Most of us now know the facts about the mass shooting that occurred this past week at a Safeway store in Tucson, Arizona. A young man named Jared Loughner went to a constituency rally being held by Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and opened fire with his Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, shooting 31 times and killing six people, including a 9 year old girl, and wounding fourteen others, including Representative Giffords, who was shot in the head.
What is not so clear is what prompted the shooting in the first place. At first, it was thought to be a political assassination attempt aimed at the Representative for voting for the health care bill by a right wing nut job. Then the speculation changed 180 degrees to him being a left wing crazy. Then the speculation returned to the center and the attack was not believed to be politically motivated at all.
That's the way breaking news is usually reported today. News organizations try to get the "scoop" on their competitors by printing what they believe to be the facts sooner than everyone else does. Unfortunately, in today's 24-7 news cycle, the first news often isn't the accurate news and it wasn't this time either. It now appears that this young man's downward spiral began a little over five years ago in 2005 when his girlfriend broke up with him.
Kelsey Hawkes, now 21, said that Loughner was a perfectly normal guy when she met him in high school and started a dating relationship with him that lasted a year. She said she knew he was in love with her but she wasn't sure that she was in love with him and she eventually broke up with him. She said he used to care about everything while they were dating; his grades, his school, his friends, but, in her words, "that all stopped when we broke up."
And so his descent into darkness began. He became more and more withdrawn socially and his behavior became more bizarre and nonsensical. He was so disruptive in his classes at Pima Community College that he was suspended in September and advised that he would have to have psychological clearance from a mental health professional before he would be allowed to return because the college so feared for the safety of its students, faculty and other employees. He didn't seek professional help and he didn't return to college. Instead he went on the fateful shooting spree that ended in death, permanent injury and total destruction of people's lives.
The question is can a relationship breakup eventually lead to this kind of behavior and the answer is most assuredly yes, as can any other kind of traumatic event that occurs in a person's life. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a foreclosure on your home, a divorce or any other kind of shock to the system that occurs where the person truly believes that something happened to them that was beyond their control. Loss of control is perhaps the biggest deprivation a person feels and it can cause intense emotional and psychological trauma; especially a relationship breakup because you're being rejected by another person. Someone else is telling you that you're not good enough for them or that you don't measure up or they would rather be with someone else than you and that can be a devastating thing to live with every day. And if you don't have a sound enough mind to work through it and come out the other side, this kind of ultimate revenge on society is not only possible but probable.
When someone's heart is broken by another person, we hear people say all the time to put those things behind us and get on with our lives and it's easy for them to say because they're not going through what we are. Loughner probably received the same kind of advice soon after the breakup when he still had friends or, at least, acquaintances. Relationship rejection is the hardest single thing for most people to deal with because it's personal. It's all about you and your shortcomings as seen from the eyes of the other person.
If our heart is completely invested emotionally in another person and they reject us, it's the most traumatic event many of us will ever have to endure. In light of that, the amazing thing is that tragedies like the one in Arizona don't occur more often.