As with virtually all of the previous mass shootings (and Salvador Ramos’s mother’s infuriating statements notwithstanding), there were a plethora of ominous signs that this 18-year-old was a virtual ticking time bomb, and that he had gun violence on his mind. Yet nobody with that information did anything. Yes, hindsight bias is, as the saying goes, 20-20, and yes, the fact that the Uvalde killer went through with his stated fantasies and desires and murdered 19 children and two adults is moral luck of the bad variety, just as his doing nothing would have been moral luck of the fortunate variety. The point is that pro-active citizenship could have prevented the tragedy, as it could prevent many tragedies.
More such information will probably emerge but so far we know…
For days, Ramos had been telling one girl online in Germany that he had “a secret” that he would eventually reveal. When he said he was about to attack the elementary school, she was not sure if he was serious and did not make any effort to contact the police.
This is basic ethics decision-making: if you are wrong about one course of action and the worst consequence is sounding a false alarm, and the consequence of the alternate choice is that people die, the decision should be clear. The girl now says she regrets her decision. That and 20 cents, my father used to say, will buy her a ride on the subway.
- Kendra Charmaine, a 17-year-old in California, had a relationship with Ramos on Instagram. Soon he was sending her messages like ‘i wanna kill u.’ She stopped communicating with him. What else should she have done, if anything?
A study that evaluated active shooters between 2000 and 2013 found that people who knew the attackers observed ominous behavior or rhetoric in 62% of cases. In 57% of the cases, someone noticed the future killer having abnormal interactions with another person, and in 56% of the cases, the future shooter expressed intent to hurt people.
- Keanna Baxter, 17, a junior at Uvalde High School where Ramos had been a student, said he had sometimes been aggressive or intimidating to those around him. Ramos asked her out on a date once, and when she turned him down he began creating different accounts on Instagram to send her harassing messages such as “I hate you” or “I’m going to hurt you.”
“Yeah, he was aggressive,” she now says. “But no one ever thought he was sinister enough to do something like this.” Well, why not? If school shootings were as common as commentators in the current freakout claim, wouldn’t a kid who sends “I’m going to kill you” messages be worthy of a red flag?
- Ramos asked his sister to buy him a gun in September and then, in March, told friends in a group message that he was buying one.
Why was he obsessed with acquiring a gun? This question is serious enough for parents to drill into their children, “If anyone tells you they want to get a gun, tell me. Immediately.”
- In March of this year, someone had picked up on enough clues to send Ramos a message on Instagram asking, “Are you going to shoot up a school or something?”
He answered “no.” Well, all right then! That should have put everyone’s mind at ease!
- A California woman Ramos met online said she had been afraid when he tagged her in a picture of his guns for no discernible reason. His online friend in Germany now says Ramos only revealed the specifics of his plans the day of the attack, texting her that he had shot his grandmother and was about to “shoot up a elementary school.”
She still didn’t try to alert authorities.
- When Ramos posted a picture of two long, black rifles on his Instagram account, a freshman at Uvalde High School sent it to his cousin and asked who would have let the drop-out obtain such weapons. The cousin, who knew Ramos, replied that he was probably planning on shooting someone.
“Thanks, cuz! That’s what I thought!”
- One of the shooter’s co-workers at the Uvalde Wendy’s told reporters that the staff took to calling him “school shooter.”
I know I had an unusual upbringing. My father wasn’t afraid of conflict—an understatement—and would always choose to do something when he saw a problem. I saw him spring into action many times while bystanders were standing around, not willing to get involved. He confronted parents of kids who displayed anti-social behavior on several occasions, and taught me to pay attention and not be caught snoozing when a potential tragedy was brewing. Because of his example, I have spoken up in four situations when my observations told me an alert was mandatory; in three of the four cases, my intervention turned out to be timely. (In the fourth, tragically, it was not.)
Human beings’ natural instinct is inertia, and for most people (not my Dad, but he was special), the natural course is to not get involved and leave intervention to others. Obviously sound judgment is required, and the admonition “mind your own business” echoes through the tunnels of our minds. Yet the fates of our neighbors and fellow citizens is our business.
We all need to train ourselves to be ready to blow the whistle, even if it turns out to be a false alarm.