Aug 13, 2020

Virginia Tech massacre: preventable?

LIFE FOR A college student or a professor is stressful enough. For the 25,000 students and faculty at Virginia Tech this Monday, life became a nightmare. For 32 of them, life was over.

The names of the victims flash before us on the television screen or in the pages of the newspaper. Their stories and accomplishments reduced to a single paragraph. They leave behind grieving friends and family, who will never forget the loved ones who had their lives stolen recklessly from them.


That is a question that can never be answered. A fellow college student, whose name is not worthy of print, decided that he was going to not only kill himself, but take as many down with him as possible.

Question Mark and Ismail Ax were two aliases that this psychotic individual used. He had a history of stalking female students, writing horrifically violent plays and living in a fantasy land with an imaginary supermodel girlfriend whom he called “Jelly.�

In 2005, a Virginia court order forced Question Mark to a hospital for a mental health observation to assess his risk for suicide. He was released a couple of days later. His behavior was bizarre. Wearing sunglasses and a hat in class every day, taking pictures of girls in the classroom and writing about death were concerning to many.

An English professor threatened to resign if Question Mark was not removed from her class. Concerned for the safety of other students, the department chair agreed. The chairwoman then wanted to know if he could be removed from the campus. No, she was told by campus police. He didn’t overtly threaten anyone, was the explanation.

Recently, Question Mark decided that he needed semi-automatic weapons. He was able to walk into a store and purchase guns with no waiting period. You see, Question Mark passed a criminal background check.

His history of psychotic behavior was unimportant because his civil liberties would be threatened should his previous experience at a mental health facility be relevant to his purchase of deadly weapons. A person’s mental health background is off-limits for a background check.

That is ridiculous. Should a person with a pattern of serious mental health issues be able to purchase semi-automatic weapons with no waiting period? No.

Can we, as a society, prevent something like this from happening again? I hope so. In order to do that though, we will need to seriously re-evaluate the way in which psychotic individuals are allowed to purchase deadly weapons.

It also should become apparent that for some people, like Question Mark, there can be no adequate psychological treatment. He would never have been normal. As things were, he would have most likely gone into his office building 10 years from now and killed every person he worked with. He was beyond help.

The events of this week have shaken not only the people of tiny Blacksburg, Va., but of the entire world. As a native Virginian whose sister attended Virginia Tech, I cannot help but feel relief that I did not know any of the victims personally. The problem is that others did know the victims.

We will never know what great things those 32 people could have accomplished. All we will ever know are their names, ages and hometowns. All we will ever see of them are their smiling faces, oblivious to the senseless and gruesome horror that would await them on a gloomy April morning.

But they were real people with real lives. Lives that could have been saved with tougher gun control laws for those with a history of psychotic behavior. Their lives could have been saved too, had someone like Question Mark been kept in a mental health facility and out of the classroom.

In a perfect world, those 32 people would still be here. They would be going to school or teaching their courses, living their lives in full color. And, in a perfect world, an unarmed Question Mark — the 33rd — would have been committed to a mental institution.

For life.

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