This Week host George Stephanopolous, Andrew Solomon, and ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser analyze the role of mental health in mass shootings.
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Barbara Walters, ABC host: Did you know that he was sick?
Peter Rodger, father of Santa Barbara shooter: No, I just thought he was a disillusioned, aloof, shy young man that needed as much love as we could give. And he wasn’t easy. He would suck the oxygen out of the room.
Walters: The father of Adam Lanza now says that there are times he wishes his son had never been born. Do you ever feel that way?
Rodger: I — that’s a loaded question, Barbara. A part of me says yes. And the reason is, because he did an awful lot of harm to young men and young women who didn’t deserve to die. And my son did it.
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Stephanopoulos: Peter Rodger, speaking to Barbara Walters about his son, Elliot, who went on a shooting rampage this spring in Santa Barbara.
For more on this, we’re joined by ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser and Andrew Solomon, author of the book Far from the Tree.
And Andrew, I want to begin with you. You probably spent more time with the parents of these killers than anyone. Hundreds of hours with Dylan Klebold’s of Columbine’s parents. You also spoke for hours with Peter Lanza, the father of the Newtown shooter for a riveting report in The New Yorker.
And one thing that shines through. Even if we resist it, we tend to blame these parents. But you learn when you speak to them, they’re real victims as well.
Andrew Solomon, author: They are real victims. I think we used to blame parents for almost everything that went wrong with their children, they were responsible for autism and homosexuality and all kinds of other qualities their children might have. And we have dropped that. But we still blame parents when their kids commit crimes.
And while some kids have their criminal tendencies exacerbated by abuse or neglect, there are many cases, including all three of these, in which an essentially loving, attentive family has a child who incomprehensively has this terrible —
Stephanopoulos: Yes, they know there’s a problem, they’re paying attention to it. And one of the things that Peter Rodger talked about — I want to show a little bit more of this before I talk to you, Rich — is missing those signs.
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Barbara Walters, ABC correspondent: You have said you’re going to spend your life, and it’s the reason you’re doing this interview with me, to raise awareness for other families who live with children who are mentally ill. How can you do that?
Peter Rodger, father of Santa Barbara shooter: By telling Eliott’s story. By looking at the red flags, the markers, the common traits between perpetrators. Asking families to understand, love, and support children who might be in the same position as Elliott.
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Stephanopoulos: So Rich, what are the markers?
Richard Besser, ABC News chief health and medical correspondent: Yes, you know, I think we would all sleep better if we could really predict who will be a mass killer. The things that he was talking about. Looking for someone who is isolated, a loner, disaffected. But that describes so many adolescents, so many young adults. And even psychiatrists are no better than flipping a coin at able to determine who, with mental illness, is prone to violence.
Stephanopoulos: You’ve spent so much time with parents, Andrew, who — and your book, Far From The Tree covers this — who have all kinds of remarkable children, both with great talents and great disabilities. Is there any common threads that successful parents of these children share?
Solomon: Well, if you’re looking in the general sense the parents who find some sort of meaning in having the challenge of having these children who are different do a better job of parenting them. There are studies that show that parents who believe that they’ve had meaning in their experience have children who are more successful than parent who is don’t. When you’re looking at horrific acts of crime like this, I don’t think there’s any way you can find the joy in it. All you can find are the pointers for how to perhaps prevent other such events.
Stephanopoulos: And you know, when you spoke with Peter Lanza and Barbara talked to Peter Rodgers about it as well, he came to the conclusion it would have been better had his son had not been born. That is a different conclusion than Dylan Klebold’s participants reached.
Solomon: I remember having dinner with Sue Klebold. And she said to me, when it first happened, I used to wish I never had gone to Ohio State, that I never met my husband, that we’d never had this child, this horrible thing wouldn’t have happened. She said but over time, I’ve come to feel I love the children I had so much that I don’t want to imagine a life without them. Even at the price of this pain.
When I say that I, I’m talking about my own pain, both the pain of other people. But while I accept it would have been better for the world if Dylan never been born, I’ve decided it would not have been better for me.
Stephanopoulos: She had to think about it so much.
And Rich, this is such a tricky area, this whole issue of mental illness and violence. We know people with mental illness are more prone to violence. But the overwhelming number of violent crimes committed by people are not mentally ill.
Besser: Right. If you look at overall gun violence, mental illness accounts for — well, mass killings are less than one percent. Mental illness is about four percent.
But I view this as a public health problem. That’s my background. If you do studies, you can understand what are the risk factors and how do you reduce that risk? The president called for that after Newtown. And when the Congress didn’t act, through executive order, he’s calling on research.
And this fall, the NIH is launching research to understand how much is related to mental illness, how much is related to gun policies. And what things truly work? If you do that, you’re not going to eliminate these kind of mass killings. Hopefully, you can reduce the chances these are going to occur.
Stephanopoulos: Let us hope. Richard Besser, Andrew Solomon, thanks very much.
Solomon: Thank you.