What Recent Mass Murderers Have in Common

Strong families are needed to come alongside mentally ill children so that those kids can learn to function well.

By Rob Schwarzwalder Published on November 8, 2017

What have mass murderers Dylann Roof, Stephen Paddock, and Adam Lanza had in common? Other than their acts of great evil?

All came from troubled homes.

Dylann Roof: The killer of nine people in a Charleston, South Carolina church grew up in painful circumstances. His parents divorced when he was small. His father divorced his first wife after a few years of marriage. And he reportedly was abusive of his second wife, Dylann’s step-mother.

According to the Associated Press, “Court documents and nearly two dozen interviews show Roof’s early childhood was troubled and confused as well, as he grew up in an unstable, broken home amid allegations of marital abuse and infidelity.”

Stephen Paddock: The man who slaughtered 58 concert-goers in Las Vegas was the son of a top criminal.

Paddock’s father was named Benjamin. He “was on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list in the 1970s for robbing banks and was described as psychopathic in an arrest warrant. According to the warrant, the suspect’s father carried a firearm and was considered ‘armed and dangerous.’”

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Benjamin Paddock was arrested and put in prison. But “six months after his sentencing, he escaped and robbed a bank in San Francisco before being recaptured in Oregon.”

How did this heritage affect his family?  Stephen Paddock made moral choices for which he alone is responsible. Yet could the shadow cast by his father eventually have darkened him? Even enough that he decided to commit a horrid act?

Adam Lanza: The son of divorce, the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer struggled with mental health issues for years.

Lanza’s parents divorced in 2009 after 28 years of marriage. Adam, then 17, was experiencing severe mental and emotional illnesses. How much did his parents’ breakup drive him further into darkness?

How Divorce and Abusive Relationships Affect Children

There’s a massive research showing that divorce has a profoundly adverse effect on children. If a youth is mentally ill, how much more might living as the child of divorced parents impact him?

We don’t know, and I don’t want to over-speculate. But it would seem logical that a troubled young person will only become more troubled if his parents end their marriage.  Especially if they do so amid their child’s mental trauma.

Knowing there are people who love you deeply and are there for you, not just today but permanently, can help a mentally ill person realize he’s not in his pain alone.

Let me be clear about a couple of essential things:

First, not everyone whose parents divorce or who have troubled childhoods become mass murderers! If they did, we would have a sparsely populated country. Children of divorced parents will bear wounds from their family struggles. But the great majority go on to live generally healthy, normal lives.

Second, nothing can excuse murder. Period. People are responsible for their actions. They make choices and are accountable for them. However, if mental illness is a factor, the equation changes if that illness overwhelms a person’s basic judgment.

With those things said, common sense tells us that mental instability only increases if one’s parents divorce and/or have an abusive relationship.

Families Matter — And There is Help For Yours

The takeaway, for Christians, is this: Families matter. So does mental health. Strong families are needed to come alongside mentally ill children so that those kids can learn to function well. And even, in some cases, overcome the mental problems plaguing them.

A healthy home is an environment of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and hope. Knowing there are people who love you deeply and are there for you, not just today but permanently, can help a mentally ill person realize he’s not in his pain alone.

There are many resources available to families who are living with a family member who is mentally ill. From websites listing the signs of mental illness to support groups, there are many organizations that offer help and hope.

Focus on the Family joined with Lifeway Research in conducting a study of families where mental illness is present. Among their findings:

  • “Impacted individuals and their families deal with a significant amount of shame and social stigma.
  • “Many assume the person has ‘done’ something to cause the illness.
  • “There are too many parents whose children suffer from mental illness that deal with denial and grief.
  • “In most cases, the illness needs stabilizing before spiritual growth will take place — but on the other hand, strong faith does not make a mental illness go away.”

In addition, Focus has published a helpful e-book, Serving Those with Mental Illness, a guide for pastors to help families that need help. 

Christians know that even in the darkest hours, there is One Who sticks closer than a brother. Christ will guide those in need to the medical, emotional, and spiritual resources they require to move toward recovery or, at least, stability.

And if you know families that need help with mentally ill children or parents, remember people like Adam Lanza, Dylann Roof, and Stephen Paddock. Mental illness is not feeling a little down. It can be very serious. And these evil men have shown just how serious it can be.

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