The F5 Nobody: A terrible idea to stop spree killers
When I was young, I had a recurring dream that the man who lived down the street planned to kill me. In reality, the guy worked for City Utilities and drove a green work truck. In my dreams, he crept in my window every night. He had a green, blank face. I didn’t know his name then, and I still don’t. He was my bogeyman.
I don’t know what frightens you more—the devil you know, or the devil you don’t. From my spot under the covers, I shudder more at the killers I don’t see coming, and it makes me uncomfortable that there are people who want to blind me even more to the killer next door.
There have been more than a dozen* since the Newtown, CT murders. That doesn’t account for the family murders, cop-killings, and other boy-next-door-turned-killer events that happen away from the classroom. Each time it happens, the cable news stations blow up, we fight about gun control, and we talk about how crazy the killers must be. It’s part of the culture now, a recurring dream where we always wake up before coming to some sort of resolution.
Now, there are people calling for change. As we mop up the blood again, we’d all love something—anything!—to change, right?
So, what is this grand plan? Blinders. We’re going to put on blinders.
This idea comes from people who advocate for not reporting the names and photos of the people who kill our children, our police officers, and our neighbors. It denies maniacs the fame we believe they seek. Sun News in Canada is actually employing the idea while it reports on a spree-killing tragedy of its own.
Sounds great, right? We don’t want to give these maniacs their blaze of glory. We don’t want to encourage copycat killings.
On its face, it’s a noble pursuit. It makes us feel good, because it makes us feel like we’re doing something. Perhaps the idea is that we have so little power over acts of lunacy that we can take back some measure of control by not saying their name. We can turn them into faceless bogeymen who will rot in prison or hell without the satisfaction of Anderson Cooper saying their names.
If that could stop the killing—or even reduce it in any significant way—you could sign me up for turning our lunatics into nobodies. They would be like tornados, ranked F0-F5, maniacal twisters controlled by the hands of some anonymous and angry god. The news would read, “An F5 Nobody swept through Clark Middle School today killing seven children and injuring 22 more. Now, here’s Gina with your wake-up weather for tomorrow’s school day. Should we bring a vest tomorrow, Gina?”
Yes, I’d write the damned stories myself if it would work, but it won’t. In fact, it’s one of the worst ideas I’ve heard.
If you know me at all, you know I spent the first half of my adult life reporting on some of the worst people and crimes I could imagine—men who raped women, bludgeoned the elderly, killed their entire families. There were horrors stacked atop horrors, and I remember all their names. John Wood, Michael Hilderbrand, Brad Sigmon. I can still see their faces. I know their stories. I know—at least, in part—how they became who they were. That doesn’t change what they did, but it educated me. I know more about what to watch out for because I know who these men were.
Instead, the proponents of the nameless killers want us to know less than we could, to deny the killers the fame we think they are seeking.
Consider this: terrorists have invented a new kind of bomb that’s capable of blowing up your child’s school.
But…we don’t want to give the terrorists credit for building such an ingenious device. We don’t want them to have the fame. So, instead, the news will report this: there could be a bomb in your child’s school. It might look like a binder. It might look like the lunch lady. Good luck and godspeed.
Sounds ridiculous, I know. But, to me, so does the idea of not letting us see the neighbors who are killing our neighbors. The more we know about these people, the easier it may become to spot them in the future. No, not by their faces, but by what they say on Facebook. By what they say on Twitter. By what they say to you after they’ve had six beers at Applebee’s.
There is the argument we could deny the killers their so-called fame while still educating the public. We could pixelate their face and call them Killer Doe #87 while still revealing their writings and motivations. That idea ignores the idea that many of these spree killers are just as or more concerned about being heard as they are being seen. What’s more, if we turn our killers into shadows, it obscures something far more important. As soon as we start to view killers as nameless shadows, we ignore the fact that these maniacs are actually the people we see in the grocery store. They are the kids playing outfield in little league. They are the guy who doesn’t mow his lawn. As soon as we start seeing our killers as “things that just happen,” we have given up.
Put another way: Bogeymen are not killing us. People are.
As we struggle to figure out what could stem the spree killings, it’s not only in our best interest but also our duty to educate ourselves about every possible element of what causes it. It’s not just guns. It’s not just mental illness. It’s not just caustic rhetoric. It’s all of it, and it’s more. It’s people, not a weather system.
Could the media be more responsible in reporting? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean they should just stop reporting. We can’t be myopic. I’ve never heard of anyone solving a problem because they know less about it.
With that in mind, this is Jerad Miller. He was an anti-government wanna-be anarchist with a chip on his shoulder. He spouted his vitriol on Facebook and YouTube. He looked for weapons via social media because he had a record and couldn’t buy them legally. He and his wife killed two police officers while the officers were having pizza for lunch.
Just thought you’d want to know.
*This post has been updated to reflect more accurate statistics as identified in this report.