Tag Archives: murder

No Answers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Almost two days after millionaire Stephen Paddock killed 59 people and wounded over 500 more there are still no answers as to why the Paddock attacked a country music festival in Las Vegas. In fact, it appears that he engaged in much planning and preparation for his assault while carefully maintaining an appearance of nondescript innocence in the months and weeks leading up to the massacre.

Honestly, I still don’t know what to say other than that Paddock was exceptionally gifted at concealing himself and his motives from anyone. Perhaps we will find out something when his live-in girlfriend returns from Japan where she was before and during his assault in Las Vegas.

The fact that his attack seems to have no underlying ideological, political, cultural, or religious, or even personal motivations such as being makes it much harder to understand. Any reason, abhorrent as it might be to us is at least something that regardless of our personal belief system is something that we might use to explain what happened and to distance ourselves from Paddock’s crimes. Instead, at least at the moment we are left with no explanation, and therefore no answers for the evil that was perpetrated by Stephen Paddock. Rick Yancey wrote, “The monstrous act by definition demands a monster” but as Primo Levi noted: “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Stephen Paddock appears to be that common man, that person who goes unnoticed, appearing to be completely normal who commits the most monstrous of atrocities. That to me is what makes him, and others like him so terrifying.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under crime, Loose thoughts and musings, News and current events

The Most Unsettling of Massacres

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is one of those days that I really don’t know what to say. I woke up yesterday to go to work for the first time in two weeks after taking leaving in Germany. On my way to work I saw a news flash about the massacre in Las Vegas, but once I got to work I was too busy catching up and in meetings with my staff that it wasn’t until after noon before I was able to read more about it. As of when I am writing there are 60 confirmed dead and almost 530 wounded, all the victims of one man, a man named Stephen Paddock. Police say that Paddock had no criminal record, was well off, owned property in Florida and was a private pilot who owned two aircraft. Most people who knew or met him described as being normal. He had no history of mental illness, drug use or alcoholism.

But this supposedly normal man conducted the single worst massacre done by an individual in American history. Yes, there have been other massacres that have come close to or exceeded this, but they were conducted by organized bands of people, not just one man.

There is something terribly unsettling about this massacre. It was committed by a man who was ordinary and unremarkable; a man with apparently no deep political, ideological, or religious convictions. A man who according to everything I have read appeared for decades to be a perfectly normal citizen, a good neighbor and worker who had made enough money to be comfortable and to spend time gambling in $100 a hand poker games, in which he made a lot of money.

But despite that, he had twenty-three firearms in the hotel, including at least one which may have been modified to fire on full automatic as well as two pedestals to mount them. At his home he had another nineteen weapons, as well as explosives and thousands of rounds of ammunition.That is not normal, and neither is getting a hotel room overlooking a concert venue where over 20,000 people were packed and opening fire with weapons set on automatic on the unsuspecting people below.

The blood flowed in Las Vegas as Paddock dealt death from on high on people that he did not know. I cannot get my mind around this and as of now police know of no racial, religious, or ideological reason for the massacre of 59 people and he wounding of 527 others. Each one of those people was an individual with his or her own story. They were men and women, sons and daughters, wives and husbands, children and parents, and Paddock massacred them in cold blood. If Paddock had a terrorist who had written a manifesto, or links to a terrorist group, or a person with a link to the people that he killed, such as being an angry coworker bent on revenge, it would still be shocking and evil, but easier to explain.

Unless something is found that explains his motive this will be difficult and unsettling to process because it makes no sense. I guess that is why Hannah Arendt noted “Clichés, stock phrases, adherence to conventional, standardized codes of expression and conduct have the socially recognized function of protecting us against reality.” At this time there is nothing for us to fall back on, except to say that it was an act of evil committed by a man who was by all accounts rather normal and nondescript. By our standards of morality and judgement his normality makes his actions much more frightening than the actions of a terrorist with a known political, ideological, or religious contempt for his victims. Such a man could be anyone’s next door neighbor. While it will not bring anyone back from the dead I do hope that the authorities will find evidence that explains why Paddock did this.

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Killing Trayvon: The Power of Fear and Racism

Trayvon Martin and his Killer George Zimmerman

By all accounts George Zimmerman is nothing more than a vigilante and thug, a self-deputized “Neighborhood Watch Captain” who may well get away with the cold blooded murder of a teenager.  A teenage who was unarmed and returning to where he and his dad were visiting was killed by a man who despite being told by police not to intervene got out of his car and provoked an altercation that left an unarmed teenager dead.

The killing of Trayvon Martin sends chills down my spine for a number of reasons. First is the pre-meditated way in which it occurred. Zimmerman was conducting his own armed patrol of his neighborhood. When he spotted Trayvon walking he called 911 because he thought Trayvon who was black and wearing a hoodie looked suspicious. The 911 operator let him know that police were on the way and not to pursue the teen. Instead Zimmerman left the safety of his vehicle, got out of it, accosted the teen and put a bullet in his chest. The Sanford Florida police did no investigation outside of taking the killer’s word that it was self defense.

George Zimmerman was a habitual caller to 911, nearly 50 calls in a little over a year. In the latest call leading to Trayvon’s death he can be clearly heard using the term “f***ing Coon” a derisive term for blacks.  I would dare say that the killing was racially motivated. Saying that however will have some say that I am “pulling the race card” as if somehow pointing out the obvious is a crime. Racism exists and there are racists amount all ethnic groups, but in the United States historically blacks have been the victims of it.

The shooting has provoked uproar and even Tea Party Republican Representative Allen West and Republican Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have condemned it and demanded a full investigation. Protests and marches are being organized with good reason. George Zimmerman was not even booked. Even a police officer would be investigated for a shooting and placed on administrative duty until the situation was fully investigated but Zimmerman is still walking free with his gun.  Had Trayvon Martin killed Zimmerman there is no doubt that he would be in jail regardless of the circumstances.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush who signed the “Stand Your Ground” legislation into law in 2005 said today that “This law does not apply to this particular circumstance…. Stand your ground means stand your ground means stand your ground. It doesn’t mean chase after somebody who’s turned their back.

Some conservative commentators have blamed the victim for his death. Geraldo Rivera said that Trayvon’s hoodie was to blame for his death as much as Zimmerman. Say what? I don’t think that it is illegal to wear a hoodie the last time that I checked. Sean Hannity posited that it might be a “tragic accident” but why even offer that explanation when the killer ignored the police and acted on his own to provoke a confrontation?  In regards to hoodies in cool weather I almost always wear a black Baltimore Orioles or San Francisco Giants hoodie. Does that mean that I am more likely to be a criminal?  I think not but then I am not an African American teenager. However I wear hoodies all the time but the dirty little secret is that Trayvon Martin was black and as we all know the equation: Young Black Male+Hoodie=Criminal Thug that deserves to die; at least in the minds of some people.

President Obama did what any parent should do in regard to this and for him it is personal. On a day where a spectator at a shooting range where Rick Santorum was practicing yelled out “pretend it is Obama” the President said remarked that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon. Of course Newt Gingrich called Obama’s comments “disgraceful.” Newt Gingrich is an ass who will do anything he can to make the story about him when he is being trounced by Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum who both by the way condemned the shooting and called for an investigation.

Racism is at play in this and African Americans should be incensed about how the Sanford Police department handled this killing. The killer is free. The victim dead. The parents of the victim were not notified and Trayvon’s body was not released for three days.  Some have said that Zimmerman was “Spanish speaking and had black friends.” Well that does not not mean that the killing was not racially motivated, the fact that Zimmerman was calling him a “Coon” on the 911 tape is indisputable evidence.

I don’t live in some “white liberal dream land” when it comes to crime. When I was 19 my wife and I along with her parents were held up at gunpoint by two black men in our home town of Stockton California. I had a gun at my head and Judy had her glasses ripped off by the other assailant and ground into the parking lot. I don’t think that violent criminals should go unpunished or that people should not maintain a sharp eye and or not be able to defend themselves when actually threatened.

But that does not mean that I think that young black men are all potential armed robbers. I live in a racially mixed neighborhood with many black neighbors. A couple of years ago there was a series of break ins and robberies in the neighborhood that brought about the formation of a neighborhood watch.  Some of the criminals were black and eventually the burglary ring was broken. However that being said I cannot simply assume that a person is a criminal based on their race or how they dress.

When I am in town I am part of our neighborhood watch. However for law enforcement purposes I am a civilian. If I see something that I think is suspicious I call the police. I don’t take the law into my own hands. Being part of a neighborhood watch doesn’t give me or anyone the authority to take the law into our hands.

It really is that simple. George Zimmerman exceeded any measure of authority that he had under the law. He decided that he knew better than the police and ignored their guidance not to pursue the victim. The fact that he was given a pass by the Sanford Police under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law is unconscionable.  Stand Your Ground was not designed to provide someone a license to kill. Zimmerman was not threatened. He took the initiative, ignored the police 911 operator and provoked a confrontation in which he killed an unarmed teenager while mumbling racial slurs on the 911 tape.  Zimmerman the vigilante pursued and killed a teenager who posed no threat to him and who was trying to avoid a confrontation.

Jeb Bush is right. The “Stand Your Ground” law provides no cover for Zimmerman who I view as a cold blooded killer. At the same time if charged Zimmerman deserves his day in court no-matter what I think which is far more grace than he gave to Trayvon Williams.

That my friends is premeditated murder motivated by racial prejudice and enabled by a law that gives a pass to anyone who claims that they “feel threatened.” It is a crude form of racially motivated vigilantism and it was not a tragic accident nor it was not the fault of the victim for wearing a hoodie.

Justice needs to be done in this and hopefully the attention that has been brought to this case will shake us from our complacency about the power of racially motivated fear that empowers men like George Zimmerman to kill kids and claim that they are the victim. There is something unjust about such a situation and I have to agree with the great civil rights activists that if there is not justice there can be no peace. Trayvon Martin is dead at the hands of a vigilante. His killer is free.

When will we ever learn?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Healing Community Grieves-Portsmouth Naval Medical Center Experiences Yet another Tragic Death

This week has culminated two months of tragedy at our medical center.  This was another death, and this one was totally senseless.  It followed the unexpected death of Senior Chief Pam Branum while she was deployed on the USNS Comfort doing a humanitarian mission in the Caribbean Sea.  The Comfort was in Panama when she died.  Her death shook our community.  She was loved and respected and her death was unsettling.  Back in April we had lost Ensign Chris Gallagher in a motorcycle crash in Oceanview.  Chris was a fourth year medical student and would have graduated about three weeks after he died.  He was a incredibly sharp and dedicated medical student and would have made a fine physician.  As with Senior Chief he was well liked and respected.  I knew both of them.  I had seen Chris the day before his death in ICU rounds.

This week we lost Hospitalman Third Class Christopher Bailey.  Today in a chapel crowed well beyond it’s maximum capacity we remembered Chris.  It was a moving and emotional service in which his shipmates, friends and even his mother spoke,  I was especially touched by her words about Chris and our healing community.  Chris was a passionate young sailor and dedicated Christian.  He and a friend were looking at his car and discussing their faith when three men came to rob them.  As the men left following the robbery one fired a shot into Chris’s car.  He was hit in the back of the head and died yesterday at Norfolk General.  He donated his organs and seven were used in transplants.  In death he gave live to seven people.  Chris was a Psychiatric Technician.  He worked on our inpatient Psychiatry wards and occasionally in the clinic.  He was loved by those who worked with him.  I work on our SPRINT team which is an interdisciplinary team which goes out to assist in traumatic situations.  As part of that team I work with a lot of really great Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Psychiatric Nurses and Technicians, military and civilian.  Unlike Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum I had only met Chris in passing on duty one evening. So I didn’t know him like the other two, thus this was different than the others for me.

The death of Pan Branum and Chris Gallagher saddened me because I knew them and liked them.  Chris Bailey’s death angered me because it was so senseless.  Chris was killed for 5 dollars and truthfully, and this may seem un-Christian and anti-life I hope the bloody sonofabitch who did this is hunted down and killed.  That asshole snuffed out the life of a good kid and it really pisses me off.  I’m sure this reaction goes back to my youth because back in 1979 I was held up a gunpoint by two men with Judy, who was and her parents in the parking lot of Arroyo’s Café in Stockton California, the original home of the drive-by-shooting.  This was back in the days that Arroyo’s was on South center Street.  Having a gun to your head when you have no place to run sitting in the back seat of a car puts your life in perspective real quick.  When I heard about Chris and what happened to him I imagined what would have happened to me had the robber pulled the trigger on me.  Anyway I am upset about this because I am sick and tired of seeing young people die senseless and needless deaths. Additionally it angers me because it has hurt my friends on my team.  They are hurting; they are grieving and still trying to care for a nearly full inpatient psychiatric unit.  I hate to see my friends hurting.  I try to be there for them but that will not take away the hurt, pain and loss that they have experienced.  They walk tonight in the valley of the shadow of death.

Theologically and personally I wrestle with this.  I have a hard time finding any redeeming purpose or meaning in such a death.  Chris was killed by a criminal gang of thugs for no reason.  I have a hard time saying “well it’s God’s will” or “God works everything for the good.”  God may have a plan and somehow some way there may be something good that comes from this, but I cannot see it right now.  I’m sure that I am not alone in the way that I feel.  I can only imagine the sense of loss, grief and anger of the people that I work with who knew and loved Chris.  My stuff I can put a finger on, being held up at gunpoint thirty years ago, dealing with huge amounts traumatic death in ERs and ICUs as a chaplain and most of all the PTSD that I came home with as a gift from Iraq.

I stayed in the background of this event helping a bit with seating people, hanging out in back to make sure people were okay and after the service looking after my friends Andy and Casey from the SPRINT team.  Casey and I had done a mission at Camp LeJeune a few months back during a particularly gruesome suicide which came into the hospital ER.  Casey transfers soon but in the mean time we have to get together for a beer some evening or take in a ball game.

The only thing that I can say that may be halfway pastoral at this point is to echo German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer who said:

“Nothing can make up for the absence of someone we love. And it would be wrong to try to find a substitute. We must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, for the gap — as long as it remains unfilled — preserves the bond between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap: God does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty, and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.”

I know that all of Chris’s friends, as well as those of Chris Gallagher and Pan Branum will understand this.  There is nothing that can replace them and it is foolish to try to substitute another person, relationship or activity for them.  There is a hole in our hearts and in the collective soul of Portsmouth Naval Medical Center.  This place of healing is hurting and I pray that somehow these things will stop happening.

May God give rest to the soul of Christopher Bailey and all those who sleep in Christ; may his soul, the souls of Chris Gallagher and Pam Branum and all the departed rest in peace and all who grieve for them know the peace of God.

Pray for me a sinner, Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, things I don't get