Following yesterday’s killing spree at an Omaha, Neb., shopping mall, in which nineteen-year-old Robert Hawkins shot and killed at least eight people before turning his gun on himself, I found myself wrestling with two questions. The questions were not new. They were the same two questions I have struggled with following each killing spree, whether it happened at Columbine High School in Colorado or on the Virginia Tech campus or at the Trolley Square mall in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The first question is a “why” question. Why did he do it? What could make a person kill people at random? Did he have no feelings for their families, no concept of the kind of pain and suffering he was inflicting?
No one can know for sure why Robert Hawkins did what he did but the information coming from the news media gives us a portrait of a deeply disturbed young man, an outsider in many ways and estranged from his family. When I consider that information two words come to mind: anger and despair.
He was a terribly angry young man! At this point I know nothing about his parental family but I would suspect he grew up in a home without a biological father, leaving him with what some psychologists are calling a “father wound.” If that be the case he would blame himself for his father’s absence – if he had been a better boy his father would not have left him – and yet he would be terribly angry with his father. Unable to confront his father he would likely find himself lashing out at the slightest provocation making punishment and rejection inevitable. Unless this deadly cycle could be broken his anti-social behavior would simply continue to escalate. Apparently that’s what happened.
Now add despair. It would appear that no matter what Robert Hawkins did it ended badly. Just two weeks ago his girl friend dropped him and then he was fired from his job at McDonald’s, never mind that he allegedly stole $17.00 from the company. With a criminal record and due back in court for allegedly contributing to the delinquency of a minor Robert would seem to be his own worst enemy. Given these facts it’s not hard to see how he would feel hopeless.
Anger and despair – a deadly combination. He took his anger at the world out on the eight victims of his shooting spree before succumbing to his overwhelming despair and turning his gun on himself. Rejected and ridiculed in life he made sure the world would take note of him in death. As he wrote in his suicide note, “Now I’ll be famous.”
The second question is a “how” question. How can we make sure something like this never happens again? We can’t but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Ultimately Robert Hawkins is responsible for what he did but having said that I want to challenge society to take a hard look at its values or lack thereof. We may legislate no fault divorce laws and no fault insurance laws but there is no such thing as no fault living. We do not live in a vacuum. Every action has a subsequent effect and as society has moved further and further away from Biblical values and traditional morality we have seen a corresponding increase in divorce, dysfunctional families, sexually transmitted diseases, mental illness and violent crime. This did not happen overnight and it will not be reversed in a single generation. Our only hope is a spiritual awaking that returns our society to Biblical values and traditional morality.
On a strictly personal level we have a moral and spiritual responsibility to reach out to the Robert Hawkins who pass through our lives. I agree with the late Bob Benson who said, “Life in a way is like those electric bump cars at the amusement park. We jut run at each other and smile and bump and away we go.
“How are you doing—
bump, bump, bump.”
What a haunting picture of our broken world. Hundreds of hurting people pretending to “have it all together.” I can’t help but wonder how many people like Robert that I’ve bumped into, how many times I’ve asked how they were doing, but not in a way that made them want to tell me. How many of them have slipped out into the night, and died, just a little on the inside, as anger and despair pushed them ever closer to the edge.
Although Robert Hawkins obviously felt his situation was hopeless it was not. Father God promises to be a father to the fatherless. He can heal the “father wound.” He can put His healing hands deep into our wounded souls, heal our hurts and make all things new. If only someone had introduced Robert to the Father we might have been spared yesterday’s killing spree.
This is Richard Exley straight from the heart.