The Choices of Monsters
Born and raised in Alaska, Glen Klinkhart is a retired Anchorage Police Department Detective, a State Certified Police Officer, and Chief Executive Officer for DigitalSecurus, the largest Computer Security Firm in Alaska. He is also a father, lecturer, and author of A CyberCop’s Guide to Internet Child Safety, and the upcoming Finding Bethany.
After the mall shooting in Oregon last week, my best friend asked me a question which weighed heavily on her mind, “Why? Why does someone do something horrible like this?” Needless to say, her question is now being asked by people all over the country, and the world, following the deaths of so many in an elementary school in Connecticut.
So what is the answer to my friend’s question of why? Why do people go out and commit atrocities against those who mean them no harm? Why do bad people do bad things to good people? Those of us who are good people believe that if we can answer the question of why, then we will be able to understand it, process it, deal with it, and fix it. That is a great line of thought except that the real truth, I am afraid, won’t make you any safer, and it won’t ever give you the ability to stop it.
I am in the unfortunate position of being a person whose own sister was raped and murdered. My parents lost their only daughter to a person who came out of nowhere and left a wake of despair in his path. After her death, I became a police detective and I had the privilege of spending seventeen years investigating and arresting some of those very bad folks.
These bad people committed brutal murders, assaults, and rapes against some very good people. I have had the opportunity to interview these “monsters,” as we want to call them. I have gotten inside the heads of these people, and I have heard from their own mouths why they claim to have done the terrible, evil things they do. I learned that killers don’t always tell the whole truth, and often they blame their actions on drugs, alcohol, abuse as a child, mental illness, or any number of non-effective reasons. But when you spend enough time with them, you realize that they are not the knuckle-dragging, drooling, psychopaths we seen on TV and in the movies – far from it. None of the hundreds of people I arrested were “monsters.” They were people who did some very bad, awful, and criminal things. They were also people who knew exactly what they were doing.
For me, all of this began to come to light after I interviewed a 24-year-old man who killed another person by beating the victim to death. The killer then cut the victim apart, like he was field dressing a caribou, and proceeded to stuff the victim’s body parts into a freezer. I spent hours getting this “monster” to confess and as he spoke, it became clear to me that he had an amazing memory, and was very articulate. He said he recalled what he did before and after the crime, but could recall nothing of what he did during the murder. He claimed he “blacked out.” He was lying to me.
Another killer once told me he strangled his girlfriend because she reminded him of his mother. She probably did remind him of his mother, but that wasn’t why he killed her.
One murderer told me he did it because he was high on “pot” despite the fact he made dozens of individual choices, each of which lead him to bludgeon and rape his victim.
Another “monster” told me she did it because God told her to. When I asked her if she knew what would happen to her son when she shot him in the head, she looked at me like I was the crazy one and calmly said, “He would die. Duh.”
As we wait for the men and women of law enforcement in Connecticut to do their difficult jobs and investigate the crime scenes, interview the witnesses, and piece together what happened, most people wait anxiously for the question of why to be answered. I am sorry to say, but the answer to why is already known, and it will not come from CSI or from any media outlet that says they know the answer (The killer was abused, sick, crazy, high, low, sad, happy, poor, rich, etc.).
Although killers’ thoughts, emotions, and incentives are as different as they are, these “monsters” did bad things to good people for one reason… because they chose to. It is a conscious decision. Their motivations may all be different, but they do it because they choose to. People don’t want to hear that a person kills dozens of children because they choose to. It doesn’t make sense to us but let me tell you something, it makes perfect sense to them. In their place, in their mind, and in their time, it makes perfect sense, and they choose to carry out their acts against others in spite of knowing that it is wrong, knowing that it is against the law, knowing they may go to jail, and yet they still choose to do it.
It is a free choice and it is one which is often in a series of active, knowing, decisions. I’m sorry to remind us all that you cannot protect yourself and your loved ones from everyone else’s choices, whether it is a drunk driver, an abusive spouse, a rapist, or any other “monster” which crosses our path. We all like to think we can, but we cannot. We make our own choices, but not the choices of others.
People can argue all they want after this about what we could have done, what we should have done, we need more guns, we need fewer guns, we need more laws, we need fewer laws. All of these arguments can mitigate the severity of some evil acts, and all of them are worth an open and honest discussion, but none of them will ever completely stop a person from their conscious choice to do unto others.
I could not have stopped Alan Chase Junior from murdering my sister anymore than I, or anyone else, could have stopped Israel Keyes from murdering Samantha Koenig, or the suspect in Connecticut from killing those children at Sandy Hook Elementary. I’m sorry and I cry for my loss and for the loss of others, but the choice and the burden is with the “monster” and not with anyone else.
All I ask is that we make sure our own choices are ones that are good, productive, and compassionate, and that the inevitable discussions around how to mitigate the size and the scope of future tragedies is also done with open minds, respectful words, and empathy for all sides of the issue. We should tell the people in our lives we love them, let them know that they mean the world to us, and ask ourselves to strive to make conscious choices to do good for others and for ourselves. The monsters will have to answer for their choices, but let our own choices be ones that we never ever have to answer for.