Guest Column by Mary Cantell: Lesson from a murderer

We’ve seen the pictures of his Connecticut home. A tasteful white clapboard with black shutters set far back from the road amid a serene copse of trees— a string of green Christmas garland artfully wrapped around the pillars of the entrance. Our first thoughts? Not too shabby. Financial success. Comfortable life. Yet inside the home of the most recent killer to grace national headlines, there is something that belies its setting. There is life beyond the gracious doorway, but it is not the least bit comfortable.

When a murderer wakes up in the morning before the sun, what is on his mind the day he takes 27 lives, beginning with his own mother’s? As he prepares his arsenal, methodically packing his weaponry into a car trunk before calmly driving to a grade school a few miles away, what exactly is his m.o.? Whether the person is a sociopath, psychopath, or just a depressed loner unattached to his own emotions, who can know the heart of a killer?

Doctors and other assorted experts in the field of psychology are trying to figure it out for us. They parse and project the latest information on mental health, bubbling with a mixture of hope and sadness as they effusively reveal statistics gleaned from years of hands-on study. They present the facts and figures with experienced authority. We nod and groan at the facts they uncover, the meds and courses of treatment that have been successfully administered, and the unsuccessful cases that are beyond their reach.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the latest frenzy that has stirred up all of us, we seem quick to lay blame. There is emotional outcry for enacting new laws to prevent things like this from happening again. We bemoan the lack of sensitivity toward people who are different than what we interpret as normal, or rally behind more funding to research mental health issues before they become out of control. We target guns, violent video games, even bullying in schools as the enemies as though by limiting these things, the crimes will go away. But what we leave out of this equation is something that is equally compelling. Man’s heart.


While it is indeed sad, I tend to look at tragedies like Sandy Hook on a moralistic level. While the shooter was obviously not of sound mind—still, he did have the forethought to recognize what he was doing, that when confronted by police, who had him in their crosshairs, he turned his gun on himself. What was that “something” that came to the forefront? Just why did he shoot himself when confronted? I truly believe he knew he was in trouble. He knew what he was doing. He knew the difference between right and wrong.

In the wake of this unconscionable travesty in Sandy Hook, lawmakers can rise to the emotional occasion by passing laws that will restrict the use of guns in America; violent video games can be banned; we can increase funding on the study of mental illness, and individuals can do anything by any means possible to bolster physical protection in schools, malls, homes and workplaces. But until man learns to deal with the evil that is in his own heart, our society is still just as vulnerable as we were on 9/11.