A once unthinkable act happened again last week, another mass shooting in Florida, this time at a high school. The damage done in this tragedy not only includes the tragic loss of 17 lives and hospitalization of 12, but the loss of innocence of those students who witnessed such violence. To be near someone who was shot, another student, a teacher, or perhaps a friend, will most likely cause upsetting life long memories. Whenever they hear a bang, the backfiring of a car, the sound of something being dropped loudly on the floor, or the pop of a balloon, the memories will spill out and they will relive the disturbing day all over again, possibly ducking for cover to avoid invisible gun shots. Post-traumatic stress will haunt the survivors forever.
The picture of the shooter was shown across all news stations. When I first saw it, his empty green eyes flashed and jolted my own. His floppy ears and sad demeanor caused the pit of my stomach to turn somersaults. He looked almost exactly like my brother, Curtis, when he developed schizophrenia at the age of 17, and my heart couldn’t help but break.
This 19-year-old young man was described as “pure evil” and many people think he is or he wouldn’t have been capable of such violent behavior, something no rational person could even dream of doing. That is the point. Nikolas is not rational, nor has he been for a long time.
He was adopted, and his father, to whom he was very attached, died when he was five years old. He was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, often holding his ears and banging his head if he was overwhelmed. He did not do well in school, was teased, and additional behavioral issues increased. (Children with autism are not generally violent.) He killed animals and displayed them on the Internet, along with his weapon arsenal. This most definitely was not a rational young man. Despite his violent thoughts, Nikolas subconsciously wanted help, and he left many clues to that effect. He even posted that his goal was to become a school shooter! Who could read that and not help?
The big problem, and what should be a huge national concern, is the lack of mental health care for adults. When under the age of 18, Nikolas was involved with a mental health center. Once he turned 18, he had the option of going or not, and no one could force him. Once he threatened violence, he could have been held for a few days in a mental health facility, which would have been inundated with patients with similar violent thoughts, and from which he would have been released, possibly on some new medication he would refuse to take. Released into the community to once again spew his violent rhetoric, and, ultimately, carry through on his threat.
When my brother developed schizophrenia and was unable to live alone or with family, he was hospitalized, determined to be a threat to himself or others, and was released to live in a group home, where he spent the rest of his life. He was in a safe, structured environment where professional help was available 24 hours a day. Nursing staff provided his daily medication, which would somewhat calm his thoughts. His life included things he liked to do, like drinking Diet Coke, going to Science Fiction movies, and ride on the escalators at the mall. (In his mind, he was taking the escalator up to the Star Ship Enterprise.) Why was such an environment not available for Nikolas? I suspect it was due to budget cuts and the huge lack of service providers who take Medicaid due to the low rate of reimbursement. The federal budget this year included further cuts to Medicaid. This guarantees that there will, most definitely, be another school shooting in the future.