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Annie’s Mailbox: Child shows signs of being troubled

Thu., Jan. 31, 2013, midnight

Dear Annie: With the recent events that have occurred across the country involving mass killings, this has prompted me to ask a question. What do you do if you know someone you think could end up in the news involved in a mass killing? What do you do with those gut feelings?

I know someone who has prompted me and others to think, “This guy is a ticking time bomb.” This particular person is still a child, but one who displays many signs of being severely troubled. His parents don’t seem concerned, but many of us on the outside of this family dynamic think this child has serious issues and could potentially end up committing a horrible crime.

So what do I do? The child has never been in trouble. He has difficulty in public situations and prefers to be by himself. He shows a great interest in knives and guns, has very few friends, and has been moved from multiple schools because “he didn’t fit in.” Does this make him a potential risk? And if so, what do I do?

You hear interviews with neighbors and friends who say, “He was a quiet kid. I never thought he would do something like this.” Well, I wouldn’t be able to say that. – K.

Dear K.: The problem with stopping such behavior in advance is that there is no way to reliably predict who will commit such a crime. Signs can include depression, anger, drug or alcohol abuse, lack of empathy and hurting others. The angry kid who likes to torture dogs and pull the wings off of butterflies is more likely to harm a human being than the child who is socially awkward, but it still doesn’t predict mass murder. And easy access to guns can create an opportunity for tragedy that would otherwise defuse in a less disastrous way.

If you are in regular contact with this child, the best thing you can do is help him develop empathy for others and learn impulse control. We also hope you can be his friend.



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