Cautionary tale — Help before turning to violence
Jeffrey T. Johnson walked out from behind a van in Midtown Manhattan, shot former co-worker Steven Ercolino and then walked off down the street Friday. At the front doors of the Empire State Building, two police officers opened fire and shot 16 times into the crowd at Johnson.When the smoke cleared, Johnson was dead and nine bystanders were wounded.
This tragedy never should have happened. So far at least, Johnson appears to fit a profile that is all too familiar — a troubled loner with an axe to grind.
Johnson and Ercolino had a long history of animosity. After Johnson lost his job two years ago, he blamed Ercolino and fought with him in an elevator.
People who are responsible for atrocities like Ercolino’s death share similar characteristics. James Eagan Holmes, the shooter who killed 12 people in Aurora, Colo., gave plenty of warning too.
Holmes’ psychiatrist was so worried about his mental health that she reported to a University of Colorado police officer that he might be dangerous. In the court filings, Holmes reportedly told a fellow student he wished to kill people, and showed another his handgun.
It’s easy to dismiss people like Johnson and Holmes as fundamentally evil. Yet, there was a time before they shot anyone that they were merely sick, lonely and depressed.
We ignore warning signs at our own peril. Appropriate responses to warning signs such as those exhibited by Johnson and Holmes are the only way to prevent similar shootings.
There are those who advocate gun control as the answer. But gun control isn’t a feasible option at this point — there are more than 270 million guns in the United States. Guns are so intertwined in the fabric of our country that eliminating them entirely is impossible.
At the University of Idaho, we have an example of the need for increased awareness about mental illness that can lead to violence.
The university knew about former UI assistant professor Ernesto A. Bustamante’s mental illness, and that graduate student Katy Benoit feared for her safety. While UI terminated his employment, whether it did everything it could have to ensure Benoit’s safety is debatable to this day.
But even when there are warning signs we aren’t always able to stop these tragedies from occurring. There’s always an element of unpredictability where mental illness is involved.
Crimes like these are preventable if we recognize the warning signs early. Instead of alienating people like Johnson and Holmes, we need to make sure they get the help they need — before they turn to violence.