The United States, and the world, learned in horror last week that a 23-year-old student at Virginia Tech had gone on a shooting rampage, killing 32 people and himself. It was the worst mass shooting in American history.
Amid the shock and grief, we quickly discovered that there were many warning signs that the killer, Seung-Hui Cho, was deeply disturbed.
An article in today’s New York Times—Before Deadly Rage, a Life Consumed by a Troubling Silence—explains that Cho always isolated himself. “From the beginning, he did not talk,” wrote N. R. Kleinfield, “Not to other children, not to his own family. Everyone saw this. In Seoul, South Korea, where Sueng-Hui Cho grew up, his mother agonized over his sullen, brooding behavior and empty face. Talk, she just wanted him to talk.”
At Virginia Tech, two young women complained to police that Cho was stalking them. Fellow students in a playwriting class were creeped out by his profane, violent plays. Professors brought him to the attention to counseling services. A doctor declared him mentally ill.
Still, it was not enough. Cho still lived freely in the Virginia Tech community—free to carry out his deadly plan.
Façade of normalcy
If nothing was done about someone who was so obviously disturbed, what hope is there that something will be done about psychopaths?
Many psychopaths appear to be charming, entertaining, productive members of society. They often hold responsible jobs—doctors, clergy, soldiers, corporate executives. They put up a façade of normalcy.
But they are rotten at the core. They have no heart, no conscience and no remorse. They merrily destroy the lives of others through emotional and financial devastation.
Sometimes psychopaths are physically violent. Generally it is a hidden violence—abuse of intimate partners and children. But even when they become serial killers, psychopaths still appear to be normal. Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, had just been elected president of his church council before he was arrested in 2005.
Symptoms of a psychopath
So what can we do?
The only way to protect ourselves from psychopaths is this: Know they are out there, know the symptoms, and if you spot them, get away.
These are the key symptoms of a psychopath, according to Dr. Robert Hare:
• Glib and superficial
• Egocentric and grandiose
• Lack of remorse or guilt
• Lack of empathy
• Deceitful and manipulative
• Shallow emotions
• Poor behavior controls
• Need for excitement
• Lack of responsibility
• Early behavior problems
• Adult antisocial behavior
There are millions of psychopaths living freely among us. They can be found in all segments of society—rich, poor, male, female, all races, all communities. They are the most destructive personalities of the human race.
The only way to protect ourselves from them is to keep our eyes open.