By all accounts, the bus driver was a compassionate person who had gone out of his way to try to befriend the man who would become his killer.
The response of local and national law enforcement resources was awe-inspiring. Peace officers who have trained for just this type of situation were called upon. A windowless DC-9 reportedly flew in with special equipment. C-4 explosives, an arsenal of arms, helmeted officers in body armor, Humvees and armored personnel carriers were on the scene. Remotely controlled aircraft were seen circling the area, presumably using cameras to watch for signs of movement. One report even indicated a camera was moved through a plastic pipe to enable law enforcement officers to observe the kidnapper and analyze his behavior.
We applaud the bravery and courage of the officers who stormed the bunker and successfully rescued the child, with no reports of injuries to anyone but the kidnapper. We appreciate the skill, the training and the professionalism of those who converged on the scene to help. The teamwork and cooperation that must have taken place are comforting. The administrators and politicians who approved forming, equipping and training of such a team are to be commended for their farsightedness and vision for making such a rescue possible.
But we have to wonder if there is a piece of the puzzle missing.
In this incident, and in all too many of the mass shootings that have taken place, the tragedies are caused by someone with some type of mental aberration.
In the intense national debate over whether or how to change laws about guns, mental health policies are being mentioned almost as an afterthought.
Part of the president’s “Now is the Time” plan calls for more nurturing school climates, and quality coverage of mental health treatment, particularly for young people.
We’d like to see those ideas moved to the front end of the conversation.
Some of that could be done at the state level, without waiting for a federal mandate. It’s been almost a half century since Alabama began reducing the capacity of the state’s mental hospitals. There were about 5,000 patients housed there in 1970. By 2012, that was down to about 600. Many more get treatment as residents or outpatients through community-based centers.
We can’t help wondering if they have the resources they need for their mission, or whether the mission needs to be redefined.
In Talladega County, for example, there are six local law enforcement agencies, in addition to state and federal agencies that operate as needed in the same area.
Talladega County shares one mental health facility with three other counties.
In our present system, law enforcement officers are typically the first people called when someone suffering from a mental health issue is presenting a danger to others. They handle those calls as professionally as they can, but is that the best approach?
We all heard comments from the south Alabama kidnapper describing his odd and dangerous behavior. The Colorado theater killer had personality issues that apparently blocked his admission to doctoral programs at UAB and the University of Iowa. The Newtown shooter had issues his mother chose to ignore.
An improved recognition of mental health issues, and a more systematic method of getting help for people who may need it could not only prevent rare acts of violence, but could go a long way toward improving the quality of life for others among us.
At the very least, a counselor or therapist could go talk to people having difficulties coping with life – with a police escort, if that’s what is needed.
It’s great to know that our government has awesome resources available to respond after the emergency call comes in.
We have to wonder if we can’t do a better job of identifying people at risk and getting them the help they need before it comes to a crisis.