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Time and again: This time, Orlando


Photo credit: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times

For those of us who know about ACEs science, the questions about Omar Mateen, the man who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in an Orlando night club early Sunday morning, aren’t answered yet. In fact, most of the questions haven’t even been asked. 

There are a couple of hints. According to this New York Times article, “Mr. Mateen had a chilling history that included talking about killing people, beating his former wife and voicing hatred of minorities, gays and Jews…” 

He either had a brain tumor that induced him to violence, or he had many ACEs that he never resolved. If it’s the latter, then here are the questions that aren’t being asked yet:

He was born here, and brought up in a family that immigrated from Afghanistan, which isn’t an easy transition for most families. Was life so difficult in Afghanistan that his parents had to leave? His father appeared in videos where he railed against the Afghan government and Pakistanis; was that anger directed against his son verbally or physically?  

Was he bullied by classmates or teachers when he was a child or as an adult for being an immigrant or for his religion? 

Did he witness abuse against his mother or some other family member? Was a family member depressed or have some other illness? Was a family member imprisoned or killed (either in Afghanistan or the U.S.)? Did he experience sexual abuse, or was he emotionally or physically neglected? 

If you think of the experiences that fill a person with so much anger that it spills out into a recognizable and normal reaction to toxic stress, at what point were those experiences and Mateen’s reactions recognized by a teacher, a coach, a neighbor, another family member? The imam of the mosque he attended noticed that, as he grew up, he became reclusive. That can be an indication of a troubled soul. Was there any intervention by a caring adult?  

By the time a person’s anger hits the boiling point, any hook will do to take out that anger on someone else, or many people. White supremacy, the supremacy of a cult, religious supremacy…any supremacy that will mask too much pain from too much unjust abuse from too many sources. And, unfortunately, an automatic gun can do significantly more damage than a knife. 

These are the same questions that should have been asked of the lives of Boston bombers Tamerlan and Szhokar Tsarnaev. As I wrote in that article, Looking at the Boston Marathon bombers through a trauma-informed lens is not the same as investigating how they committed their crime, or identifying an immediate motive. Instead of attributing the starting point to being “radicalized” or “self-radicalized”, a trauma-informed lens reveals what a family experienced, and what a community did or did not do for a family and its members on their journey to the point where they decided to use violence.”

These are the same questions that eventually were asked about the life of Adam Lanza, after he took the lives of 20 six- and seven-year-old children, their teachers, his mother and then himself. The community asked those questions and determined that earlier intervention and more support for the family might have helped change his life course. 

What's the point of asking these questions? This is the point: If Omar Mateen did indeed experience enough childhood adversity that led to such overwhelming hate and anger, what could family, friends, neighbors, clergy, teachers, or others in his community have done for Mateen to change his life course so that he would not have ended up in that Orlando night club early Sunday morning?

What we learn can underscore the necessity for the work being done by the members of ACEsConnection who are changing our understanding of human behavior and our systems so that, at the first sign of troubles in families, we intervene early and offer assistance so that anger doesn’t fester and eventually erupt into death and destruction, either in mass shootings or tragic events that happen one-by-one. 

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Yes it's certainly turning into a complex case.  

Ok changing constitutional right to bear arms is too hard, but banding together to say it's not ok to own a gun without a very good reason - particularly in urban areas, rejecting/repelling the gun lobby's enormous influence, especially as there's an election on the horizon. Hmm.  Even Bernie Sanders didn't want to go there. The media has constantly shown Obama's frustration about the reluctance to be rid of guns. I just don't get why there is not more support and people protesting about this. Mateen obviously couldn't have done what he did if there were sane laws around this.  It really seems a no brainer, yet...  May be its one of those American things outsiders aren't meant to understand, yet people seem upset when the inevitable occurs.

From Wikipedia:

In United States v. Cruikshank (1876), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that, "The right to bear arms is not granted by the Constitution; neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence" and limited the applicability of the Second Amendment to the federal government.[9] In United States v. Miller (1939), the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government and the states could limit any weapon types not having a "reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia."[10][11]

In the twenty-first century, the amendment has been subjected to renewed academic inquiry and judicial interest.[11] In District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that held the amendment protects an individual right to possess and carry firearms.[12][13] In McDonald v. Chicago (2010), the Court clarified its earlier decisions that limited the amendment's impact to a restriction on the federal government, expressly holding that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Second Amendment to state and local governments to the same extent that the Second Amendment applies to the federal government.[14] In Caetano v. Massachusetts (2016), the Supreme Court reiterated its earlier rulings that "the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding" and that its protection is not limited to "only those weapons useful in warfare".[15]

Despite these decisions, the debate between various organizations regarding gun control and gun rights continues.[16]


So, it appears the right for citizens to bear arms is more flexible than appears, if Wikipedia article is correct.




Last edited by Mem Lang

Thanks for your kind words, Vincent. The book is progressing, albeit slowly. Turtle am I!

Andres, I agree with you. If he spent that much time at Pulse, as is being reported, something else might have been going on. If he was gay, then his life would have been a torture, with self-hate a logical outcome of believing that homosexuality was evil and forbidden.
And, indeed, generational trauma is certainly a likely part of the equation, Kris.

Ah, Mem. You're talking about the U.S. here....the constitutional right to bear arms will remain as long as the country's around. The original intent of the Second Amendment was to guarantee that militias could be armed, and that's been expanded to every single person being allowed to arm themselves with some unnecessarily potent weaponry.

Jane, I echo your comments in this article. My heart is so pained by all of this; I am not sure when, as a society we will start addressing these adverse childhood experiences. How many folks must be killed and lives destroyed, before we, as a society decide to make concerted efforts to address these issues that are stemming from being exposed to different adverse childhood experiences. When are we going to pay attention to the blatant signs before they turn into acts of violence. When are we going to speak up when we see abuse occurring and let the abusers know that their behaviors are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.  They need to know that they are HURTING children and our future generations. When I hear about these issues, I am often reminded of Alice Miller, Swiss psychologist, who stated in her book:

 Banished Knowledge: Facing Childhood Injuries, criminals who maim and murder are acting out of compulsions built from their own childhood mistreatment (statistics show that virtually all such criminals were abused). Despite knowing of their mistreatment, society still holds them accountable for their actions. Abusive parents have compulsions built from mistreatment in early childhood, but just as with criminal behavior, they have a choice to heal themselves from the compulsions.

We must, must, must address these issues of abuse of any kind, because we are bond to pay on the other end, as we have seen in all of the previous cases; so many more lives are destroyed when we look the other way. Alice states, 

“Every abuse of a child must be condemned and is not “understandable.” It can be explained only the private perversion of the perpetrator’s parents—not that this makes it in any way excusable. Only through the unequivocal condemnation of child abuse will society and the individual become aware of the true state of affairs and what it will lead to.” (Miller, 1990, pp. 132-133)

Abuse does not discriminate, it crosses all lines: racially, financially, ably or dis-ably, the sexually, religiously, etc. If you are aware of the ACE Study conducted by Doctors Felitti and Anda, over two-thirds of the folks survey reported that they were exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience.  The breakdown of the participants were as follows:

The ACE Study participants were average Americans. Seventy-five percent were white, 11 percent Latino, 7.5 percent Asian and Pacific Islander, and 5  percent were black. They were middle-class, middle-aged, 36 percent had attended college and 40 percent had college degrees or higher. Since they were members of Kaiser Permanente, they all had jobs and great health care. Their average age was 57.

This shows that none of us are immune from being affected.  Not to mention, when we ignore these atrocities and there are later acts of violence, as a nation, we are all affected, vicariously.   

We need to bind as a nation and put an end to this, that is the only way we can help the future generation as well as begin to heal and live in less fear. Alice continues to express that the:

Community's responsibility occurs over generations because parents transfer their experiences to the next generation. Thus, the parents and grandparents of the parents must have been supported in their development with compassionate companionship care. If not and not healed from mistreatment, they pass on their trauma to their children.

Everyday, I am making it my duty to address issues of abuse in a manner that is non-judgmental where the abuser can hear what I have to say.  I can no longer stay silent, too many children are hurting. I am speaking my truth in an attempt that I can save the next life or lives.  I need you ALL to join me in this endeavor, our children needs us, our future needs us.  

Thanks Jane for raising this discussion.  I appreciate you immensely.  

Denise Quamina

Last edited by Denise Quamina

I'm concerned that you think a brain tumor can "induce" someone to violent behavior, Jane. What would be the mechanism that would lead from tumor to highly organized planning and behavior such as Mateen demonstrated? My own investigations of the origins of violent behavior--two books now, one one criminal violence and the other on the SS-Einsatzgruppen and the "bullet Holocaust," demonstrate convincingly, at least to me, that serious violence is a socialization process much like military combat training but informal. The likeliest candidate for Mateen's violent dominator, based on what's been made public so far, is his father. Violent behavior is one possible outcome of ACE experiences, although it follows a highly specific course of its own. (And I should mention that the violent novice makes personal choices along the way and is thus responsible for his acts of violence--this is not the so-called abuse excuse.) The fact that Mateen's violence against others was blended with thoughts of suicide and, probably, unresolved conflicts over his sexuality, strengthens the ACE connection. Members of the ACE community would benefit from reading about the VS model of violence development in the work of its primary investigator, Dr. Lonnie Athens, professor of criminology at Seton Hall, particularly his books The Creation of Dangerous Violent Criminals and Violent Acts and Actors, or my report on his work Why They Kill. The VS model has important and supportive connections with the ACE model; they reinforce each other and offer another range of prevention and treatment possibilities.

We might also consider that his family came from a war torn country with the possibility of generational trauma as well as possible trauma from the earliest parts of his life, perhaps a pregnancy that was impacted by toxic stress in the womb.  And it was stated by his wife that his rage was fueled by untreated bi-polar disorder.  The signs of significant trauma and mental illness were there, but I haven't heard any mention of significant intervention ever being offered or received. 

First things first.  Get rid of the constitutional right to bear arms.

No matter how unwell, high ACEd you are, you have no right to take others' lives.  Jump off a tall building with a cape and a message, do an Icarus number, etc. Inform media where and when to film. You'll get your message across.

I'm sure there's more to it than meets the eye, particularly with his father, but... first things first.



Last edited by Mem Lang

I second Vicent's opinion. When I heard that Mr Mateen was of Pashtun origin, my mind went immediately to the "dancing boys" of Afghanistan and wondered along the lines of Jane's piece. I know he was born in NYC and I'm not saying he was sexually abused as a boy. What I am doing is reflecting on cultural contexts in which homosexual attraction and behavior are shrouded with secrecy and shame. My anecdotal observations suggest that this scenario increases the risk of childhood sexual abuse and makes healing from its emotional scars less likely.

Accounts of his deeply conflictive homosexual behavior, reminded me of the work of Bernat et al (Homophobia and physical aggression toward homosexual and heterosexual individuals. J Abnorm Psychol. 2001 Feb;110(1):179-87) in which homophobic heterosexual men administered significantly more electric shocks to their male homosexual opponent than to a heterosexual opponent during a mock competitive task in Bernat's lab.

Last edited by Andres F Sciolla, MD

Jane, you are a kind and insightful thinker, and a wonderful writer.  There must be many who greatly appreciate what you bring to this work.  Would you tell your fans how things are going with The Book?  Can you tell us anything about it?  

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