A lone gunman entered an immigrant services center in downtown Binghamton, New York, on Friday and killed 13 people. Four others were wounded in the massacre that began around 10:30 in the morning and ended three minutes later when the shooter took his own life.
Police sources say the shooter was Jiverly Voong, a 41-year-old resident of the nearby town of Johnson City who had been in the United States for 28 years and was a citizen. He reportedly had been taking language classes at the center. Authorities are saying that name may be an alias. Police refuse to officially name their suspect because of the possibility that the ID found on the body may have been false or stolen.
Voong also recently lost his job at IBM. His motive is unknown at the moment.
It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that, after yet another senseless tragedy involving a disturbed individual who lashes back at a world that he believes has injured him by committing mass slaughter of the innocent, we are gradually becoming inured to this kind of violence.
We are shocked — but not quite as shocked as we were when we heard the news about Columbine. We are horrified — but not quite as horrified as we were when we first tuned in to the Virginia Tech shootings. We are saddened for the victims and their families — but perhaps the feelings of pity and concern are now being replaced by an overweening sense of helplessness in the face of mindless mayhem committed for reasons only the killer believes are just.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, a broken record of commentary and punditry that you can simply go to your Tivo and rerack coverage of any similar outrage to get the gist of their talking points. The talking heads always politicize the tragedy, as partisans seek advantage in pushing their pet issues, piggybacking their arguments on the backs of the slaughtered. And now we have the extra added attraction for the commentators of an economy in the tank and America more afraid, more stressed, and more depressed than in any other economic downturn since the depression.
Did Voong go on his rampage because he lost his job? It is true that crime goes up during hard times. But no one has ever found a correlation between mass murder and the economy. Experts say that these tragedies are the result of the shooter feeling personally injured in some way — real or imagined.
The president issued a statement from Europe, where he is attending ceremonies connected to the 60th anniversary of NATO:
Michelle and I were shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence in Binghamton, N.Y., today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the people of Binghamton.
A press conference on the massacre in Binghamton was surreal. After Mayor Ryan made some opening remarks, Governor Paterson shouldered his way to the microphone to get a little national TV face time. He was followed quickly by Representative Maurice Hinchey (D). A written statement from both those gentlemen would have sufficed. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of local and state pols sticking their faces in front of the cameras, using a tragedy for self-aggrandizing purposes.
Is this kind of violence — and the fact that it occurs with alarming regularity — simply a reflection of American society and culture? The fact that the probable shooter is a naturalized citizen raises questions as to whether that notion can be applied in this case. Some blame the “gun culture” for this fascination with violence, but there are millions of Americans who are part of that “culture” who will never commit mass murder.
While there is no “explanation” for the violence, the mental health of the killer is usually called into question, especially in cases where the massacre ends in suicide. Could it be that in a nation of 300 million people the number of people afflicted with this kind of suicidal rage is greater than it is elsewhere and therefore these mass murders a more common occurrence as a result? It is an unknown that will haunt us until the next tragedy dominates the news cycle and tests our ability to continue to be shocked and saddened by the madness.