The Malignant Divorce: Has NASA Gone Postal?

Crimes of passion are becoming more prominent in our sociological landscape

Posted Jan 23, 2012

Heaven has no rage like love betrayed.

We owe the term "going postal" to a series of killing sprees instigated by postal workers. It would seem that, sadly, a new term "going NASA" is in the works. On January 13th 2012, Shannon O'Roark Griffin become the second former NASA employee to commit a crime of vengeful rage. Killings by mentally broken people were once uncommon, but in recent times they have risen both in frequency and visibility.

Arguably, America was first introduced to what apparently law abiding citizens can do when they lose their minds by Charles Whitman, the infamous 1966 Texas University Sniper. I will never forget the image - almost as powerful as the Kennedy assassination in my consciousness of that time; a lone gunman on a tower picking off defenseless students for reasons known only to him. While Whitman certainly had a few unstable areas in his personal life (his father and mother had separated prior to the shooting, and allegations were made that his father was physically and mentally abusive), many believe that the brain tumor discovered during Whitman's autopsy was the real cause of that tragedy.

In other words, it took a physical anomaly in Whitman's brain to trigger murder.

At the time of the Whitman shooting, this type of violence was uncommon. Fast forward to recent times: we have witnessed a string of such rampages like the Columbine School Shooting the Virginia Tech Massacre and most recently, a man named Anders Behring Breivik coldly murdered dozens of youngsters in Norway. It is understood that these killers murdered because of mental disturbances. The Columbine killers most likely had Personality Disorders. The Virginia Tech gunman and the Norway killer were probably dealing with some form of psychotic disorder - perhaps schizophrenia. Mental disorders will always be among us, but violence is now more of an option than in the past.  Times have changed and people can become very dangerous with problems that fall short of a brain tumor.

We can't know what syndrome Mrs. O'Roark Griffin suffers from. But we do know that she was triggered and went way too far - so far as to leave the world of normal betrayal and retribution. Woman and men are betrayed everyday but it takes an unhinged mind to take the next step to murder.

According to reports, Shannon O'Roark Griffin and her husband attended couples therapy on Friday (January 13th), when it was revealed that Mr. Griffin was having an affair with Psychiatrist Irina Puscariu. Mr. Griffin reportedly told his wife that he did not intend to give up the affair. Following this revelation, Shannon drove 250 miles to Puscarui's residence in Gladstone, Kansas and proceeded to shoot her in the head three times. Shannon briefly went on the run and, according to reports, informed her husband and daughter of what she had done. Shannon allegedly told her husband that she wanted to "protect him and others from this evil woman."

This is a horrific tragedy plain and simple; a tragedy for Ms. Puscariu and her family as well as for Shannon, her husband and their daughter. I pray that the innocent in this story can pick up the pieces, but it will not be easy. There is no returning from murder. No fixing. That is why we must understand these things and help those out there who are vulnerable. The truth is that victims can victimize - and in the heat of the moment, they may need to hold back before doing the unthinkable.

In 1966 a brain tumor was required to force a man towards unfathomable violence. Now, stress is usually the element that breaks a predisposed soul.  For some, stress can trigger paranoia or even psychosis. In our Intelligent Divorce work we look at the power of stress and what it can do to some vulnerable people (and there is plenty of stress, even in a normal divorce). We have a category for a kind of perpetrator - who seeks revenge and even, rarely, commits murder without mercy; it's what we refer to as "The Avenger".

Every divorce has a leave-er and a leave-ee. The one who is being left must bear the brunt of the stress. Betrayal and loss can make anyone desperate - and no one is immune. Yet some, like Mrs. O'Roark Griffin, can be triggered to the extreme. The Avenger is characterized by the intense wish to "right the wrong" by an act of violence or revenge; and it is sick

Mrs. O'Roark Griffin and her counsel will probably argue to the court that this was a crime of passion, but this type of violence is becoming too familiar in our culture. The door has been opened too wide to violence and abuse in the name of victimhood. Just two months ago, in our small community in Upstate New York we had a murder/suicide related to divorce and this is not an anomaly. According to a study by the Justice Department, 80% of all homicide victims were murdered by someone they knew.

While undoubtedly there were crimes of passion fifty years ago, I cannot escape the image of Mr. Whitman's act of violence. In that terrible moment, the barrier of entry for someone to commit a crime like this was a brain tumor. Now, that barrier of entry has gotten substantially more permeable. And in divorce cases we are hearing about violence more and more. While most acts of retribution fall well short of murder, kidnapping and abuse of all sorts are behaviors that require preventive measures as well.

We as a society need to make an effort to understand and undermine stress induced violence that can occur in the midst of betrayal, hurt and anger. We can do better:

1.  We need to speak openly about divorce and how people act when they go through a divorce, including stress and its consequences.

2.  Everyone going through divorce needs friends and family, it's a time when they often feel abandoned - therapists, priests, rabbis, or friends can be the difference between a rash decision with permanent consequences and a passing lapse in judgment. Sometimes you feel so alone and desperate - and desperate people can do terrible things.

3.  Time can be of help when you are feeling out of control. The disorganization of one's mind often abates with time; and even a day or two counts. Rage is dangerous, but it is less so if a momentary regression into psychosis has passed.

4.  We as a nation need to redouble our efforts to make sure that anyone with a psychological vulnerability requires careful checking before they have weapons. After the Virginia Tech killings, President Bush along with Congress strengthened the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Is it doing the job?

5.  Guns are not going away and therefore we need to support measures to inform the public that like drinking and driving, high emotions and guns simply don't mix. Guns don't mix with rejection or anger. Guns don't mix with stress. Guns don't mix with booze and guns don't mix with debilitating psychological states. If we are going to have these weapons out there, we must educate, educate, educate. A lot is at stake.

If you or a loved one is experiencing violent thoughts towards yourself or others, get help. One source among many is The National Suicide Prevention Life Line, which is available 24/7 for crisis intervention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

A day refraining from doing the unthinkable is a big step towards preventing a violent thought from morphing into a terrible crime. With some support, or better, limited access to a loaded gun, perhaps Shannon would have awoken the next day and simply hired a nasty lawyer.

Litigation may not be pretty - but it's safer.

Final Note:

I pray for a day when domestic violence of all kinds becomes a thing of the past. There is just too much pain out there. 


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