By Mary O’Brien, M.D.
“Anyone who believes in God is stupid.” This statement was among many posted by the monster who murdered 26 innocent people in November 2017 in a Texas church. The victims ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years old. Eight members of one family were killed, 20 people were wounded. No one had a chance to hide or escape.
The man who committed this atrocity had been seething with anger and brutality for years. There were many red flags. He had received a dishonorable discharge from the Air Force and served time for assaulting his wife and child. His attack was so brutal, the baby suffered a skull fracture. He was known to have beaten and starved his dog. Any man capable of beating a woman, a baby, and a dog does not turn into a decent human being after 12 months in prison. The many pieces of this puzzle are already coming together.
In the realm of religious thought and theology, anger is considered one of the seven deadly sins. Unjust anger, if allowed to smolder, can lead anyone down a vicious path of destruction.
In the realm of clinical medicine, anger and hostility are considered the two most deadly and dangerous emotions. Those of us in health care encounter angry, hostile people almost every day. In fact, all of us encounter angry, hostile people with increasing frequency. Anger triggers a flood of potent hormones and neurotransmitters that can literally change brain function and even brain structure if the process lasts long enough.
However, pathologic anger, violence, and evil do not exist in a vacuum. There are always warning signs. All too often they go unnoticed or unreported. Most of us have been well-schooled to “mind our own business.” After all, we don’t want to be called judgmental, and we certainly don’t want to be sued. But considering the horrific happenings in Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Fort Hood, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, and New York, it’s time to rethink a few things.
Folks in law enforcement have been begging us for years: “If you see something, say something.” That advice sounds painfully simple, but simple things often save lives. Most of us know when something’s not right. We need to trust our instincts.
The good people of Sutherland, Texas, trusted their instincts hours after the massacre. In response to unfathomable evil and anger, they held a candlelight prayer vigil. That doesn’t sound “stupid” to me.