THE INVISIBLE KID, and
THE RED LAKE MASSACRE
Many are wondering what is going in the world. Acts of senseless violence have left us numb. And we're asking the experts why.
On March 21 a sixteen year old high school student brought
a gun to his school and began to shoot people.
He finally turned the weapon on himself leaving
a total of ten dead.*
His bloody rampage sent our nation reeling. It was the worst
school shooting since the 1999 Columbine
massacre which killed fifteen.
In my area, in February, a 25-year old man walked into a crowded shopping mall with an assault rifle. He then began peppering the area with bullets. Approximately sixty rounds were fired, according to the local newspaper. Miraculously only two people were wounded, one of them seriously.**
I saw a color photograph of the 25 year old as he was being led into court in handcuffs. The sleeves of his orange jail jumpsuit were rolled up to his elbows. So I happened to spy some odd tattoos on his forearms. Family members were in the courtroom too, His father was weeping.***
Acts of sudden and intense violence have become a sad characteristic of modern day America.
In spite of our technological advancements and our high standards of living, we have come to accept random violence as part of our culture. For many troubled young persons having a gun, mixed with feelings of anger, alienation, self-loathing, and bottled-up emotions make for a powerful but lethal explosive force that could burst into unchecked rage at the slightest provocation.
My heart has been heavy because of these tragic events.
Therefore I plan to devote much of my April journal to the
topic of youth violence.
As a minister, and as a man who once walked down the path of violence, I hope that what I have to say will be helpful and insightful.
There is an answer to the "spirit of violence" that is sweeping our nation. There is hope.
THE RED LAKE MASSACRE
I vividly remember the Columbine High School shootings which left fifteen people dead, most of them students, including the two young gunmen and a heroic teacher. It was a brutal killing spree of pent-up anger and a desire for revenge over real or imagined hurts. It was unnecessary, and it made no sense. Columbine left our nation stunned and devastated and asking lots of questions.
Now it has happened again. History seems to have repeated itself, this time in the little town of Red Lake, Minnesota.
On Monday, March 21, on an Indian reservation in a remote area of the United States, a sixteen year old Jeff Weise brought a gun and ammunition to his school. He then began to shoot his fellow students. In the aftermath, five students, teacher, and a security guard were slain.
Later it was learned that this young man also killed his grandfather (whom he was living with) and his grandfather's live-in girlfriend.
Jeff Weise also killed himself. A total of ten people died,
According to an article in the New York Times for Tuesday,
March 22, 2005 (pages A-1, A-16), Jeff Weise walked through
corridors of the 300-student Red Lake High School at about
3 p.m. firing off rounds from a handgun.
I would assume his rampage was over in less
than ten minutes.
Some of the ensuing reports I heard over the radio said that, like the two Columbine gunmen, who were also teenagers, Jeff Weise was fascinated with Nazism and Adolf Hitler.
Several who knew him said that Jeff Weise seemed to be an angry and aloof kid who was into the dark Gothic scene. That he experienced several sad and traumatic events in his youth, to include the suicide of his father, and his mother’s ending
up in a nursing home after a serious auto
Additional reports said he dressed and acted differently than his peers. That he was sometimes teased by the other kinds. Also that he had been the victim of bullying at school.
All told, it was a bad mix. A string of grievous personal tragedies and having to live with his grandfather and his companion, Jeff was clearly a troubled man with probably no one to pour his heart to and perhaps no close friends.
And according to additional news reports, Jeff Weise made frequent visits to a pro-Hitler chatroom on the internet where he frequently left postings of adoration for Adolf Hitler.
An article in the New York Daily News for Friday, March 25, 2005 (page 24) said that Jeff was on the controversial anti-depressant drug Prozac. Also that additional evidence had been uncovered by investigators that he had been planning the attack.
The Daily News article went on to say that Weise had apparently posted on his own web site a 30-second animation titled "Target Practice" in which a person with an automatic rifle shoots several people and does some other acts of violence before putting the barrel of the gun in his mouth killing himself.
I could see that Jeff Weise was ripe for the demons of hate, anger and revenge to do their dirty work on his mind.
Everyone is asking "why?' Family members, neighbors, school officials and law enforcement all want to know why this young man, Jeff Weise, who should have been dating girls and playing ball, instead became a lonely brooder suffering from deep depression, suicide attempts, talking about Hitler and death, and then finally killing nine people and then himself.
Each person seems to have his own theory. From Prozac to having experienced crushing blows like the suicide of his father and a crippling accident that has left his mother confined to a nursing home, the question following "why" is "could this tragedy have been prevented?"
We'll never know with a certainty. But this troubled soul had been crying out for help for a long time.
According to an article from the New York times dated Saturday, March 26, 2995 (A-7), "Family Wonders if Prozac Prompted School Shootings" by Monica Davey and Gardiner Harris, student Jeff Weise had been taking anti-depressants because of his depression. He had also attempted suicide once by cutting his wrist.
The Times' story said that Jeff had been receiving mental health counseling, and that he had been hospitalized for at least 72 hours following the attempt at taking his life. He clearly tried to reach out to others and communicate his pain because he had a web site in which he posted his thoughts and feelings. Also according to the article,Jeff Weise had an internet posting which read:
"I had went through a lot of things in my life that had driven me to a darker path than most choose to take.....
"I split the flesh of my wrist with a box opener, painting
the floor of my bedroom with blood I shouldn't
"After sitting there for what seemed like hours...I had a revelation that this was not the path."
I have since read several more articles from various periodicals, and they’re all basically the same. Other than reporting on the victims and the impact of this tragedy on the local community, there were no answers.
Some of the news stories reported that Jeff Weise would often wear dark clothing and that he was "obsessed with death."
Living on a Native American reservation with its poverty, and its higher than the national average rates of addictions to drugs and alcohol, its youth suicides and the high rate of "accidental" deaths for Native Americans under the age of 20, for Jeff Weise death was a close presence.
In such a world as his where Jeff's dad took his own life leaving his son with the guilt, and having to fend for himself and live among in-laws, how could such a young man live the American dream of hope for a good future?
"Hope" was not in Jeff Weise's vocabulary. There was nothing in his life to give the word hope any meaning.
Furthermore, I do not believe that Jeff Weise could see passed his own little world of despair and crushing disappointment. And I would not be surprised to learn that he had a lot of anger towards God.
The kids who insensitively tormented and bullied Jeff, a boy who was already suffering from an overload of emotional pain, were only throwing dry logs on a long smoldering fire.
They were no doubt ignorant of this young man's growing anger at life's seeming unfairness. And they were, in a sense, helping to make a human bomb that would one day explode in a burst of violence.
But until this day came, it appears that Jeff stayed on the faceless internet posting his self-absorbed messages, while pleading for someone to take notice of him and show concern.
I read some of his postings that were published in various
newspapers. Interestingly, I never saw any
of the responses he received or if he got
For awhile, however, he managed to unleash some of his anger by writing his praises for Hitler on a pro-Nazi website.
I think that the Fuhrer's idea about a "Final Solution" to
get rid of the unwanted touched a common
thread in Jeff. There were a bunch of local
teenagers whom he thought needed to be taught
a lesson. His tormentors had to go. Eventually he snapped.
Jeff Weise knew where his grandfather, a "long-time officer with the Red Lake Police Department," kept his guns and ammunition. A tragedy was about to unfold.
RED LAKE AFTERMATH
It's been a couple of weeks since the Red Lake tragedy.
Of no surprise, as the world and the media move on to other
things, this even will probably fade from
the memories of most
The experts and professionals, however, will be quietly digging through the life of Jeff Weise for awhile longer. But I don't believe there will ever be clear-cut answers as to why this sixteen year old went on his shooting spree.
I certainly don't know all the reasons. Yet what I do know
is that Jeff was a lonely, angry, depressed
and troubled boy who probably thought the
whole world was against him and that fate
had cursed him.
His father's suicide must have devastated him. But I could not find any articles that gave Jeff's age when his dad took his own life.
I am certain, however, that Jeff needed a close friend.
He did have family living on the reservation. But having kin
nearby doesn't mean there's a deep bond.
Nowadays many family members are more like
strangers to one another.
Jeff Weise needed someone to show him love and a healthy dose of attention. He needed affirmation that someone cared about him. Perhaps, too, that if he had one individual to tell him "I value you" and you are a "worthwhile" person, this disaster could have been averted.
He was on medication for his depression, and he was interviewed by a professional after his suicide attempt.
Nevertheless, as is often the case, his cries of despair went
unheeded; he didn't seem to know whom to
ask for help or where to find it.
Obviously there were many factors which came into play for
this to happen, and many negative events
in Jeff Weise's life converged to produce
an explosive mix.
Choosing to murder someone, though, is always the wrong choice.
In our culture where young men are taught to act tough and
hide their emotions, and where it is thought
to be childish to ask for help, it's improbable
to think that troubled adolescents will open
up and talk freely about their difficulties,
or about the seeming meaninglessness of their lives
without lots of coaxing and encouragement.
Men are taught to keep a straight face and to be rugged. Guns, too, can sometimes be a part of this. In the movies and in books such weapons are seen as problem solvers. It's easier, young minds may reason, to dispatch a person with a firearm than to work hard at trying to have a good relationship with that individual.
Like Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution" to get rid of
"undesireables", a gun or knife seems to provide a quick remedy.
Unfortunately Jeff Weise was ready for this. He was open to violence. He felt he had run out of options. His cries for help went unanswered. No one loved him, so he thought, and he saw no hope of things changing for the better. Thus he would take as many as he could with him to a dark grave.
What a waste! I am convinced that this did not have to happen. The Red Lake High School shootings were preventable.
Jeff needed real friends.
April 1, 2005
On February 13th a twenty-four year old man walked into a mall crowded with Sunday afternoon shoppers and began to open fire with his Hesse model AK-47 Soviet assault rifle. About sixty rounds were fired, said one report. Fortunately and miraculously, no one was killed. But two men were shot. One of them, a 20-year old National Guard private was seriously wounded.
The Hudson Valley Mall where the shooting took place is in
or near the city of Kingston, New York. This
is not far from where I am. So the local
newspapers were filled with stories about
the rampage. As expected, in the days following the shooting,
the media began to look into the psyche of this troubled
man. He was obese, socially awkward, lonely, and he wore
all black clothing to the mall that day, even down to his sneakers.
With his rifle in tow he must have looked like a Navy Seal
on a mission. The report said he was also
a high school dropout.
In one article, Ulster County District Attorney Don Williams was quoted as saying that Robert Bonelli Jr., had a "lurid fascination" with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. And the same article said that a "cache of mews reports and other materials" about Columbine were found in Bonelli's home.**
While another report said that Robert Bonelli Jr. had two friends, both in their early 20's, who had just been charged with making and setting off pipe bombs, although this had no apparent part in the mall shooting.***
Nevertheless, in this case we have a troubled young man who vents with a gun while his friends, although not participants in the shooing, were obviously antisocial. They more than likely reinforced Robert's violent behavior. After all, these three made pipe bombs together for fun.
From all the information that has been given thus far, I could tell that this is clearly an unhappy man who probably believes that he has no future. Yet it appears that Robert has a loving father. His dad, heartbroken, was calling out to his son in the courtroom during the Grand Jury proceedings.
Expectedly, however, a newspaper article for February 17th
ended with the standard often used response.
Ulster County Police Chief Paul Watzka said
that various law enforcement agencies will
be looking into this matter to see if thereis
anything else "we can learn" about what happened.***
Learning of these senseless tragedies and the loss of lives touches a nerve inside me.
Jeff Weise and Robert Bonelli Jr. should have been living lives filled with hope and promise. Instead they ended up destroying themselves and harming others. Yet in the deepest part of my being I believe that somehow, if I had only known these young men, and if I could have befriended them, perhaps these tragedies would not have occurred.
I also believe that, hidden beneath their pent-up anger, frustration, and feelings of powerlesssness, was a spark of hope that, somehow, life would finally make sense. That their plans for violence would not be necessary. Unfortunately, however, if there were periods of time when Jeff and Robert felt this way, no one ever came to their rescue. They had no one to fan those sparks of hope. And their desperate cries for help went unanswered.
Eventually they would both drift down the wrong road, and each would make the terrible choice to use violence in order to battle the real or imagined wrongs that they felt were done to them.
Jeff Weise chose death. The community he tried to hurt will continue to exist, while he will be written off as an aberration.
Robert Bonelli Jr. is alive, but he's facing his rampage.
Yet he will have many years, however, to think about what
he did. And his father, meanwhile, will have
to watch his son age in prison.
Finally, there will be the various law enforcement agencies, mental health professionals and social workers who will spend countless hours trying to figure out what went wrong with these two. But I do not believe there will be clearcut answers.
Without God in a person's life, anything can happen.
April 7, 2005
(c) 2005 David Berkowitz
*"The Invisible Kid" (front page headline from the Times
Herald-Record, Feb. 15, 2005, Middletown, NY.
**Times Herald-Record, Feb 15, 2005, by Ben Montgomery and
***Times Herald-Record, Feb. 17, 2005, by Paul Brooks
****Times Herald-Record, Feb. 17, 2005, by Paul Brooks,
As a rule prisoners seldom talk about their cases. There
are men whom I have known for many years, that I see
every day, yet I have no idea what they're
locked up for. Their crimes and the circumstances
surrounding them are never discussed.
They've chosen to keep this part of their lives low-key and
There is an unwritten "Don't ask-Don't tell" policy that we instinctively adhere to. A man learns this when he first comes into the system. No one needs to know your business.
Of course certain inmates like myself have a "high profile" case. So most of the guys know about my situation.
And some of them have had their cases written up on the law
books because they filed appeals.
These books contain various court decisions, and may give brief details and generalized histories of the crime, resulting arrest, trial, and court proceedings. Thus any inmate could read about another man's alleged serious errors that were committed by the prosecutor or judge during his trial.
I have found, however, that those who are adamant about their innocence are usually very vocal about it. They're quick to proclaim their guiltlessness, and they will talk to any sympathetic perssn they could find. While those who are guilty of the chrages against them stay silent. They, like me, seem to have accepted their fate.
Knowing this, I am suspicious of the reports I sometimes hear about a man getting arested for a serious crime, and then while he's confined in the jail to await his trial, he confesses to fellow inmates.
Prosecutors somehow seem to find those one or two prisoners, usually with long criminal records of their own, who are ready to swear in court--usually in exchange for leniency--that so-and-so admitted to them that he did indeed commit the crime he was arrested for.
In all the years I have been incarcerated I don't know of a single man who had ever confessed his guilt to fellow prisoners.
Of course this doesn't apply to those who enter the jail boasting of their criminal acts. This happens, too, but it's usually among gang members or with the younger men who want to quickly assert themnselves and gain what they think would be a more prominent position in the pecking order.
The men who boast know they're guilty, and they don't care. They only want to make themselves look tough.
Yet for those who protest their innocence from the moment of their arrest, it is extremely doubtful they would secretly confess to having done what they were arrested for.
I will always remain skeptical of the latter. To admit one's guilt to another inmate while at the same time proclaiming his innocence to everyone else, is silly.
Prosecutors are sometimes successful with this tactic, but
April 15, 2005
GREEDY FOR GAIN
If you ever want to make lots of trouble for yourself and cause your loved ones a lot of grief, be greedy for gain. The
Bible says that the "love of money is the
root of all evil" (1 Timothy 6:10a.
Avarice is a poison that can ultimately destroy your soul. Judas Iscariot was infected by it. For several years he lived and walked with Jesus. He saw the Lord open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf.
Judas saw the dead being raised to life. Yet for some inexplicable reason Judas' heart was never moved by these miracles. Instead, as the gospel narratives reveal, he was a "thief" who managed to get put in charge of overseeing the moneybag.
While multitudes from all walks of life put their focus on
the Lord and His loving power to heal and
help the hurtng and downtrodden, Judas turned
his attention to coins.
Eventually Judas' greed caused him to betray Jesus and sell Him to the religious authorities for thirty pieces of silver.
Yet this is not just a tale from the Sriptures. It is a story that's for today because the world is filled with greedy men.
We, too, like Jesus, could be sold out by any one of them.
And this has actually happened to me!
I have been betrayed for money. Even as I write this, there is a man who's trying to market me and turn me into an item to be sold. He's intent on riches and fame for himself,
or so he thinks.
But what can I do? I could pray for this individual, and I could plead with the Lord to have mercy upon him.
In the end, however, unless he turns from his selfish ways, he shall not prosper.
Yet this is the path he has chosen. How sad!
April 22, 2005
(c) 2005 David Berkowitz