It was so predictable that the media would characterize the 17-year-old high school student who is being charged with shooting to death three of his fellow students and wounding two others at an Ohio high school as having been bullied.
These items from the Huffington Post and Policy Shop, the blog of the left-wing organization Demos, both hit the bullying angle. Bullying is a terrible thing and even though I think a lot of the campaign against bullying is politically-motivated, it is definitely a symptom of societal or family ills.
But was bullying as a cause the shootings? Marybeth Hicks, who writes on family issues, suggests otherwise:
Students interviewed for media reports in the aftermath of the incident indicated T.J. was quiet and may have been considered an “outcast” but was not bullied.
One student recalled reaching out to T.J. by sitting next to him on the bus, because he seemed lonely. An attorney for his family said the young man kept to himself but had friends and was never in any trouble the family knew about.
Rejecting the bullying theme, Hicks nevertheless sees societal reasons for the shooting:
The harder yet more damning truth may be that children in this culture cannot escape the relentless messages of immorality that permeate the culture in which they live.
Despite the best efforts of parents and families, schools and communities, the media-saturated existence of our youth – filled as it is with violence and vulgarity, evil and insanity – is defining too many of our children and presenting them with horrific examples of human behavior.
I want to cite another factor that helped create T. J. Lane: Lane was the product of a truly dreadful family. Lane’s father had been arrested numerous times for attacking women, including Lane’s mother:
The father, Thomas Lane Jr., was known to county authorities because of a series of arrests for abusing women in his life, court records show. It's not clear how much contact the father and son had.
But between 1995 and 1997, the boy's father and mother, Sara A. Nolan, were each charged with domestic violence against each other.
The father was later charged with assaulting a police officer and served time in prison after trying to suffocate another woman he married several years after his son was born, according to court records.
He held the woman's head under running water and bashed it into a wall, leaving a dent in the drywall, court records show.
But soon after he went to prison, the woman wrote a letter asking that he be released early.
She had divorced Thomas Lane but said in the letter that he was always a good father to their twin daughters and a son she had before they married.
Some youths who attended a vigil at a church on Chardon's square Monday evening said that the teen lived with his grandparents and had multiple step- and half-siblings. His grandmother declined to comment.
The anti-bullying campaign often portrays the bullies as upholders of traditional norms who create a hostile environment for kids who are different. There may be an element of truth in this and it’s important to teach kids not to bully people who are different.
But I think that what the shooter was missing was a dose of traditional values, including exposure to good parents who are able to remain married. It can’t be edifying to have a father who attacks women. While we can all feel sympathy for the grandmother, her household of multiple half- or step-siblings can’t have been a good place to grow up.
On the other hand, none of these things, in my book, are mitigating factors. The paradox with somebody like this shooter is that we can see that he is the product of a family for which the adjective dysfunctional would be too kind but that he is nevertheless (in my opinion) completely responsible for his evil actions. My sympathy is with the three dead and two wounded and the people who love them, not with Lane. Not even remotely.
Speaking through the lawyer who is representing T.J. Lane, the family did put out a statement. Here is is:
"The family wanted me to convey to the citizens of Geauga County and Northeastern Ohio that the family is devastated by this most recent event. They want to give their most heartfelt and sincere condolences to the family of the young man who passed and their continuing prayers are with all those who were injured. This is something that could never have been predicted. TJ's family has asked for some privacy while they try to understand how such a tragedy could have occurred and while they mourn this terrible loss for their community."
Silence would have been preferable.