Editorials

Editorial: Campus violence requires us all to be on high alert

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said that Faisal Mohammad, 18, had a precise plan to kill “a lot of people,” according to a two-page, handwritten manifesto found during his autopsy.
Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke said that Faisal Mohammad, 18, had a precise plan to kill “a lot of people,” according to a two-page, handwritten manifesto found during his autopsy. Merced Sun-Star

The malignancy spreading through America rocked Valley campuses twice last week.

Fortunately, Christian Malik Pryor, a freshman Fresno State football player from Los Angeles, was arrested before he could carry out a social media threat to use a weapon to “release my frustrations” at 3 p.m. on Nov. 2. The following day, university officials said that they didn’t think Pryor was serious about shooting up the school.

But Faisal Mohammad, a freshman computer science student from Santa Clara, acted on his plan to kill a lot of people at UC Merced on Nov. 4. His knife-slashing assault that included four injured victims ended when a campus police officer shot him dead. Byron Price, a construction worker, likely saved the life of the first victim by intervening when he heard screams behind a closed door.

Merced County Sheriff Verne Warnke said that Mohammad’s motive appeared to have been anger over being “kicked out of a study group.”

These are chilling times. No public place offers a respite from the threat of deadly violence. And author Malcolm Gladwell says in a thought-provoking piece in the Oct. 19 edition of The New Yorker that the rate of these tragedies and potential tragedies could increase.

Of mass shootings, Gladwell writes, “… the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”

Gladwell cites Stanford University sociologist Mark Granovetter’s famous essay examining the thresholds at which various people might actively participate in a riot.

“Granovetter thought that the threshold hypothesis could be used to describe everything from elections to strikes, and even matters as prosaic as how people decide it’s time to leave a party,” Gladwell says. “He was writing in 1978, long before teenage boys made a habit of wandering through their high schools with assault rifles. But what if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is to go back and use the Granovetterian model – to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?”

Gladwell cites the case of John LaDue, 17, of Waseca, Minn. LaDue came from a good home. He liked his town. He said he couldn’t recall ever being bullied. And yet he planned to kill his family, blow up his school and then kill more people at his school with several semi-automatic rifles and a shotgun last year.

“I just wanted as many victims as possible,” LaDue told a police officer.

LaDue didn’t fulfill his homicidal fantasy. A woman who saw him walking to a storage facility sensed that something wasn’t right. She called police, who found LaDue at a storage unit filled with everything one would need to make bombs.

We all need to be like that woman – on high alert.

If something doesn’t seem right, call the police. If a person appears troubled, share your concerns with someone who can help.

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