Thursday, December 06, 2007

Does ADHD & Depression Make You a Killer Like Robert Hawkins?

In the aftermath following the tragedy in Nebraska, the media turns to mental illness for explanations again.

NOT Weird Al YankovicTwo days ago the world was introduced to Robert A. Hawkins when he entered Von Maur's department store in Omaha, Nebraska and indiscriminately slaughtered eight of his fellow Americans and wounded five others before turning the automatic rifle on himself. Apparently, he had recently lost his job at McDonald's, broke up with his girlfriend, and was no longer living with his family - a tough time for anybody. Unlike some other mass-murderers, however, Hawkin's left behind a note explaining himself.

"Now I'll be famous"*

These are the words found in 19 year old Hawkins' suicide note. Somehow, though, the media is hurrying to explain another senseless killing spree with Depression, something I've covered before in the case of Cho Seung-Hui and the Virginia Tech slayings. Hawkins also wrote that he now wouldn't be a burden on his family anymore. Apparently, he wasn't concerned about being a burden on other people's families, but let's not quibble.

So where does the Depression angle come from? As of yesterday, Debora Maruca-Kovac, the mother who took Hawkins in after he was booted out of State care. Maruca-Kovac is a surgical nurse, and it is her word at the moment that Hawkins had untreated Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Depression. She also recalls seeing Hawkins with the AK-47 the night before the attack but thought nothing of it. One would think that troubled nineteen year olds with criminal pasts might make a person nervous when they started showing off an AK-47, but Ms. Maruca-Kovac is made of sterner stuff than I, apparently. This lack of observation somehow doesn't diminish her medical diagnosis in the eyes of the press, though. Then they reported this:

With Hawkins living in her home, Maruca-Kovac could see he had a drinking problem and was an occasional marijuana smoker. He enjoyed music and video games — "normal teenager stuff," she said.

So now we have a troubled juvenile delinquent with a drinking problem who likes to casually use pot who was showing off an AK-47. Nope, nothing to worry about there. At least the media checked their sources. Let's not pile up on Ms. Maruca-Kovac, however. Apparently, Hawkins' parents knew he had the AK-47 but the dad was too busy vacationing in Thailand to worry about this poor, depressed boy.

Wait a minute! I'm unmedicated and suffer from Depression and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. I used to work at McDonald's when I was nineteen. Spooky! Also consider that I bought a $5 airgun on a whim two days ago because it was on sale. That could be indicative of classic AD/HD impulse buying or it could mean I'm going to go over the edge and shoot somebody in the eye in a fit of depressed rage. After all, I just recently discovered a logo I had designed was being abandoned, my family is messy, and I have a headache. Surely, that's good enough to help the media understand any rampage I may go on tonight. I admit, taking myself out with the tiny, orange pellets will be a bit of work, but it won't be my fault. I have Depression.

Who believes this hooey? Judging from the popularity of the story, a lot of people. Let me offer you an alternative viewpoint. 

If you or a loved one suffer from Depression, I believe there is no reason to become alarmed. These young men may have had Depression, and even AD/HD, but that is not what caused them to murder.  They planned out their activities. Hawkins even entered the department store and cased out the joint before returning with his weapon under his coat. They are nothing like you or the people you love. No, they wanted to add meaning to their insignificant lives by going out in a blaze of glory. I call them cowards. Their focus was to be on television, as if that was important. 

If they wanted to go out with a splash they could have jumped in front of a moving bus while holding buckets of paint. Better yet, they could have chosen a cause and become involved. They could have turned to new media to make themselves famous. Podcasting and Youtube have opened up new media opportunities for anybody with a clever idea and a bit of gumption, where whining about Britney Spears (warning: f-bomb) and singing about "Chocolate Rain" get prime time coverage. Instead, they chose to punish the world for their hard luck by randomly shooting strangers who had no connection to them, and no protection from them. In my opinion, this had nothing to do with Depression and AD/HD. This was about feeling powerful. This was about self-importance and vanity. 

The media is filled with humans, and as humans we like to understand WHY when terrible things happen. It's perfectly natural, but ignorance makes for dangerous knee-jerk reactions. Shortly after Cho's rampage, legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to ban gun ownership for those who had ADHD and Depression. The language was ultimately changed before the bill came to a vote, and those provisions were taken out of the bill, but it was still a scare for me. I never thought I'd see myself banned from doing anything simply because I have Depression and AD/HD. This is the danger of linking these afflictions to mass-murderers — ordinary citizens just trying to get by become labelled as potential killers.

To me, the issue is simple. Don't blame guns. Don't blame Depression. Blame the killers who were so cowardly they slaughtered strangers from a distance then took their own lives rather than face the consequences of their own actions. All for fifteen minutes of fame.

Update: Saturday, December 8, 2007 11:24:12 AM: I found an article detailing Hawkins' suicide note. I recommend reading it. There's no doubting he was a troubled young man, but I'll save my sympathy for the victims and their families. Especially when he writes "I just want to take a few peices (sic) of (expletive) with me." Unless Nebraska State's foster care program offers classes on mass-murder, I believe the blame for this incident lies squarely on Hawkins' shoulders.

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