Some readers have struggled to understand how Eric Harris and especially Dylan Klebold could have gone through with the Columbine attack.
Two current cases getting a lot of attention can help.
(I laid out Eric & Dylan's very different motives in this short video on the Columbine shootings.)
Eric is much more straightforward: psychopaths have little or no conscience, no regard for other humans. Psychopathy is a pretty easy concept to grasp, but hard for some people to actually believe: that fellow human beings can be that cold-blooded.
If that sounds like you, I suggest following the Joran van der Sloot story, particularly his endless series of lies, complete lack of remorse, and blaming the victim.
(Joran confessed to killing a woman in Peru this spring, exactly five years after Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba.)
Criminologists are well-acquainted with people who will destroy the lives of others for very little gain, but if you think they only exist in movies, just watch this guy.
As an aside, I want to give a huge pat on the back to Natalee's mother Beth Twitty, who flew down to Peru late last week to confront van der Sloot in the notorious maximum-security Castro Castro prison.
I think she knows what van der Sloot is, and had no illusions that he would recant or help or show remorse. She just needed to get some things off her chest. Every victim is different and has to find her own process to grieve and heal, and Beth Twitty seems to have figured out what she needed and taken the bold step to do it. That makes me happy. I hope it helped.
Did is much tougher for most people to fathom, including me. We get that he was tragically depressed, and deeply influenced by Eric, but how does a person reach such a desperation point to actually kill people over it?
My response is generally that it's very hard to understand how a person makes that final irrational leap, but that we have a long history of people who do. (Most of them kill far fewer, and the vast majority of angry depressives do not kill, yet there is no shortage of those who have.)
I offer the case of Bethany Storro, the young woman in Oregon who admitted last week that no one threw acid in her face--she did it herself.
We are only beginning to learn the details of what happened here, and why, and it remains to be seen how closely her circumstances resembled Dylan's. That's not the point. Her situation is not evidence, it's an illustration.
I personally thought of Dylan about one millisecond after my completely unoriginal thought of "What could possibly make her do such a thing?" It appears that she was severely depressed. Does that explain it? Not really. I get the depression, but how does disfiguring your face forever help that? Wouldn't it just make things worse?
That's the point. These are not rational actions. They do not accomplish any rational objective. But desperate you people sometimes lash out in desperate ways that don't solve anything. They just do them out of desperation.
And for those who die in the act, that's as close as we're likely to come to understanding.
Luckily, Dylan left a great deal of material behind to show us the condition of his psyche. His deep depression is virtually impossible to deny. He provide any satisfying answers of how killing people made any sense, because it didn't.
We'll probably never get a rational explanation out of Bethany either. It's hard to believe one exists.