Monday, December 8, 1997

Week of 12/08/1997

Pavlov’s Surprise
All buttons being pushed in tragedy
- by David Matthews 2

Here’s the facts as we know them: On Monday (12/1), shots rang out in the foyer of a high school in Kentucky. Eight students in a prayer circle were hit. Three of the students died, five were wounded. A member of the prayer circle talked the gunman out of killing more students before he was apprehended. A fourteen year-old boy is currently being held and has confessed to the killings.

Now the town, and indeed, the whole country, is playing a game of "Pavlov’s Surprise" in order to determine for themselves why this happened.

Rumors first abound that the 14 year-old was a self-professed atheist, who often mocked the group. DING! All of a sudden, the religious crusaders start screaming "See? We’re being persecuted for our rights! All those atheists who can’t remove GOD from the schools are out to kill us!"

But then it is revealed that the boy regularly attended church. So much for the atheist theory.

Then one investigator says that boy admitted to have gotten the idea to kill from a movie called "The Basketball Diaries." In it, the protagonist has a fantasy about going into his private catholic school and start killing all the people who he felt were putting him down. DING! Instantly, all the social crusaders start screaming "SEE? Hollywood is promoting violence to our children! Hollywood is to blame for this carnage!"

This R-rated movie was released in 1995, and now available on cable and video. So if this the case, why isn’t anyone asking the parents how they could let their son watch an R-rated movie? Wouldn’t the parents take more of the blame than Hollywood ever could?

Now one officer is speculating that more than one student was supposed to be involved.


I’m waiting for the conspiracy freaks to lead an inquiry of all the boy’s friends and associates to see who could have planed a conspiracy. No doubt they will be checking with the religious crusaders to see what religion they professed to be in, and with the social crusaders to see if they saw any other movies like "JFK," or "Natural Born Killers." I wouldn’t be surprised if someone started talking like Kevin Coster’s character about "it would be a turkey shoot" and "they walked the course, they knew where and how it was going to go down."

All the while, of course, the media will be eager to catch every minute on video to be mainlined to the scores of armchair jurors in the ever-changing court of public opinion.

Let’s get brutally honest here. This was a tragedy. No mistake about it. Three young people are dead before their adult lives started, and there is no amount of speculation or blame assessment that will bring those people back. Repercussions of those events seemed to have a chilling effect across the country, as other schools soon reported students bringing guns into class as well. These students weren’t being inspired by Hollywood, but rather by the network news.

But what is going on now is almost just a severe a tragedy as the initial killing. We have members of the media second-guessing law enforcement.. again! Eager to get any edge on their competition, they try to get any hint, any snippet of fact or rumor, and then bouncing them off any special interest group hungry for the limelight. And these special interest groups do come running, much like Pavlov’s dogs when they heard a bell.

Much to the credit of the community, the residents have not demanded vengeance or a pound of blood. Shock and outrage have turned to forgiveness, which should make any person proud.

Something happened that caused the boy to snap. What was it? One plausible, realistic theory went unchecked. Rumors abounded that the boy was harassed, but since there wasn’t any Pavlov-like reaction to that news, it didn’t garner too much attention. In fact, the students questioned were all too quick to dismiss such allegations, saying that any amount of teasing was in good fun.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way. Nobody wants to think of themselves as the villain, especially after such a tragic event. Nobody wants to think that words can hurt, even when spoken with good intentions. I should know. I’ve been there at both ends of the spectrum. I know that words can sometimes hurt worse than any stick or stone, because they don’t leave any physical marks.

And just because someone can be "good natured" doesn’t mean that there’s nothing wrong with them. I’ve found that being comical is the perfect defense mechanism to hide feelings of loneliness or hurt. And no matter how many times people have asked if anything was wrong, I’d still wouldn’t tell them what it was.

Still, the only person who can really say what has made the boy snap is the boy himself. All anyone else can do until then is speculate, point fingers, and assess blame. Now is certainly not the time to play "Pavlov’s Surprise."

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