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Opinion/Editorial: Another report on a another shooting: Virginia Beach

Opinion/Editorial: Another report on a another shooting: Virginia Beach

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An FBI report sheds some clarity on the terrifying tragedy of the Virginia Beach shooting, which occurred just over two years ago.

It finds that the shooter — city employee DeWayne Craddock — had suffered from mental health problems, which coalesced into feelings of ill-treatment at work and contributed to his shooting rampage at the city municipal building, in which he killed 12 people, wounded several others and was himself killed by police.

Since 2017, he had going through a divorce — a circumstance that had been cited in previous investigations. But he had been struggling in his work since 2014, his performance had suffered, and he had been given a warning and was denied a merit raise — although the FBI notes that his performance had improved prior to the shooting.

“The shooter’s inflated sense of self-importance … led him to believe he was unjustly and repeatedly criticized and slighted,” the FBI said in a news release. “Violence was viewed … as a way to reconcile this conflict and restore his perverted view of justice.”

The FBI summary provides motive — workplace revenge and irrational anger. But at a gut level, it doesn’t begin to explain how someone can unleash such mayhem and terror against fellow human beings. We, the sane, can’t comprehend such a profound break with reality. We, the decent and well-intentioned, can’t fathom such evil.

The FBI alluded to this when it said that although Craddock faced significant mental health stressors, they “alone cannot explain the Virginia Beach attack.”

Psychology can investigate the causes and mechanisms of psychotic breakdowns, but intellectual analysis can only go so far. The report can’t explain something that good-hearted people view as inexplicable. And perhaps that’s the way it should be: For our own sanity, perhaps we must distance ourselves from too close an understanding of violence.

The assignment of motive goes further than some previous investigations. One of those, released in March by the city police, said no motive could be identified.

Although it does address motive, the FBI report fails to satisfy some calls for greater accountability.

The FBI said that no one was in a position to “see the confluence of behaviors that may have forewarned the attack” because Craddock had isolated himself from others.

Of course, this kind of deliberate isolation is in itself a sign of trouble — although it’s too simplistic to claim that trending toward solitude is always unhealthy or that, even when it is unhealthy, that such behavior inevitably leads to violence. Neither is the case.

But the spouse of one of the victims has said all along that warning signs were clear and should have been heeded.

“Human resources dropped the ball on policies, protocol and procedures,” Jason Nixon said in March when the police report was released. “My wife warned them all the time that there’s something wrong with this guy.”

A third report, this one from Chicago-based security company Hillard Heintze, was released in November 2019. It found no evidence of a pervasive or systemically toxic work environment that might have motivated Craddock.

A fourth report is in the making. A state commission also is investigating the shooting; it held its first meeting only this week.

The FBI summary says that Craddock was “similar in many ways to other active shooters studied by the FBI.”

And that may be the most chilling statement of all. We can catalog the similarities of mass shootings, and we know the types of personalities or changes in behavior that most often correlate with such shootings. But we still know little about how to predict and prevent them.

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