Appalachian School of Law Shootings

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Tue, 22 Jan 2002

Side effects of Sept. 11?;

Marlon Manuel
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution

The murder-suicide Friday at Broward Community College in South Florida was more than the third school shooting in the past week, according to a Marietta counselor and other psychologists.

The Florida shooting — coupled with Wednesday’s fatal shooting at a Virginia law school and the Tuesday shooting at a New York City high school — may indicate that pent-up stress from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may be pushing the emotionally vulnerable over the edge.

Put another way: We may be unraveling at the fringes.

The cause, though, is under scrutiny. Is Sept. 11 by itself pulling at the fabric of our nation, or was U.S. society beginning to fray before the attacks on New York and Washington?

‘One more straw’

Michael Popkin, president of Active Parent Publishers and a family counselor in Marietta, said stress is cumulative and that the Sept. 11 attacks “added a point or two to everybody.”

“It was just one more straw on the camel’s back,” Popkin said. “For people on the brink, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People are striking back instead of coping with it.”

On Friday in Davie, Fla., a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend before killing himself at Broward Community College, authorities said.

According to student and eyewitness Joe Fazio, “It looks like she was shot in the back of the neck. Then I heard the second gunshot. I turned around and the guy was laying on the ground.”

In Grundy, Va., on Wednesday, 43-year-old Peter Odighizuwa, a Nigerian student facing suspension, is charged with killing a dean, a professor and a student at the Appalachian School of Law. In New York, 18-year-old Vincent Rodriguez was arrested for allegedly shooting two classmates Tuesday because he believed they harassed his girlfriend, police say.

In December, a factory worker in Goshen, Ind., shot seven co-workers, then killed himself with a 12-gauge shotgun, several hours after he had quarreled with another employee over a female co-worker, police said.

Violence not new

Even before Sept. 11, internal violence strafed America’s psyche. The horrific shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999 and the deadly 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City provided grim evidence of the country’s deep anxiety long before commercial airliners became diabolical weapons of mass destruction. v

Author and researcher James Garbarino, co-director of the Family Life Development Center at Cornell University, argues that recent shootings are more indicative of the country’s cultural path before terrorism planted itself here, notwithstanding more flag-waving, talk of reordered priorities and families reconstituting themselves.

“Looking beyond the ephemeral to the core is in order,” Garbarino wrote in an e-mail in response to an interview request. “Mostly, the violent events that made the news in the last week are part of ‘business as usual’ in violent America.”

In short, talk is cheap.

“Rarely does deep and enduring social and personal change come out of such declarations and resolutions,” Garbarino wrote.

Attitudes, not behavior

For instance, the heroic treatment of firefighters and police officers has not created a surge in applications nationwide. After the attacks, military recruiters reported more people interested in joining the service. Ultimately, however, it has not coincided with an increase in the number of contracts signed, a Defense Department spokesman said.

Researcher Robert Putnam, who has been cataloging the country’s civic disengagement (voting less, joining less, reading less, trusting less), wrote for next month’s issue of the American Prospect that “though the immediate effect of the attacks was clearly devastating, most Americans’ personal lives returned to normal relatively quickly.”

“Generally speaking,” Putnam wrote, “attitudes [such as trust and concern] have shifted more than behavior has. Will behavior follow attitudes? It’s an important question. And if the answer is no, then the blossom of civic-mindedness after Sept. 11 may be short-lived.”

‘Desk rage’ up at work

Still, there’s stress out there. The al-Qaida threat remains. Osama bin Laden’s still out there — or not, who knows? The markets haven’t gotten traction and layoffs are real.

At work, so-called “desk rage” is popping up because of the Sept. 11-induced recession, according to a study by Integra Realty Resources, a New York real estate advisory and appraisal firm.

“Stress over America’s slowing economy is showing up in the workplace,” Integra President Sean Hutchinson said. The survey reports that 10 percent of employees say they work in an atmosphere where physical violence has occurred because of stress, with 42 percent saying yelling and verbal abuse occurs in their workplace.

The ingredients are in place for more drug use, alcohol abuse and cigarette smoking, said George Mason University counseling expert Fred Bemak. Under the surface of everything we do is the threat of more terrorism — even if a Jan. 7-9 Gallup poll shows fewer Americans fear terrorism than they did just two months ago, Bemak said.

“We’re one event away from having psychological and social and family chaos.”

For children and adolescents, the uncertainty is particularly perplexing because some see their parents unable to cope, Bemak said.

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