking repeated opportunities to stop him.
To top things off, when the first deputy arrived on the scene, instead of going inside and taking Cruz down or saving children who could be bleeding out, he waited outside for backup. Even when more deputies arrived, they reportedly stayed outside and waited.
“Deputies make mistakes,” Sheriff Israel insisted to Jake Tapper on CNN. “Police officers make mistakes. We all make mistakes. But it’s not the responsibility of the general or the president if you have a deserter … Jake, I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I have given amazing leadership to this agency.”
You can practically hear the voice of Adam echoing from the beginning, “That woman you put here with me — she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Passing the buck is far from a new phenomenon.
In fact, just before the horrific news of the Parkland shooting hit the internet, social media was abuzz about Tide Pods. Apparently, some teenagers made it their “challenge” or dare to eat the little packets of laundry detergent. And what was the reaction from lawmakers? Did they ask where these kid’s parents were? Did they wonder what kind of educational or family environment would produce such self-destructive kids? I’m sure some did, but predominantly, the reaction from the media and lawmakers was that Tide should make their detergent look less like candy.
There was little-to-no call for parental responsibility. There was no recognition of the fact that these teenagers were knowingly and intentionally ingesting harsh chemicals in order to tear their insides up and possibly kill themselves. Rather, most preferred to pretend that these kids were stupid enough to mistake detergent for sweets. They preferred to blame Tide, a big corporation and inhuman brand with plenty of money and whose feelings cannot be hurt.
Pass the blame. Ignore the dysfunction. Pat the traumatized child on the head. Pretend it’s OK and it will all turn out OK. But as we’ve seen time and time again in places like Parkland, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, it doesn’t always turn out OK.
Children are bullied, become depressed, and commit suicide. Teenagers develop schizotypal mental illnesses, become delusional, and do terrible things. Adults witness kids who are being abused, teenagers who are spiraling out of control, and people experiencing devastating life-altering events, yet they do nothing.
They take part in a culture of apathy. They practice a religion of irresponsibility. They ease their conscience by shifting the blame, passing the buck, or pretending like the suffering of others isn’t really that big of a deal.
I grew up in solid churches, surrounded by salt-of-the-earth Christians, homeschoolers, and conservatives. But there was a live-and-let-live, mind-your-own-business mentality that proved a dangerous recipe in situations of domestic violence and dysfunctionality. Very kind people who would never hurt a fly thought it was none of their business if a child had suspicious bruises or a neighbor exhibited symptoms of addiction or alcoholism. Maybe they just didn’t know what to do. Maybe they didn’t understand the red flags they were witnessing. Whatever the case, there is too often a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we behave based on those believes. Our walk and our talk do not align.
I likely don’t have to recount to you the story of The Good Samaritan. A traveler lay beaten and robbed by the side of the road. A priest came along – one of those holy guys who everyone thinks is righteous and humble – but he pretended not to see and passed the traveler by. Then a Levite came along – one of those super religious guys who knows a lot about God’s law – but he awkwardly crossed to the other side of the road and passed the traveler by. Finally, a Samaritan came along – one of those social outcasts who pious and intellectual people tend to look down on – and he picked up the traveler and used his own money to pay for the traveler’s medical care, food, and board.
Jesus was well aware that the people who we most expect to help – the pastors, the politicians, the sheriffs, and the parents – are the ones who hurt us the most when they betray or neglect us. By contrast, the most humble, ordinary, and looked-down-on among us are often capable of extraordinary kindness. How little things have changed in 2,000 years.
Today, the self-centered philosophy of pass-the-buckism is alive and well, and it’s killing our kids:
- Seung-Hui Cho (age 23): On April 16, 2007, Cho killed 32 people and wounded 17 others at Virginia Tech using two semi-automatic pistols. An investigative panel later criticized educators and medical professionals who failed to notice Cho’s deteriorating mental health. It also noted gaps in Virginia’s mental health system and gun laws.
- Jeffrey James Weise (age 16): On March 21, 2005, Weise murdered nine people, including his grandfather, before committing suicide at Red Lake Senior High School in Minnesota. Weise was born into a broken home. His mother was an alcoholic who abused him. His father had a criminal history and committed suicide by shooting himself during a police standoff.
- Dedrick Owens (age 6): On February 29, 2000, Owens brought a gun to Buell Elementary School. Before he pulled the trigger, Owens told 6-year-old Kayla Rolland, “I don’t like you,” and killed the little girl. Owens’ father was in prison for dealing cocaine. The boy had been living with his abusive and drug addicted mother before moving into his uncle’s crack house. Just a few weeks prior to murdering Rolland, Owens got into trouble at school for bullying and hitting other students, even stabbing one little girl with a pencil.
- Charles “Andy” Williams (age 15): On March 5, 2001, Williams killed two and injured 13 at Santana High School in California. Williams had allegedly been bullied and abused by classmates. On two occasions he told people about his plan to “pull a Columbine,” but no one ever reported his threats to police.
- John Jason McLaughlin (age 15): On September 24, 2003, McLaughlin murdered 15-year-old Seth Bartell and 17-year-old Aaron Rollins. During his trial, three mental health experts diagnosed McLaughlin with schizophrenia, while others diagnosed major depression and emerging personality disorder. The families of the victims later sued the school district, the principal, and McLaughlin’s family, alleging that they knew what McLachlan was planning during the days leading up to his crimes. The lawsuit was settled out of court for $200,000.
- Thomas “T. J.” Lane III (age 17): On February 27, 2012, Lane murdered three of his fellow students and seriously injured two others at Chardon High School in Ohio. Lane had a criminal history including domestic violence and disorderly conduct. He posted death threats on social media accounts prior to the shooting.
- Adam Lanza (age 20): On December 14, 2012, Lanza invaded Sandy Hook Elementary and murdered 20 children between six and seven years of age. Lanza was diagnosed with multiple mental health issues. A report from the Office of the Child Advocate noted that Lanza’s, “severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems … combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence… [and] access to deadly weapons … proved a recipe for mass murder.” The report concluded, “It is fair to surmise that, had Lanza’s mental illness been adequately treated in the last years of his life, one predisposing factor to the tragedy of Sandy Hook might have been mitigated.”
None of these young people woke up suddenly evil. They didn’t change from happy, healthy kids into deranged or psychotic killers in a snap. There was a moral, emotional, and mental process of deterioration which they endured. There were red flags such as aberrant behavior, paranoid delusions, suicidal depression, and repeated threats of violence. It took months, if not years for them to become this evil, and nobody effectively intervened.
Could it be that stopping the next school shooting might be as simple as reporting a child abuser, helping someone who asks for help, or noticing when a person is emotionally struggling? Could it be that prosecuting criminals for their crimes, reporting violent and illegal behavior, and enforcing existing laws could lower violent crime in America?
I believe so.
Had that pastor intervened, I might have been spared four more years of domestic violence. I don’t blame him, and I am not angry, but his inaction had consequences. Had Broward County deputies arrested Cruz or ensured he received the mental health care he needed, he might never have bought a gun, and his heinous evil might have been contained.
There are consequences to actions. There are consequences to inaction.
Sometimes, those consequences are terrible.
Jennifer Michelle Greenberg is a writer and award winning recording artist who has released multiple albums. Her first book, Those Who Weep, chronicles the spiritual healing process following child abuse and domestic violence. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and visit her website at www.JenniferGreenberg.net.