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.