The Bad Seed

The last couple of days I have been following the story of the Colorado shooter.  There is an extensive trail of postings from various forums written by him.  You can find them if you are interested.  I don’t know if I would recommend reading them.  There is a part of me that wanted to understand what led to his actions. 

My initial impression was that he was the typical outcast, rejected, bullied, and abused.  He was bitter toward YWAM because he wasn’t allowed to go on an outreach trip.  He also spewed with anger about Christianity because he believed that his upbringing was excessively restrictive.

Due to his online activities, his writing gives some insight into his perceptions.  Matthew’s perception was that of a victim.  Everything and everyone opposed his chances for happiness and success.  His perception was of victimization and self-pity.  Was that his reality? 

In spite of the fact that he chose YWAM and New Life as the targets of his attack, it appears that, more likely, they were a scapegoat for his anger.  Neither do his parents appear to be the monsters he describes.  I couldn’t help but wonder about his family, especially his mother.

Sometimes siblings in a family give vastly different reports of the same experiences simply because of differences in how they perceive themselves and others.  It isn’t likely that Matthew’s life was perfect, but I believe his accusations should be taken with some reservation. 

Typically after such tragedies, there are widespread attempts to understand why such a thing could happen and what contributed to the motives of the shooters.  This often leads to pinning blame somewhere. 

This morning the mother of the Omaha mall shooter was also interviewed on TV. 

In every one of these tragedies, there is a mother.  

As I thought about some of these rampage shooters, I couldn’t help but imagine the horror of this experience in the hearts of their mothers.  People tend to blame mothers, and moms tend to blame themselves.  The current in the river of mom-guilt runs deep and wide.

Were these bad seeds born or bred?

With many of these shooters, while there isn’t a consistent profile, there often is a lethal combination of factors that add up to devastating results.   

The fact is, clinical research clearly demonstrates that psychopathy does not spring unannounced into existence in adulthood. The symptoms reveal themselves in early life. It seems to be true that parents of psychopaths KNOW something is dreadfully wrong even before the child starts school. Such children are stubbornly immune to socializing pressures. They are “different” from other children in inexplicable ways. They are more “difficult,” or “willful,” or aggressive, or hard to “relate to.” They are difficult to get close to, cold and distant and self-sufficient.  (The Psychopath – The Mask of Sanity)

Psychopathy is frequently linked to attachment issues in early childhood.  Sometimes there are obvious issues of abandonment or lack of bonding between parent and child contributing to the problem.  In other circumstances, well-meaning parents struggle in their attempts to connect with a child who is extremely difficult to parent.  It is possible that deficiencies in neural processing actually hinder the child’s ability to attach.

Victimization, frequently sexual, at an early age will also set the course of a child’s life spiraling down a destructive path.  Often these kids are unaware or confused about the root of their destructive behaviors and choices.

It is not likely we will know all of the factors that contributed to the shooters’ motives. However, I can almost guarantee that there will be mothers wrestling over the question of why long after others have forgotten.

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9 thoughts on “The Bad Seed

  1. Grace, you are so right. Every time something like this happens, I find myself trying to put myself in the mom’s shoes. I ask myself if there are things I should be seeing. If I’m contributing to any maladjustment in my daughter’s life. The mom-guilt river, as you so adeptly described it, connects us all.

  2. I have 4 girls now raised to adulthood. I think if you interviewed them about thier lives growing up you would find 4 very different stories. I’m amazed, like you said, how a child can be raised in the same home with the same parents and virtually the same siblings (execpt for themselves) and each have such individual experiences that you would not recognize those experiences as being on the same planet.
    My heart goes out to those who have had to deal with a teenager such as this child.
    In dealing with my own wayward teen I know I had to try not to continually take inventory of what I did wrong. I tried to examine each area of failing in my head when it came up. If I was wrong I tried to ask forgiveness quickly. Then I had to drop it and realize that I could not go back into my life and be perfect. Beating myself up for past failures as a parent, whether true or not brought nothing by depression and self pity.

  3. I’m sure you’re right about mother-guilt, although since I’m not a mother, I can’t speak from personal experience.

    However, regarding the Colorado shooter, one important factor, IMO, is that he was home schooled with an authoritarian program that is heavily works-based, and lays on plenty of Fear, Obligation, and Guilt (FOG). I was home schooled myself, not with the same program, but we attended the organization’s seminars and had plenty of its material in our home. Their showcase families are incredibly impressive (and I’m sure there are some that are genuinely happy), but the program makes no provisions for systemic parental failings. The message to women and children is submit, submit, submit, and even the most despotic authority figure is sure to change as a result. Mental illness is considered a spiritual issue/sin, and the root of all teen issues is “the rock beat.” Here’s a link to a site where former students of the program vent: .

  4. I have been a frequent reader of you blog for nearly a year, thank you for your honesty, insights and sharing. I have recently begun writing a blog, although I have not made it the priority it should have been the last month. As with many who write, writing is not only an investment of energy and time, but also my emotions and myself. I was a substitue teacher, who loved being a mom and being with “my kids” without the full time commitment. On April 24, 2003 I was involved in a school shooting and my soul shattered into a million pieces. I had a conversation with the student the day before and planned on pulling him aside that morning. I never had the chance. It took me years to forgive myself for not being able to see what he was about to do and stop him, I know only God could have done that. There are so many factors that lead to school shooters and shooters in general. I would highly recommend Rampage by Katherine Newman, she has done an excellent job interviewing past shooters, their families and survivors. While the latest incidents were slightly different, there are many similarities. As I sat in the pit, just God and me, in the years after I feel I had the amazing privledge of private theology lessons with God. I struggled with why would you create someone knowing when their life would end and what they were capable of doing. In the end I realized each life is precious, each created to bring Him joy, each leaving a unique footprint on the world, each changing it in many ways. And above all that each was a child of God who brought love and joy into someone’s heart. Each life is created for a reason and is precious because of it no matter what choices they make. I continue to pray and touch one child at a time in hopes they will make a choice to continue to bring joy into the world.

  5. Cindy,
    I cannot imagine a more thoughtfully and intentionally loved and nurtured child than your little girl. Obviously we all make some mistakes, and our children are eventually responsible for their own choices, but I truly believe that love (and humility) can cover the mistakes we make along the way.

    Barb,
    Sometimes when my sisters and I are together sharing childhood stories, I will listen to one of them and think, “who’s house did you grow up in?”

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on dealing with your guilt when a child makes wrong choices. At some point we really do have to let it go, and so do they. I can still remember the process of forgiving my parents in my early 20’s and finally coming to the realization that they were only human, doing the best they could.

    With my own children in their late teens, I am painfully aware that the formative work is already done. I can no longer add to it or take away from anything I’ve done. Releasing them to themselves is a scary and unsettling feeling.

  6. Naomi,
    Thanks for sharing your perspective and experience. Overly rigid and controlling authority is a contributing factor in some of these incidents. I agree that fundamentalism or dogmatism can be extremely damaging and abusive.

    Obviously I am not an expert on mental illness. However, my opinion is that it is not solely a spiritual nor solely a biological issue. I believe there are biological issues at work that create social/behavioral/spiritual results.

    I believe there are also circumstances that can and do contribute to mental illness as I alluded to – attachment issues and victimization and abuse at an early age.

    I don’t know the true circumstances in this case, but it is possible that in attempting to control behavior with religious mechanisms, perhaps biological and therapeutic issues were neglected. My hunch is that the parents were ill equipped to deal with this “difficult” child and inadequate in the avenues they pursued to “fix” him.

  7. Kathryn,
    It is so interesting what comes up when you write a post. There are so many people with unique perspectives. Thanks for delurking to share your experience.

    I can’t imagine being as close to the situation you describe. I can imagine the trauma and the relentless would’ve/could’ve/should’ve that you felt afterwards.

    The book Rampage sounds interesting. The last several days I was especially wondering about the shooters’ families, curious about the stories of these young men.

    I can see that eventually accepting God’s forgiveness would ultimately allow you to forgive yourself also. I appreciate the lessons that you shared. It is good to remember the love the Father has for even these seemingly worst sinners.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts both here and at your blog.

  8. I was involved with YWAM overseas for years. In one particular training school we had several unstable people with very deep emotional wounds. None of them were allowed to go on the much anticipated outreach to other countries. It was humiliating for them, all the other students knew they weren’t going. But it was a good decision, a necessary one for the sake of the person as well as the rest of the team. But I can imagine this type of decision feeling like rejection and victimization as you point out Grace. I can imagine it becoming the last straw for someone distraught with anguish and unclear thinking. Whether mental illness played a role, or it was simply anger and rage that boiled over, is up for debate. But what is for certain is the tragic aftermath of grieving parents and relatives and friends who wonder what they could have done to help reach this kid. Thanks for reminding us to remember the moms in these tragedies, Grace.

  9. Pam,
    That was one of the questions that bothered me about this story – where is the line between actual abuse and perceived abuse? There are many things that we probably won’t know the answers to. So much senseless tragedy and sorrow.

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