This past Monday, a 16-year-old who had been within the doors of a church most weeks for the last several months, who had just recently been baptized and shared his testimony, and who seemed to everyone who loved him to be doing rather well, walked into my hometown public library with two handguns and shot four women, a man, and a 10-year-old boy. Two of the women died, the rest are in bad shape.
I didn’t know this kid, but a few of my friends knew him very well. They are all in shocked disbelief. They all knew he had struggles, but again, things had been better. He was reconnecting with his faith, he had a girlfriend who loved him, he was making positive friendships at church events… but apparently the pain inside and the outside influences overwhelmed him to the point where his mind was twisted into thinking that the only way to deal with the pain was to inflict it on others.
Cryptic YouTube videos have since been discovered that appear to have been recorded by him. In one of the videos, he describes the anger he has welled up from a life of being bullied. Last Friday, he got into a fight with what some of his classmates say was someone who bullied him, and he got suspended.
So, what went wrong? He had recently returned to church, has a girlfriend, was making friends.
But even with all this, the darkness still took over in the end, and seemingly out of nowhere.
He took the lives of two innocent women and has severely injured and emotionally scarred four other people for the rest of their lives, assuming they all survive. It was senseless and horrific. There is no excuse, no explaining it away.
Depression is a monster. It magnifies your problems a hundred-fold. Some people mix their depression with addiction, like I did. It sends us into a downward spiral where we slowly destroy ourselves (though still often hurting others in the process, just not intentionally). Others mix their depression with anger, and their downward spiral is directed towards other people, often those who don’t deserve it.
I can’t tell you for sure that was the case here, that this boy was depressed, but examining his life and relationships and actions from the outside, he seems to feel exactly as I once did. I suffered from depression from the age of 11 until I was 22. The clinical kind. The kind that makes you doubt every friend, every relationship, God himself, because you feel worthless – there’s no way anyone could even possibly care about you. The kind that, when you are experiencing happiness, whispers in your ear how much you don’t deserve it. The kind that hurts so much sometimes, you start believing that you’d rather be dead than live through it another day.
From an outsider’s perspective, it’s irrational, it’s crazy – “Just be happy! Stop being dramatic!”
These people don’t realize that depression is very much a medical condition – a chemical imbalance. You can’t yell at an overweight guy, “Just be skinny!” He can get there, but it takes a lot of hard work for a long period of time. For someone struggling with depression, that takes medication, counseling, lots of mental health care, and even then, finding the right medication (there are dozens, if not hundreds) is a minefield, with some winding up making the problem worse. You can get to a better place, but it takes a lot of hard work.
The sooner Christians realize this is an actual medical condition and not just “moodiness”, the sooner those who are struggling will find help. God helped me overcome the worst of my depression 9 years ago, but I still feel it trying to creep up on me from time to time.
But this doesn’t excuse what this kid did. It’s simply a piece of the puzzle.
We could play the “Only If” game all we want and get nowhere.
If only he had talked to someone.
If only people had befriended him sooner.
If only those bullies had left him alone.
If only, if only, if only.
The bottom line is: Things like this don’t just happen. We can point fingers at his bullies, but why do people become bullies? Almost every bully has something messed up at home. Their anger outweighs their pain and the only way they feel they can express it is by pouring it out on others. They like to feel in control, because maybe they don’t feel that way anywhere else.
That’s why we can’t just “put an end to bullying”. Bullying isn’t something that just happens without a cause. It goes back to the home life, to hurt and hang-ups in their past.
My mind is so distraught because I know there’s no easy answer or explanation.
I might sound sympathetic to this kid who committed this senseless act. Maybe I am. But I’m not excusing his terrible actions. He will have to face the consequences, and he’ll likely be tried as an adult. But the sympathy I feel is because we as a society let him down.
We had 16 years to help this kid. 16 years to show him love. 16 years to stand up for him. 16 years to get him the help he needed. But we failed him. He committed a terrible crime, took innocent lives, and has now almost insured the rest of his life will be behind bars. Of course he deserves the blame for his actions, but a little bit of that blame also falls on us. It falls on every one of us who had the chance to help but didn’t. I know there were some who tried. Praise God for you.
The hardest part about struggling with depression is feeling like you are alone. Even with friends, even with relationships, you can still feel like it is you against the world. And there’s no easy fix. Praying for them is always great. But we also need to train ourselves to see the signs of a kid in trouble. We need to let them know they aren’t alone. Many scholars believe that King David may have also struggled with depression, just from reading his often “over-the-top” sounding laments in the Psalms. If nothing else, he certainly struggling with pain, guilt, fear, and doubt.
How many more kids, teens, and even adults are out there right now who need us to step out of our comfort zones and show them love, to save them from a future like this? A future where their mind has been so warped by their pain that they commit a life-destroying act?
Pain doesn’t have to be wasted. If you’ve struggled through depression, speak up, share your story with others. Give others hope that it can get better! I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s necessary!
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ.” -Galatians 6:2
I wish we could rewind. I wish we could save those lives lost. I wish we could help this kid long before he got to this point.
But we can’t. We can’t change the past. So, now, I pray we learn from it.
Founder of BackRowOnline.com & Host of the Back Row Baptist Podcast