Earlier this week, I have was having a conversation with a Carroll County woman who told me she had been the victim of domestic violence, and she brought up the school shooting in St. Mary’s County that occurred earlier this week. She was listening to the radio when the announcer reading the news casually referred to the shooter as a “love-struck teen.”
The radio announcer was simply reading a story from the Associated Press, a nonprofit news organization that produces its own stories and also shares content from contributing members, which includes the Carroll County Times. For whatever reason, the AP had chosen the headline for the story distributed to thousands of newspapers and broadcast outlets to be “Police: Maryland school shooter apparently was lovesick teen.”
It was an unfortunate choice of words that, in the eyes of many, particularly those who have been victims of domestic abuse, almost excused or at least softened the actions of the teenaged shooter.
We don’t know much more, at this point, about the relationship between the shooter, Austin Wyatt Rollins, 17, who died after being confronted by a school resource officer, and the teenage girl, Jaelynn Willey, 16, who died late Thursday after being taken off life support, other than it had recently come to an end.
But it’s clear that Willey was the victim of domestic violence.
The local woman I was speaking with said that by labeling the shooter as “lovesick” or “love-struck,” she thought it put the blame squarely on the young girl for ending the relationship. It was also clear, she said, that “love” had nothing to do with the situation. No one who “loves” another human being would try to end that person’s life in such a callous manner.
Wrote one woman on Twitter: “’Lovesick teens’ write truly awful poetry. They don't shoot people. Stop acting like this kind of behavior is just what happens when boys get their feelings hurt.” Another wrote “There is nothing lovesick about believing a girl is your property and she should die rather than reject you.”
Everytown for gun safety, a nonprofit against gun violence, states that 54 percent of mass shootings have their origins in domestic violence. The organization also reports that, in a majority of mass shootings — many of which happen in private homes and don’t make national headlines — the perpetrator kills an intimate partner or family member.
A number of high-profile shootings were committed by alleged perpetrators of domestic violence as well.
Devin Patrick Kelley, the man responsible for the First Baptist Church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left 26 dead had previously been court-martialed for assaulting his wife and children.
Omar Mateen, who shot up the Orlando Pulse nightclub, killing 49 and injuring another 58, reportedly beat his ex-wife, who left him after just four months of marriage.
Robert Lewis Dear, who allegedly carried out a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, had been accused by at least two of his three ex-wives of physical abuse, and had previously been arrested and accused of sexual violence and rape.
James T. Hodgkinson, who injured Congressman Steve Scalise and others when he opened fire at a baseball practice in Virginia, had previously been charged with domestic battery against his daughter.
Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who is accused of shooting and killing 17 in Parkland, Florida, last month, was reportedly abusive toward a girlfriend and threatened to kill her new boyfriend on social media after they broke up. Perhaps it’s no coincidence he carried out his heinous act on Valentine’s Day.
And, in some cases, those who hadn’t been previously accused of abusive behavior against an intimate partner certainly showed misogynistic tendencies. Seungh Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, had been accused of harassing two women at the university. Investigators found writings on the computer of Adam Lanza, who shot his mother four times before killing 26 others at Sandy Hook Elementary, about why women were inherently selfish. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had complained about being rejected by women. And Las Vegas concert shooter Stephen Paddock routinely demeaned his girlfriend.
Hopefully, by now, you get the point. A history of domestic violence and/or misogynistic behavior can be a precursor for violent, public killings.
But beyond mass murders, domestic violence remains a serious public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than a quarter of women in the U.S. have been victims of severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner. And one woman in the U.S. will die every 16 hours as a result of domestic violence.
So while the conversations about gun laws, school safety and mental health continue, let’s not forget to include domestic violence as part of the public discussion. Taking domestic violence more seriously may help us catch the warning signs before another school is shot up or a woman and her family are killed in their home.