UPDATE: We now know a distrubed student from Centerville, (orignially South Korea) is the gunman at Virginia Tech. He had access to services which he did not use and the authorities and even his friends could not make him. This is the real tragedy, that it could have been prevented if we as a society would care to intervene. There cannot be a civil right to be insane.
Here is what I said Monday:
At this hour, we still do not know who the shooter was or why he did it, although we can suspect. Unless this was part of a coordinated act of terror about to unfold over the next week, we can safely assume that this is the work of a lone madman, likely with a history of previously diagnosed mental illness.
Sadly, I was correct.
Once he got going, there was nothing stopping him from getting as a high a body count as he could and then taking his own life, since in Virginia, if he had been captured he would likely look forward to the death penalty after a long period of solitary incarceration in a our Super-Max prison. In other words, the existence of the death penalty was no deterrant and may have been a spur to ultimate violence. We will never know.This was probably also correct, though we will never know.
What we do know is that our present systems of mental health and corrections are not working. In prior days, this individual would likely have been given the benefit of asylum until he could be medicated, and would have been returned to asylum for non-compliance with these medications. If the person were mentally ill but refused treatment, relatives or the state could have forced him into it, with legal protections to assure that he wasn't being railroaded, but with the presumption that something was wrong. Given todays events, that was not necessarily a bad state of affairs.
In recent years, both public and private health dollars for mental illness have been cut. Given the loss of life and the likely lawsuits, the cutting of these funds and the limitation of coverage may have been penny wise, but it was certainly pound foolish. I would hope that the student's families bring suit against whatever health plan limited the assailant's access to treatment, if this was a factor in today's events.He had access to care, which some probably begged him to take. He didn't.
What is needed is a more compassionate health care and corrections system, run by private non-profit and preferably faith-based entities using the best that modern psychiatry has to offer. Readmission for non-compliance with medication or substance abuse recovery must be made mandatory and the ultimate penalty taken off the table for killing while insane. Rather, today's assailant should have been able to turn himself in and receive the mandatory minimum for manslaughter in a well run mental hospital. This may have either prevented the tragedy entirely or at least left it at the original two victims.