Who are they? Who are these boys, these teenagers who viciously kill innocent school acquaintances or perhaps unknown children, each special victim in their own way, all loving and adored?
Think of the bright eyes the parents will never see again, the laughter they will never hear again. Think of the astonished horror endured by 19 youths and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as bullets left bloody, punctured bodies where the majesty of life once reigned.
It was just one of 27 school shootings this year, on top of last year’s 34, and there’s a lot to figure out if we’re going to defeat this evil in a shrunken society. A starting point is the shooters, and what is welcome is that all kinds of organizations, governmental and otherwise, have deeply explored their origins, their personalities, their anger and their hatred. Many have come up with similar explanations for these soulless Americans, and a big one is the tattered families that produced them.
It’s a horribly neglected topic in America today that families are collapsing disastrously in large numbers, one parent (usually the father) is lost, and the other is facing fierce demands that are difficult to satisfy even for two. Sometimes things can go well, but fatherless children are more likely to drop out of high school, commit crimes, commit suicide, and become unemployed. The worst homes are often dysfunctional to the point that children are untrained but ignored, rejected and abused. Their advice is left to television, video games and cell phones, and if the father and mother live together again, they could do more blows than kisses.
A missing father can mean missed lessons in masculinity for the boy, less security, less self-respect, they say, and that’s common for shooters. Researchers say that when bullies go to school, the door is often opened for bullies to harass them like increasingly withdrawn, tear-soaked and feminine wimps. The girls don’t like them and they get resentful. They become depressed, suicidal, more prone to guns, drugs and threats, furious to the point of exploding. They almost always say they will kill people they may not even know before killing them in supposedly brave and masculine acts.
The 18-year-old Texan killer Salvador Ramos never knew his father. He knew his grandfather, who was a convicted felon. He and his mother had a fight, according to her boyfriend. The bullies had him at school because of a speech impediment. He was a hated lone wolf with a fetish for guns and once told someone he cut his face off for fun. His grandmother owned the house he and his mother lived in and planned to take it because of the mother’s drug problems. Ramos moved in with the grandmother, argued with her about dropping out of high school and shot her in the face before leading the massacre he briefly announced online.
We all have to mourn for those lost lives, for the parents, for anyone wondering if this could happen to them, something like 60% of teachers nationwide, according to a survey. We must fight for the safety and sanity of those who witnessed these shootings and those who may commit more. The good news is that all sorts of warning organizations, public and private, are trying to come up with meaningful solutions, and they no doubt will on one level or another.
But the final answer, which could take a very, very long time, is pretty much up to all of us to help rebuild the family in this country, to fight for morale, to grow in kindness and love, to restore some old norms and get out of the way of civilizational destruction.