I've been distressed by the tragic shootings in Virginia, and the latest story I've read is the most disturbing yet. According to Adam Geller of the AP, the gunman was an "English major whose creative writing was so disturbing that he was referred to the school's counseling service." The head of the English Department said, "Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it's creative...or just how real it might be. But we're all alert to not ignore things like this."

Of course the greatest tragedy is the immediate loss to the victims, their friends and families, and all the students at the school. But undoubtedly this underlying theme about creative writing will play out in the press in weeks, even years, to come. What will it mean for mystery writers in terms of suspicion and censorship? We can only stay tuned and hope...

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I was thinking what JD said. I love reading graphic, sometimes violent crime fiction on occassion. Without naming names, there are are some great writers out there who fit the bill perfectly. I'm not sure if this tragedy will change writing styles. I am, however, perplexed at the reaction of Americans. When 167 people die in one day in Iraq it seems like no one really gets upset. Let 30 some Americans die on a college campus and it gets Air Force One attention in less than 24 hours. Don't get me wrong, I think both are tremendous tragedies, yet I wonder about our response and the attention of our govermental leaders.

GC
You don't say who the 167 people are, so I'm assuming that many, if not all are servicemen. They joined the service knowing that at some point they could be called on to go into battle, to give their lives, to die. And people do get upset, but there's hundreds of years of procedure in place to deal with those kinds of death.

The thirty people who died in Virginia were simply going about their days-trying to get an education, doing their jobs. Young people starting out their lives.

Now let's assume that some of the 167 weren't servicemen. They certainly didn't have any expectation of possibly dying in combat someday. So why don't we get upset? Could it be because every time someone gets so much as a splinter in Iraq we hear about it on the news? That we are constantly inundated with news reports showing us this tragic event from the desert or that bombing. It has become second nature to us. Deaths in the Middle East no longer seem tragic because they happen so frequently, so regularly. Deaths on a college campus though, that's unique, that's different. That grabs your attention.
Actually the 167 people, to the best of my knowledge, were innocent people going about their daily lives--or at least most of them, just like the people in virginia. These weren't "splinters" but that is an interesting word to decribe their lives after the bombs that killed them went off--both literally and figuratively.

I really don't want to debate politics--my point is that every life is precious and it is a crime anywhere in the world, though it sometimes only seems like Americans are concerned when it happens on our own soil.

I think I agree with you that we have become tolerant to deaths in Iraq and other parts of the world. My point is that is very sad, but it is also reality.
And even more today. In a market. It's awful.
I wasn't trying to start a debate-I think a lot of it is that the deaths in Iraq are overexposed-we see so much of them that we've built up a thick skin around the news about them. Also, they seem so far away.

But I do get your point, the deaths in Iraq aren't any less painful or tragic because of those things. There are still parents left without children and vice versa. It may sound odd, but it's easier and more comfortable for us to focus on the deaths that seem closer to home.
You all raise some interesting points. I didn't mean to imply that referring the student to counseling was bad, nor that mystery writers are potential murderers. The AP story went on to say that the English Dept. wasn't sure if the student had ever followed up with counseling. And as Jon Loomis said, counseling itself can be ineffective. The story mentioned that Cho Seung-Hui "may have been taking medication for depression," so I'm sure the mental health aspect will be explored in depth as well. Prozac and other SSRI's can precipitate acting-out behavior, as we've all read in the news - when the depression lifts, agitation can follow.

As individuals, I believe it behooves us all to follow up on disturbing signals in people's writing. An acquaintance recently distributed some poems to his e-list that sounded so deeply depressed and preoccupied with death that I immediately e-mailed him to ask if he was OK and if the poems signalled he might be contemplating suicide (I phrased it more diplomatically.) He e-mailed back that in fact he was feeling fine and had no intention of offing himself. If he hadn't replied, I would have called him. I was reassured, and glad I'd contacted him - and he was probably glad that someone cared enough to ask. (As a mental health professional, I was trained always to take these kinds of signals seriously.)
Okay, I take it back. Anyone who writes this badly ought to have been locked up long ago.
One of the news sources said, in addition to the disturbing creative writing and the antidepressants that might have been warning signs, he had stalked several women. I think as more and more people who had contact with this young man come forward, we're going to find that a lot of people thought he was borderline dangerous and may even have reported him or tried to get him some help -- as is apparently the case with him being referred for couseling. But he seems to have been non-compliant, as is most often the case with true loners. I would be willing to bet there are warning signs all the way back into his childhood.
One thing to remember is that no one can be forced to get help. Unless he was openly threatening himself or others, he was free to do as he wished. Don't feel like going to counseling? Fine. Don't want to take your meds? Fine. In fact, a student can barricade herself in her room, but if she hasn't threatened to harm herself or anyone else, a counselor won't even come talk to her. (How do I know, it's happened here where my husband works.) If this young man was refusing help, and coming from a culture where pride and honor would most likely encourage him to do so, it's no wonder he would struggle along until he snapped.
That's absolutely true. This was a 23 y.o. man, not a 13 y.o. Unless he presented a clear danger to himself or others (as evidenced by a statement of intent and a plan, most commonly revealed to a counselor), there's not a lot that could have been done. Violent writing assignments may have been a red flag to an instructor, but that's not enough to have someone hospitalized. A person cannot be forced to participate in counseling or take medication. Sorry, I know there is a sense that he might have been failed by others, but this man pulled the trigger - repeatedly - and is responsible for the deaths that resulted.
I live in Fairfax County, where Cho lived with his family and where a number of the victims were from, and the saturation coverage has been depressing and disturbing. The young man who opened fire on cops (killed two) at a county police station a few months ago attended the same high school as Cho, and I gather that a lot of the current students are spooked by their school's connection to two killers. (The father of the cop killer, btw, has been charged with violations of federal gun laws. He had a houseful of guns and ammo and taught his son to use them.)

The most disturbing information I've heard about Cho is that his mental state was well known on campus, some teachers were afraid of him, and at least one teacher tried hard but unsuccessfully to get him into therapy. This is not a case of a seemingly nice-but-quiet kid erupting into violence. Many people were aware that he was troubled and angry at the world. But he was an adult and help couldn't be forced on him. We need some legal path of intervention in cases like this. The Tech killings could have been prevented.
But how do you define which "troubled and angry at the world" adolescents are hit with legal intervention because they "might" do something ugly and tragic one day, and which ones aren't?

As I've mentioned elsewhere, if you lock-up every young person who has at one time or another exhibited frustration, isolation, bitterness, the capacity for explosive temper, resentment or plain-out disaffection, you won't be left with many young people at all. And even then you'd still get horrible massacres happening.

I sincerely believe there's no such thing as an early warning system for potential human behaviour. We're all walking timebombs, in that regard. We've all got the capacity to do stunning and hideous things, foreshadowed or not, just as we've all got the capacity to grow into well-adjusted people.

...All of which isn't to say, incidentally, that we shouldn't TRY to identify and counsel troubled youngsters. I just a) don't think it'll stop things like this from happening, and b) don't agree a more hardline "lock 'em up for being weird!" policy is a good idea.

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