Guest Commentary: Senseless Acts of Violence: From the shooter’s family point of view

SSRI Ed note: Man used to helping others deal with dependency stops his Wellbutrin, drinks heavily, shoots neighbour, kills himself.


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Naples Daily News


7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 15, 2008

Courtesy Ruth Burke

Re: Publisher Chris Doyle’s column regarding the Northern Illinois University shootings. He asked if anyone could help understand why such tragedies happen or help find a way to prevent them.

If you or a loved one is involved in education, whether as a student or staff member of a school, we all worry about the increase in the number of school shootings, as well as random acts of violence in our neighborhoods.

There are numerous, unnecessary displays of anger and frustration that impact preschools and extend to university campuses.

We worry about being shot or a family member being killed by senseless firings of guns, but how many of us are concerned about the fact that one of our family members would be the shooter?

Four years ago on a relatively quiet summer evening, I never would have imagined that my brother, Richard Hartikainen, would have been involved in an act of violence in Norwalk, Ohio.

When I answered the phone, I expected to hear his girlfriend’s voice and to become engaged in a normal, friendly conversation.

Shock, disbelief and horror are the only words that come to mind as I relive that life-altering event. My brother had gone to his neighbor’s home, shot and wounded the father of the family, and returned to his driveway and ended his own life.

My brother had had problems with his neighbors for over a year. Some of the disagreement involved two 14-year-old cousins.

There were a couple of court battles and many calls to the police regarding interaction between my brother and the family. On the night in question, the boys were playing basketball in the church courtyard behind my brother’s house. He confronted them and, to avoid an uncomfortable situation, the boys returned to their home.

My brother went into his house, got his gun, went to their house and again confronted the family. He shot into the ceiling of their home and then pointed the gun at the father, shot him in the chest, and left.

We were thankful he didn’t shoot the boys. The father is paralyzed for the remainder of his life.

A senseless act

Days and weeks of turmoil ensued.

The focus of these tragedies is on the loss of the innocent victims, as it should be; however, the loss is just as great for the family of the culprit who committed the horrific deed.

In the days following the crime, the culprit’s family asks the same question that everyone asks: Why?

My brother had abruptly stopped taking the medication, Wellbutrin XL, that he was taking for depression. He had returned to drinking heavily. On the evening in question, he was under the influence of alcohol.

The culprit’s family members not only deal with their personal loss, but they also deal with the fact that other lives have been senselessly ended.

We live in a society that embraces freedom of speech, religion and the ability to buy weapons. We also have a generation of people who are on medications that alter mental states. Those medications mask the underlying depression haunting many Americans.

Not everyone who is taking medication for depression is at risk for committing a dastardly crime, but when a person is taking a prescribed dosage, then suddenly stops, or enhances the medication with alcohol, the situations become lethal.

Do you look for warning signs? Probably not! Even if you do, they are difficult to identify.

My brother would have been the first to tell someone who was struggling with alcohol or other drug dependency and abuse to seek help, straighten out his or her lifestyle, and become a responsible citizen. My brother had worked for the county prosecutor’s office as a counselor for people who were released from jail and needed to get their lives turned around to positively contribute to society.

He had a master’s degree from Ohio State ­ not a stupid person by any means.

He was 55, so he was not a youngster who was trying to find his place in the world.

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever anticipate my brother deliberately trying to kill another human being.

His own life was not threatened. He was not defending himself, nor his property. Such an act was, and still is, unbelievable.

I am a teacher at Oakridge Middle School and my three sons all attended Collier County schools. The youngest was killed in an automobile accident in 1997. The two older boys are married.

Having lost my youngest son, I was able to help my parents deal with the loss of their youngest child.

I never would have thought life’s experiences would be such painful lessons.

We will never have an understanding why someone causes these terrible fatalities. The best thing we can do is show compassion to the victims’ families ­ both the innocent and the guilty! Each of these individuals is someone’s child.

Thank you for helping me get this printed so people have another