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Massacre for the Media

Another mass murder by an alienated loner looking for his moment of notoriety.

Another mass murder by an alienated loner, bitter and resentful, looking for his moment of notoriety — his few minutes of "fame." Ironically, the rates of homicide have been declining for the last twenty years and Newtown, Connecticut was one of the safest small cities in America. But whether it is Columbine, Littleton, or Newtown, the killer is someone who is looking for fame, for media coverage, to get back at the symbols of his own exclusion. The targets are the college students who "don't want anything to do with him" or the couples watching a Batman movie who represent connection that he will never have. Or, in the case of Adam Lanza, a loner, someone disconnected from childhood even when he was a child, someone whose family had expectations that he could never reach — someone who in one last dramatic act would become a warrior who would strike out at all that was "good" to assert the power that he never had. It would represent the victory of evil over the good.

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But, perhaps as important for the killer, it would represent in his mind, "The whole world will watch. I will be a celebrity."

Is this a new "massacre for the media" syndrome? "How can I get on the news, how can I become famous?"

It's harder to become famous by accomplishing something good or useful. How often do we spend days watching television about the great discoveries in medicine or the heroic teachers, mothers, fathers, or caregivers of the elderly? How often does the "good" make it to the front cover?

What was the attraction of killing the innocent children, the desire to do the most "evil" that we could imagine? Perhaps it is just that — it is unimaginable, it will catch our attention, it will make us all sit up and say, "How can that be?" It will make us all feel confused, powerless, resentful — but there will be no place for our vengeance to go, no person to direct it toward. The killer views his suicide as his ultimate triumph.

He got away.

And we are left with the bodies.

What stands out in my mind today is the battle between the force of "evil" (the killer) and the forces of "good." Watching the vigils, hearing the voices of the parents, learning about how we all share in this grief, and seeing the President's tears tells me that there is a lot of good, a lot of love, a lot of compassion, that this country is not broken, that there is a sea of connection that we share. I believe that this was an act of a desperate person who felt rejected and discarded by society (although he lived in a 1.6 million dollar home), who felt, "If you don't want me, then I will destroy everything that you love", that these kids murdered in cold blood represented the childhood he never had. The attraction of "evil" is to reject the "good" with all the sense of power, uniqueness, and righteousness of the rebellious Satanic figure. And to "make a name for myself — someone who had no name" by having the entire world talk about "me." This is "massacre for the media" — "suicide on center stage."

But there are heroes. And one of them is the 27-year-old teacher, Victoria Soto, who shielded her kids and was gunned down. Let her memory be our memory.

Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is the author of Anxiety Free,The Worry Cure and Beat the Blues. He is Clinical Professor of Psychology at Weill-Cornell Medical School. more...

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