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Reflection on the tragedy in Aurora, CO

08-05-2012Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

When I heard the reports of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado my first thought was “I wonder what chemicals the shooter was ingesting?” Street drugs or prescription? (Not that the brain can tell the difference). Simply put, average people even seriously mentally ill people do not carefully and intricately plan and execute mass murder. Some other precipitating factor needs be present: usually either mind-altering chemicals or psychological techniques aimed at mind and behavioral control. Terrorists, assassins, mass murders don’t just simply happen they are created one way or another.

In this case a young, bright, comfortably middle class young man with a promising future and no reports of troublesome behavior or talk, doesn’t just wake up one day and decide to commit mass murder. Were there any warning signs? As the facts come out slowly, he was in fact under psychiatric care. (The treating physician had previously been censored for prescribing to herself, her husband and her employees and mainly saw patients for “medication management” in other words a licensed drug dealer.) Which means the shooter was probably put on powerful, dangerous mind altering pharmaceuticals and left unsupervised. If you read the warning label on these “medications” especially anti-depressants it clearly states: “May cause suicidal or homicidal ideation”. There’s the warning sign.

One of the effects of these drugs is that they suppress feelings. Not only the negative depressive feelings but also the normal range of feelings. And usually the first feeling to break through this chemical barrier is also the strongest of emotions: anger. Feelings are also our first indication that our conscience is trying to get our mind’s attention. When feelings are suppressed then conscience is deadened and there is no uncomfortable feeling that might indicate to a person they are doing something wrong. This young man did not lose his mind he lost his conscience.

Many would argue that some people are so bad off that the only option is psychiatric medications. Maybe this was the case with this young man. Maybe. Whether it was or wasn’t the physician should have made sure he had some form of supervision. Since he was away from his family and did not appear to have many friends in Colorado, he should have been hospitalized for a period of time to determine how he was responding to the drugs. Otherwise, as happened no one was around to monitor his reactions.

Very often people who take these drugs experience serious side effects and since they might already be in a mental and emotional fog they usually don’t see it nor will they self-report. It is up to others around them to notice and keep them safe. In the case of the Aurora shooter it was homicidal ideation that indicated he was having a dangerous reaction. But no one was made aware to notice. Think of it: if he had a roommate or other close friend who knew he was under psychiatric care and on meds and saw that he dropped out of school, was amassing an arsenal of firearms and ammo, he would have most likely been stopped.

Physicians and counselors need to enlist others in the care and treatment of patients to whom they prescribe these medications. This would give the patient the best chance of recovery and of avoiding harming themselves or others. Whether because physicians won’t or because privacy laws make it too difficult this often does not happen. Case in point: A husband called me about his wife who had been put on anti-depressants and was acting very bizarre. I told him that she was probably experiencing dangerous side effects from the chemicals and to call her doctor and inform him of what he had observed. When he did the psychiatrist said to him, “how dare you call me to spy on your wife and don’t ever call me again.” Well soon after the wife attempted suicide.

If anything could have prevented the tragedy in Colorado it would be accountability. Anytime we detach and become loners we put ourselves in a position where we can justify all sorts of wrong behavior. It becomes even more dangerous when we are alone, emotionally troubled and take mind-altering chemicals. At that point any internal filter that might have helped us say no to harmful thoughts is gone and any external checks on our behavior are no longer there.

If we are really interested in one another’s well being we could first stop being brainwashed by Big Pharma into believing that these mind-altering chemicals are anything but safe. Second we can change the privacy laws that help create very public problems. And finally we should insist that mental health professionals enlist others to assist a patient in monitoring their treatment.

The stream of young mass murderers seem to be unending which means it is time to stop listening to the “experts” and believing their blatant falsehoods. Too many psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and counselors are complicit in creating these young killers yet are never held accountable. Instead we blame the NRA, Hollywood or the Tea Party.

Once again: the problems are emotional, the solutions are spiritual.


Fr. John Bonavitacola