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JP Grace: Society assaulted by string of brutal murders

Jun. 17, 2013 @ 11:30 PM

Anguishing subject: Senseless violence. Though worldwide -- and even in America -- homicide rates are actually dropping, we've been battered of late by a numbing succession of one brutal mass slaying after another. And by trials in some particularly heinous individual slayings.

Our heads reel as we consider:

The recent murders in Santa Monica, Calif., by an AR-15 automatic rifle of five people by John Zawahri, 23, who was "upset" over his parents' divorce. Two of those killed were family members -- Zawarhi's father and a brother -- and three were totally random people he encountered on the campus of Santa Monica Community College. The shooter died in a gun battle with police.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who stood trial earlier this month in the slaughter of 16 villagers in Afghanistan. The killings harked back to images from the 2002 film "High Crimes" with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd, which revolved around American soldier-gone-wild mass murders in El Salvador.

Asked why he killed innocent Afghan villagers, including women and children, Bales told the judge he had no good reason.

The Phoenix, Ariz., trial of Jodi Arias in the slaying by gunshot and 29 knife wounds of her boyfriend, Travis Alexander. Upon conviction Arias is still waiting to learn whether she will be condemned to death by lethal injection or spend the rest of her life in prison. Her motive seemed to be irate refusal to accept Alexander's pending rejection of her as his love mate.

The trial of Steve Nunn, son of a Kentucky governor and himself a former state legislator of 15 years standing, who had to plead guilty to the murder of his ex-fiancee, Amanda Ross, in order to avoid a potential death sentence and "settle for" life in prison without mercy.

The horrific Newtown, Conn., massacre in December last year where Adam Lanza, 20, mowed down six school officials and 20 first-grade pupils, ages 6 and 7, again with an automatic weapon and big ammo clips. His "reason?" To set a record and top the killings of 77 people, mostly students, in Norway by Anders Breivik, 33.

Let's recall, too, that 1999 Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were also thought to be attempting to set a record for most killed in school massacres. They killed 13.

Such could well have been the case also for South Korean student Seung-Hui Cho, the gunman in the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 dead including Cho himself.

Killers in these crimes were frequently both suicidal and homicidal. In most cases they allowed festering, or mounting, inner rage to overcome all self-control or more reasoned reactions to real or imagined hurts at the hands of others -- or society in general.

Personally, I sense a common denominator across the spectrum of these awful slayings: angry young men (and one woman, Arias) beset by a spiritual void.

If any of these shooters had a stable religious faith at one point in his or her life, that faith had dissipated. Resentment or a corrosive rage had taken over. The space in the soul meant for prayerful meditation or the infilling of the Holy Spirit had instead been invaded by dark dreams of avenging alienation from family, neighbors or community by unleashing a torrent of violence.

Killings were likely rehearsed in the assailants' minds, perhaps over and over, before the fateful day when the dark dreams became a reality.

If anger from feeling alienated or jealousy or sheer boredom or desire to "break into the news" or top another killer's record turns out to be what passes for "motivation," then clearly we are dealing with a murderous void in someone's soul. Someone who might live in Aurora, Colo., or Blacksburg, Va., or Newtown, Conn. Or in a town we ourselves call home.

John Patrick Grace reported on the torture, rape and murder of eight student nurses by Richard Speck in Chicago in 1966. He also covered riots in Chicago and Rome and profiled Mafia terror in Corleone, Sicily. He is now a book editor and publisher based in downtown Huntington.

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