Archive for the ‘crime’ Category

The 2007 Virginia Tech Massacre

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Originally published at Confessions of a Jersey Goddess, April 2007.

April 18 Update: I’ve noticed people keep hitting this blog
because they’re looking for the
VT shooter’s confession. Google’s sending you to
my blog because I have the word “confession” in
my blog’s name, same name since 2004.
Here’s a link at NBC, the network that received
the gunman’s package/manifesto,
and to the video and story: LINK.
This post is a chronicle of the shootings
on Monday, April 16.

Update 11:59 p.m., April 16: Laurie at BloghHer has added a new post about how the Internet is responding to the shootings. ABC Nightline also discusses the online coverage regarding the shootings, particularly students sharing grief at FaceBook. Roanoke.com and MTV.com report similar findings.

Reported at 6:35 p.m., April 16: The death toll at Virginia Tech is now 32, reports ABC News. In its 5:30 news, Channel 7 ABC New York reported 33 dead. Either way the shooting is considered the “worst mass murder” in U.S. History. Witnesses, according to ABC News, describe the shooter as a six-foot-tall Asian man; however, the shooter did not carry ID. Consequently, officials faced difficulty identifying the shooter’s body.

Charles Gibson ended the ABC news tonight, 6:58 p.m., saying, “I wish I could say this has been a good day. It hasn’t.”

You may find more in-depth information at Channel 13 News, WSET, Virginia, another ABC station. Another local station for the Virginia Tech area is WDBJ, Roanoke. Virginia Tech’s college newspaper, The Collegiate Times, currently experiences problem with its servers. Virginia Tech is located in Blacksburg, Virginia. Kim Pearson, the blogger who first notified me of this tragedy has a poignant post about the Virginia Tech shooting at this link (Link added 10:18 p.m., April 16).

Currently people are questioning how the shooter was able to stay at large for two hours before he committed more murders and why the campus police didn’t alert the students and staff sooner. ABC reports that the shooter killed two people at dorm two hours before he began his rampage at the Norris Hall engineering building. Others want to know how did the young man get two nine millimeter guns so easily in Virginia (link added at 11:59 p.m., April 16).

Over at BlogHer, a commenter on the story, Morra Aarons, says online support communities are popping up on on the Net. She specifically mentions one at Facebook. Another commenter from BlogHer pointed out this blog by a Virginia Tech Student at LiveJournal. The BlogHer post itself by Laurie has multiple resources.

Update at 2:20 p.m., April 16:
MSNBC reports that the shooter was a young male in his 20s of Asian descent. The death toll is now, as of 2:25 p.m., up to 31, which MSNBC says makes it the “deadliest” mass shooting spree/mass murder in the nation’s history.

This story is already prompting discussions on MSNBC’s live video about whether those from Asian cultures feel alienated in European-centered cultures. In addition, they’re examining violence among alienated young males in general, understanding and recognizing the signs of rage and calls for help, and whether we have a culture that makes it easier to shoot your way out of turmoil rather than talk your way out. They’re discussing narcissistic personality disorder and other personality disorders.

Much of the commentary about causes on MSNBC comes from former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. Here’s a piece at North Carolina Wesleyan University on the history of profiling.

Experts say this gunman was very methodical and planned the shooting well-ahead of time. They ask and do not answer, “How do you know the difference between someone who is just a little angry and depressed and someone who’s going to go out and take nearly three dozen lives?” As happens in such cases, people want to make sense of the tragedy.

There was also some confusion earlier about whether another shooting may have occurred on the Virginia Tech campus separate from this shooting two hours before the massacre started. However, later reports say it is the same gunman who shot someone (two women) in a dorm prior to going to one of the engineering buildings (Norris Hall). Again, the source on this is MSNBC live video.

One student, Trey Perkins, who was in Norris Hall when the shooting started, told MSNBC that the first thing he thought of was his mom, how devastated she would be if anything happened to him. He said when the gunman came in to his classroom, he shot the instructor first. Other reports say the gunman chained building doors to prevent victims from escaping.

According to ABC, the first shooting of this type on a college campus happened at The University of Texas in 1966. A young man, Charles Whitman, killed fourteen back then. Wikipedia reports the death toll in 1966 as 15. Crime Library, a link used by Professor Kim, agrees with the ABC figure of 14 and is probably a more reliable source than Wikipedia.

Pointing to incidents like Columbine and the recent shootings at the Amish schools, experts say that it’s important to reach out to people you know affected by these shootings now with shows of support. It makes a difference in deterring post-traumatic stress syndrome. After Katrina I wrote a post on coping with grief, disaster, and change. Some people may find the resources there helpful in this situation (Link).

Reported earlier at 2:20 p.m. today: President Bush will address the nation on these shootings at 4:15 p.m.

Reported earlier at 12:16 p.m.: This is not commentary but an FYI to readers. MSNBC reports that a gunman shot and killed 22 people at Virginia Tech University this morning and wounded others. Another blogger informed me and team members of this tragedy. MSNBC begins its report as follows:

BLACKSBURG, Va. – At least 22 people were killed Monday in a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus, police said. They said the gunman was among the dead.

In addition to those killed, officials said at least 28 people were wounded.

Virginia Tech Police Chief Wendell Flinchum said the gunman was dead, but that he didn’t know how he died.

Read the full story with both live and static video at this link. ABC is also reporting the story at its site. Click here if you want CBS’ coverage of this story.

Related: The Colors of Killers

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NJ: All terrorists, all the time — The Fort Dix Six

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Originally published at the dead blog, Confessions of a Jersey Goddess, Tuesday, May 08, 2007. So, some of the links may not be zombified, just dead.

Whoa! How’s that for a sensational blog title? It’s only partly accurate, but it did pop into mind when I learned through Jersey Blogs at The Star Ledger that the Feds foiled a terrorist plot to attack Fort Dix. “Live from The Ledger” reports that “six people were arrested.”

Federal investigators last night arrested six Islamic radicals who were planning a heavily armed attack against soldiers at Fort Dix as part of a jihad against America, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In a statement released this morning that confirmed an earlier report on nj.com, The Star-Ledger’s Web site, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said the men planned to “kill as many soldiers as possible.” (Live from The Ledger)

I was out of it yesterday. Had root canal at the dentist with happy gas and missed all the excitement. However, when I read about this latest terrorist plot, one that All Spin Zone says sounds like a move, the first thing I recalled was how New Jersey had to reform its Motor Vehicles Administration procedures for drivers licenses following the 911 WTC attack when law enforcement realized how many terrorists and potential terrorists had an easy time getting fake licenses through Jersey. No, I’m not having a false memory here. Read this from a 2001 CNN report:

NEW YORK (CNN) — During the two weeks since hijacked airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, investigators have focused on New Jersey as a possible hub of terrorist activity. (CNN)

And then there was the alleged arms deal in August 2003 where a terrorist was arrested at a hotel by the Newark International Airport. The man arrested, Hemant Lakhani, was a British citizen of Indian descent. He was later convicted, but said he was innocent and thought he was working with Russian Intelligence.

The Fort Dix Six are not Arab

According to “Live from The Ledger,” only one of the Fort Dix Six was born in an Arab nation, which is Jordan:

Four are ethnic Albanians, one was born in Turkey, and a sixth was born in Jordan, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Turkey is considered a Eurasian nation.

The blog at Simply Left Behind points out that the six men arrested in the Fort Dix sting were not brown-skinned and so do not fit the standard racial profiling criteria in this country for terrorists. I’ve said before that we’re all in danger because we’re focused on who looks Arab. The last time I mentioned it I talked about the suspicious Norwegian.

Life imitates art? Not quite.

I was watching CBS’ Numb3s Friday night. (Yes, again!) On it terrorists bought military clothing from a military supply store and also created some passable fake IDs. At first the FBI thought the terrorists intended to attack a military base, but later they realized that the terrorists intended to poison the civilian water supply with Sarin, not in Jersey but in California. They needed fake military IDs and military uniforms to fool security at a defense contractor site storing chemicals.

I remember thinking, Would it really be that easy to infiltrate a U.S. military base? So, when I heard the news today that the Feds have thwarted a dubious terrorist plot to attack a military base in NJ, I can’t help but say, “Hmm, spoooky.” Coinkydink, I’m sure, but you can watch the Numb3rs episode at CBS’ Innertube

I also had thoughts similar to another blogger, which are didn’t Republicans say keeping our troops in Iraq would help keep terrorists away from America?

Republicans blasted (Democrat Harry)Reid’s comments on the House floor Thursday night. … Lawmakers responded to Reid’s comments, saying the nation cannot give up the fight in Iraq or it will face terrorists on American soil. (Source)

Last week as Bush explained why he vetoed the war-spending bill, and war supporters declared we’ll be safe as long as troops stay in Iraq, I thought that particular argument for staying in that country didn’t make sense. I mean it seems to me that if you piss people off by blowing up their country and leaving it in worse shape than when you found it, and some of them truly believe they are in a holy war commanded by God, then wouldn’t it be likely that they and their sympathizers will mobilize to increase terrorist acts?

Those were just my puny thoughts since I’m not war expert, but Morra Aarons at BlogHer.org pointed out this foreign policy article by Bruce Ridel. It suggests my common sense logic may not be faulty after all.

You know, I’m surprised Steve Hart hasn’t blogged this yet, at least he hadn’t as of 2:30 p.m., May 8. He must be busy with his book release, The Last Three Miles: Politics, Murder, and the Construction of America’s First Superhighway, full of New Jersey intrigue. It’s on my summer reading list.


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The colors of killers: More thoughts on the Virginia Tech crisis

Monday, December 22nd, 2008

Originally posted at the dead blog, Confessions of a Jersey Goddess, Wednesday, April 18, 2007. May contain non-zombified links.

rainbowI was exhausted when I returned from covering a local election last night, but still surfing the web I saw this excellent post by Professor Kim Pearson at BlogHer.org on covering tragedies like the Virginia Tech shooting. Both professional journalists and citizen journalists aka some bloggers should read it. (Link to post.)

The post is entitled “Covering tragedy: Emerging lessons from the Virginia Tech Killings.” One aspect of covering tragedy that Professor Kim discusses is when it’s appropriate to mention an alleged perpetrator’s race/ethnic background. She gives the following advice:

Be thoughtful about stereotypes. When the initial reporting identified the suspect as an “Asian male,” the Asian American Journalists Association felt compelled to remind journalists of the rule that race should only be included in a news story when it is clearly relevant …

I mentioned the reported ethnicity of the Virginia Tech shooter now identified as Cho Seung-Hui on the first day of this crisis in my blog. I mentioned it once from the standpoint that MSNBC reported the shooter was Asian and “experts” were already as early as 2:20 the same day discussing Asian males in western culture and again when I heard news reports that the shooter didn’t have ID and the police were trying to figure out which body was his body.

Both mentions are in the same post but the post is a rolling report with time stamps. Both times I mentioned ethnicity I questioned myself: Why tell this detail? I knew people would start trying to make a deal of the race of the shooter, and I also thought, Please let this young man be here legally; otherwise, folks are going to start getting nasty about illegal immigrants in the country.

Cho Seung-Hui was in this country legally. Reports say he moved to the United States from South Korea in 1992. However, does his nationality, ethnic background, or how he got here have any baring on his crime?

I remembered Bill O’Reilly and his shouting match with Geraldo Rivera after a drunk driving tragedy. As Rachel Sklar said in The Huffington Post, “the driver happened to be an illegal alien.” Rivera points out before the two start screaming at each other that the drunk driving tragedy is not an illegal alien story; it’s a drunk driving story.

Race: The American Obsesion

Almost immediately I saw hits to my blog from both America and countries in Asia. The surfers searched the string “Asian Virginia Tech” or “Asian shooter.” I figured the people were probably divided into four groups: (1.) those who were shocked that the shooter may have been of Asian descent, (2.) those who were Asian and felt a sense of shame that someone Asian may be connected to such horror, (3.) those who were checking out rumors or trying to verify information, and (4.) those who wanted to find a reason to villanize people of Asian descent.

When people try to make sense of tragedies and find reasons for wrongdoing, it seems some folks inevitably go for the most simplistic reasons and the most divisive too. Ethnicity of the perpetrator is an easy target to some people as they look for ways to explain horror, especially if the person who is looking for targets already leans toward racist explanations.

I also heard early that it was a “Chinese graduate student.” However, I tossed that out thinking what’s the likelihood anyone knows this soon the nationality of the shooter? They’re probably hearing this stuff from traumatized witnesses who aren’t sure yet of exactly what they saw.

It’s possible that I was more sensitive to this type of reporting because I remember being a little girl in New Orleans and how I felt every time a news reporter mentioned a crime and seemed to make a point of sharing that the alleged perpetrator was a black man. At a young age I noticed they didn’t tell you race at all if an alleged perpetrator was white.

Yet, I think the reason we have to be careful about reporting race and avoid mentioning ethnicity in crimes is not because it’s bad to give detailed descriptions that include ethnic background. Good writing in the traditional sense would say tell details when you have facts. We have to be careful with details like race/ethnicity because America suffers a type of insanity when it comes to race. Many still try to make sense of the world based on skin color and ethnicity.

I say America because I know America, but I believe this is a global problem. Consider this post that involves assigning blame in Great Britain. It seems all over the world people are keeping score about which ethnic group does what, ignoring other factors for why humans do what they do.


Race: The Pink Elephant in the Room

The Virginia Tech story reminded me of the first time a black male was the perpetrator in a mass shooting. People reported it not the way they usually report crimes committed by black people, like “Well, it’s a black man again.” They reported it like, “Oh my God! It’s a black man. I didn’t know black men did these kinds of things. I thought only white guys did that.”

Reporters didn’t come out and say it that way on the news with an air of obvious shock. Instead they pummeled experts with questions asking them to explain what it meant that a black man had done the deed rather than a middle-class white male, which had been the profile of spree killers for a years.

This brings me to profiling. Profiles for types of criminals often include race. In the case of the Baton Rouge serial killer police were accused of wasting valuable time finding the possible real killer partially because they based their investigation on a serial killer profile that such killers are intelligent but psychotic white males. They ended up arresting a black man.

There’s probably nothing wrong with considering the race of potential perpetrators when it comes to law enforcement trying to track down a certain type of crime. But when law enforcement and everyday people leap beyond that to being suspicious of all people of a certain race absent of other indicators like anti-social behavior, we place society at greater danger.

When we look at race rather than behavior we endanger ourselves because we overlook other critical clues that suggest a threat. I worked for a while at Newark International Airport and noticed a tall, well-dressed, blond-haired, blue-eyed man shooting video of baggage handlers putting bags on planes. I stood at my kiosk and observed him for a while and the thought crossed my mind, They keep telling us to report suspicious behavior. I bet nobody’s questioning what he’s doing because he doesn’t look like he’s of Arab descent. He’s a white guy. So, I went up to him smiling and asked, “What are you doing?”

He told me he was shooting video for a television station in his country. I listened to his accent and said, “Cool. Your accent? Icelandic?” He said he was from Norway and started to look uncomfortable. I said, “Oh, don’t worry about me. I work over there. I’m not with security. I’m in sales.” We talked a few minutes more and then I left. I went back to my kiosk and started scanning the corridor for security.

When I told two police officers about the man they said, “It’s not illegal to shoot video.” I said I know but shooting video of how the baggage handlers put luggage on the plane seems like something someone should check out. Then one of the officers said, “I wonder if anyone’s checked his press credentials. Show us.” I turned around and looked toward my kiosk then spotted the man with his camera quickly hauling his butt down the corridor. The officers took off after him.

I don’t know what happened and it was probably nothing. He could have been running for his flight. Nevertheless, a few days later Newark Airport was shut down for a while. Agents busted people involved in a weapons deal. The arrested were not of Arab descent. They were Europeans.

Disturbing behavior

virginia tech professor lucinda royDisturbing behavior should be our focus when we’re on the look out for crime. Not skin color or ethnicity. When we hear of horrible crimes like the one at Virginia Tech, we never hear anyone say of the shooter, “Oh, but he was so happy, helpful, laughing all the time.” We hear words like angry, loner, or withdrawn.

In the VT shooters case we hear words like “stalked women.” I wonder how long some people like the Virginia Tech shooter go with no one reaching out to them. In the case of the VT shooter, a professor, Lucinda Roy, the woman pictured in this section, did reach out to the young man, but her hands were tied to help him beyond her capabilities. More unsettling is the recent revelation that a judge had ruled Cho Seung-Hui mentally ill in 2005.

Yet even with this bit of information about mental illness we must be careful. Everyone with a mental illness is not dangerous. A mental illness could be a tendency toward light depression. Despite being associated with suicide, not all depressed people are suicidal or homicidal. Not all women who suffer bipolar disorder are attracted to young boys as some media coverage/talk show discussions suggested when child molester Debra Lafave blamed her sexual relationship with a teenage boy on mental illness.

Not all those who suffer from schizophrenia are violent. I mention schizophrenia because an expert on Oprah today said based on Cho Seung-Hui’s writings he may have had the type of break with reality indicative of some forms of schizophrenia. Notice I said “may have had” and “some.” I’ve noticed that people tend to overlook qualifiers so they can paint those unlike themselves with the broad brush of being dangerous.

If we want to be vigilant, we should look for symptoms not our misunderstanding about mental health diagnoses, and before we point fingers we should talk to a professional who knows about mental illness. Morra Aarons gives a list of red flag symptoms in her post about VT shootings and a possible domestic violence connection.

Danger: Humans crossing

I think that when it comes to crime and heinous acts we will eventually accept that ethnicity has nothing to do with our madness, that when it comes to acts of violence it’s the ugly side of our humanity that joins us: The human capacity for inhumanity to humans is the tie that binds us to deadly deeds. The human capacity for violence is the demon we must face together.

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