I’ve waited to add this event to the blog because I wanted to write about it ‘cold.’ I also wanted to see what the sustained reaction would be after the shock decreased.
10 December 2007
This morning I read an Associated Press article in my morning newspaper about the gunman in Colorado who murdered congregants of the New Life Church founded by former pastor Ted Haggard. When I read that the gunman had been homeschooled, I felt a gloom descend and add to the weight of what I can only guess is a despair about aspects of human nature when any tragedy of this sort happens. Tragedies are especially noticeable in this allegedly merriest of seasons (or perhaps because of the so-called merriest of seasons — note FBI figures of “murder by month.” December has a higher rate than November or January)
Colorado church massacre gunman had been forced out of youth program, 10 December 2007, Kansas City Star (Associated Press report), Kansas City, Missouri
The gunman thought to have killed four people at a megachurch and a missionary school had been thrown out of the school a few years ago, police said Monday.
According to court papers, Matthew Murray, 24, had been sending the school hate mail.
Murray was home-schooled in what a friend said was a deeply religious Christian household. Murray’s father is a neurologist and a leading multiple-sclerosis researcher.
In looking at Google results, other people noticed the 24-year-old gunman’s schooling background, too. By way of contrast in the significance of early schooling, how important is the schooling history of the gunman in Omaha? After all, his shooting was ‘worse’ because he killed more people, and the people he targeted had nothing to do (that we yet know of) with his background. Do the murders of random strangers appall us less than a killer who takes out people he may have known?
The killers also have a difference in ages. Where the Colorado gunman was 24, the Omaha killer was 19-years-old so his time in school would have been closer to the shooting, and perhaps of greater influence. Did the homeschooling the Colorado gunman received as a child cause him to shoot up a church as an adult? What about the Colorado gunman’s younger brother who was also homeschooled? Do the reporters know something they did not pass along to the readers?
To see if there was any difference in how the shooters’ educational backgrounds were treated, I searched for information about the Omaha gunman’s schooling history and found mention of his high school in a CNN report.
Police: Nine killed in shooting at Omaha mall, including gunman, 6 December 2007, CNN.com
A 19-year-old gunman who killed eight people and then himself Wednesday at the Westroads Mall in Omaha, Nebraska, left a suicide note, police said.
Police have identified the gunman as Robert A. Hawkins, 19, of Nebraska.
Chief Thomas Warren of the Omaha Police Department called the shooting “premeditated,” but said it “appears to be very random and without provocation.”
Surveillance cameras may have captured the shooting, Warren said.
Hawkins’ former school district released a photo of a youth with glasses and long black hair. A spokeswoman said he attended Papillon-La Vista High School until he withdrew in March 2006.
The A.P. report about the New Life Church shooter mentions homeschooling in the third paragraph. The CNN report about the Omaha mall shooter names the school in the 33rd paragraph. An A.P. report about the Omaha shooter doesn’t mention a school.
In considering the placement of the school information in the articles, it may be helpful to know that news reporters write their pieces with the most important information at the beginning of the article and the less important information at the end — an inverted pyramid. Editors who pick up the story from wire services can then adjust the story to fit the space available, and their readers’ level of interest, just by removing the report’s end paragraphs. In this way, no harm comes to the report’s core by the snipping off the end.
Comparing the two articles above, any news outlet that uses the A.P. article will most likely pass along the homeschooling connection of that shooter. It is less likely that any outlet using the CNN report will include the name of that shooter’s school, or any reference to schooling.
In reports such as these, is any kind of ‘schooling as schooling’ an important factor for the public to consider in the early stages of the investigation? The information about the perps’ educations may add to the overall feel that readers get about the shooters, but is it critical Who, What, Where, When and How information? I would add Why to the list, but it is usually the last question answered, if anyone answers it at all.
I have said before that I see the ‘line’ between homeschooling families and non-homeschooling families as porous. One day, public opinion considers the children in a family one kind of ‘schoolers’ but, with a change of need and provider, the next day public opinion pegs the same children as another kind of ‘schoolers.’
As for which educational camp gets credit for successful adults, Sandra Day O’Connor was homeschooled as a young child, but for most of her education was in ‘regular’ school. Despite her brick and mortar schooling, the homeschooling community embraced her as a model, and she is included in many ‘famous homeschooler‘ lists.
My homeschooled kids were in ‘regular’ school probably as long as Justice O’Connor was homeschooled, so does the public school set-up get credit for my kids?
Back to hooking readers. I did it too in the first sentence of this post,
“This morning I read an Associated Press article in my morning newspaper about the gunman in Colorado who murdered congregants of the New Life Church founded by former pastor Ted Haggard.”
Ted Haggard has nothing (that I know of) to do with the shootings in Colorado but I knew Mr. Haggard had been with New Life, I know his name will draw search engines as well as titillate some readers. Hooking’s easy, even if there is no relevance.
To those who would restrict such programs as Gothard’s Institute of Basic Life Principles because of the killer’s actions, I ask what kinds of influences on American family life would be approved and who would make the determination as what was acceptable for parents to use?
Shooter’s lessons strict, rule-driven, 12 December 2007, Denver Post – Denver, Colorado [comments section]
You know, I’m the first one to defend freedom of thought and speech and protection of such rights and I know it is on the shoulders of such rights that this sort of rotten-thinking curriculum is able to exist – but seriously!!
Put it to a vote! There should be some deal where if 90% of people think it’s a crackpot thing, it should be illegalized and destroyed.
Details Emerge, Amused Muse [comments section]
People have to help themselves, ultimately – but I do think it’s time that society set some ground rules about what you can teach your kids. How we do that is the question.
Once that precedent is in place, then the viewpoint of whoever becomes the majority will trump any minority, however rational.
Even without the deeds of rogue homeschoolers casting doubt on the worth of homeschooling, other organizations and academic experts have already wanted to put restrictions on what parents can teach their children. Consider the NEA’s long-term position on homeschooling (B-75).
Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.
Or consider the opinions of Rob Reich, or Kim Yuracko. If parents aren’t the ones who choose how to raise their children, who does make the decision? Then there is the question of whether the program itself was the cause of the mental illness.
Since the tragedy, I haven’t seen as many articles analyzing the killer’s homeschooling background as I thought would appear. For that, I am grateful, but the condition of having been homeschooled is bound to to be remembered, even though, in itself, homeschooling most likely wasn’t the cause of Matthew Murray’s illness.
The following is a breakdown of the articles I received from Google except for those from the Colorado Gazette that kept crashing my browser. None of the later articles focus on, or usually even mention, homeschooling. It is only the earlier articles. Still, there was that difference between how the reports described the schooling of the New Life shooter and the Omaha mall shooter.
First person report
Gothardite Zombies for Huckabee
- Cincinnati Beacon (blog)
Importance of counseling
Killings are “Christian bashing”
Megachurches need security
Murray family returns to New Life
Problem was gun suppliers
posted by Valerie