On December 14, 2012, Adam Peter Lanza, age 20, fatally shot twenty children and six adult staff members and wounded two more at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, U.S.A.
Halfway around the world, in Central China’s Henan Province, 36 year old Min Yongjun broke into an elementary school wielding a knife and attacked, wounding 23 children.
These kind of tragic incidents are, unfortunately, more common than it should be. In the U.S, there have been over 40 such incidents where 297 people, mostly students and teachers as well as other school employees, have died from 1989 to 2012 alone.
The two main reasons for this kind of tragedy are said to be easy access to guns and mental illness. In such violent incidents, almost all the time, the gunman commits suicide leaving people to wonder and to try to find the answer to the question ‘why?’ In the majority of the cases, the offenders are labeled in court as ‘mentally unstable’ and if they didn’t kill themselves, they would end up in a state mental institution instead of prison.
The recent school attack that occurred in China, for example, put the spotlight on mental health care in the country. China has been in the news for school knife attacks in the last three years. Last August, a day care facility employee in Shanghai went on a stabbing spree, injuring eight children with a box-cutter. The victims of this gruesome attack were only 3 to 4 year old kids. The children sustained injuries mostly on their heads and necks. The accused was a 30 year old woman who is said to suffer from mental illness.
In March 2010, in Fujian province, a man brandishing a 10-inch knife attacked students at the entrance of their school, killing eight and critically injuring five. According to some Chinese media, the attacker grabbed children who were standing in line and brutally started stabbing. The assailant, Zheng Mingsheng, was a former community doctor and was suspected of having serious mental problems.
In 2009, the Ministry of Health’s Center for Statistics Information (CSI) reported that China had a total of nearly 19 million psychiatric patients. Still, there are only 637 psychiatric hospitals and only 88,117 health professionals trained to provide care.
Now how about Ethiopia? In Ethiopia, more than 6 percent of the population suffers from serious mental illness, but there are barely enough medical institutions where people with the disorder can seek help or get treatment from. Although Ethiopia has not seen mass murders in educational institutions by mentally ill persons, mental illness related violence is not uncommon. What guarantee do we have that a person would not snap and go on a murder spree one day? Absolutely none, so to speak.
Guns and their control is the other issue. Fortunately for Ethiopia, that is not a problem because gun control is very strict, but for a country like the U.S, where citizens own 270 million of the World’s 875 million known firearms, it is a huge problem; keeping in mind the mere 300 million total population of the USA. According to the Small Arms Survey by the Geneva-based Graduate Institute of International Studies, about 4.5 million of the 8 million new guns manufactured worldwide each year, are purchased in the United States. Adam Lanza, the 20 year old gunman who shot and killed his mother while she slept and 26 other people at a school in Connecticut had easy access to guns. His mother was a gun enthusiast and owned at least a dozen firearms and she usually took Adam and her other kids to local shooting ranges.
Officials stated that, even though Adam suffered from anxiety and was socially awkward, when he made the decision to attack all those people he was in a clear state of mind and was not suffering from insanity; meaning he knew what he was doing. Sure he was unhappy and wanted to kill himself, but he wanted to go out in a memorable way, so he took 20 children and 6 adults with him.
He was able to accomplish all this damage simply because he had easy access to guns; they were right in his house. So what happens when all those people who want to blow their heads off because their personal life sucks decide to also take a few other people with them for their 15 minutes fame and because they have got nothing to lose? Then ‘Houston, we have a problem!’
The incidents that were described at the beginning of this article may not all relate to those of us who live in Ethiopia as they happened in really faraway places from here. Some might even say that children are killed all the time in the Middle East by the so called ‘war on terror’, so why even care?
Still, the unexpected death or injury of children through a horrific and violent way in a place where they should have been safe, where they should have been learning, making friends, having fun and not have a care in the world, be it in their home, school or neighborhood playground, is truly heart breaking. Sympathy knows no border.