By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: mental illness

Murder, politics and mental illness

Gabrielle Giffords

One day in 1993, when I was managing editor of the Boston Phoenix, I received a letter from a man named David Taber, who claimed that the CIA and his father had conspired to implant a computer chip in his brain so they could monitor his thoughts. Such letters are not as unusual as you might suppose; what made this one stand out was that it was well-written enough that it took me a couple of pages to realize the writer was mentally ill.

Not long after that, Taber showed up at the Phoenix, looking for me, in order to discuss when we might publish his letter. I couldn’t be found, and didn’t know about his visit until after a colleague had talked him into leaving.

And then, within a few weeks, Taber walked into an elementary school in the Southeastern Massachusetts town of Acushnet, took hostages and murdered the school nurse.* Unfortunately, I had discarded his letter.

It’s because of that experience — and, frankly, because of common sense — that I’m put off by those who are trying to politicize yesterday’s carnage in Arizona, which included the attempted murder of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and the murder of federal judge John Roll and a 9-year-old girl, Christina Green.

The suspected shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, appears to be very mentally ill. If you haven’t seen this video yet, take a look. I was especially struck by this Loughner statement: “I’m able to control every belief and religion by being the mind controller!” That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

Now, by no means do I want to let anyone off the hook. I was appalled to learn that Giffords’ district was among those targeted on Sarah Palin’s truly demented gunsight map. I hope yesterday will bring the whole Palin phenomenon to a long-overdue end. And I scarcely know where to begin with this piece of incendiary garbage.

As Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik said, careless rhetoric can have consequences. But that rhetoric did not create Jared Loughner. If he hadn’t gone after Congresswoman Giffords, he might have gunned down a school nurse instead.

*After posting this earlier today, I searched the Boston Globe’s archives and found a story published on April 17, 1993, that reported the details of Taber’s rampage in Acushnet. I’ve updated this post to include what I learned in that article.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

A heartbreaking miscarriage of justice

In a humane world, John Odgren would have been institutionalized in a long-term psychiatric facility three years ago. The focus could then have turned toward how best to help the family of James Alenson, whom Odgren killed in a bathroom at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School.

Instead, Odgren, who was 16 at the time (Alenson was 15), is headed off to prison after having been convicted of first-degree murder. By most accounts, Odgren was a bullying victim who has Asperger’s syndrome and a variety of mental illnesses. Alenson was not among Odgren’s tormenters, which only compounds the tragedy.

Earlier this month, Odgren’s father, Paul, testified about the bullying to which his son had been subjected for years. The Boston Globe published a heartbreaking account [link now fixed], with the elder Odgren claiming that John had talked about committing suicide when he was only 9 years old.

My Northeastern colleague James Alan Fox, the noted criminologist, has a must-read commentary today in his Crime & Punishment blog for Fox writes:

Frankly, the thought of John Odgren, a boy who was bullied and ostracized repeatedly in high school, spending the remainder of his years in a prison setting is absolutely chilling. His well-documented fears and paranoid view of his world will undoubtedly become acute once he lives amongst a population of hardened criminals….

Life without parole makes sense for 25-year-old cold-blooded killers, but not for someone as immature and emotionally disturbed as John Odgren.

Finally, if folks at the Boston Herald have one shred of decency, they will delete the comments on their Odgren story as soon as someone inside the building reads this post. You can find the link on your own.

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