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.

Jerad MIller screen capture from You Tube

Jerad MIller screen capture from You Tube

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.

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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11 Responses

  1. Gordon Dill says:

    Couple of things to ponder :

    1) We in the media don’t report on suicides. That’s been a pretty standard journalistic ethic for quite some time and as a former journalist I’m sure you know all the reasons why. Do you think that’s a good idea? I see some similarities in the way suicides are reported and the way some propose covering these homicidal nuts.

    2) The media withholding names is different from them not being publicly available. If you’re making the case that the name and all relevant criminal information in these cases is public record and that public right to inspect this information should never be infringed, I’m in complete agreement. I’m a big fan of public information staying that way. That said, what I think you’re arguing is that journalists have a responsibility to report these identities and I think that’s a very different matter.

    3) Finally, I tend to agree with you that it’s well past time to have some serious conversations about this issue. Conversations more complicated than the gun debate itself. For example, why are ALL school shooters male? Mental health isn’t a specifically male condition. It’s isn’t a white people condition either. Yet the overwhelming majority of school shooters are white (the most notable exception being the VA Tech shooter…which I covered). Finally, nearly all school shooters come from solidly middle class…or upper class families. WHY? Why are all the shooters so similar in profile? I think if you tackle those questions we may make a step toward saving a few lives.

  2. Brad Willis says:

    1) I was always under the impression not reporting suicide was because it was an exclusively personal matter that didn’t affect the public (and suicides are reported if they become a public issue).

    2) I don’t the journalists should be “required” to report anything, but I’d argue responsible reporting on the identity of a murderer serves a public good in that it educates people as to who is actually doing the killing.

    3) To your point–building good profiles depends on information.

  3. Drizztdj says:

    I’ll throw a theory why killers are mostly white, male, middle class. Entitlement. Or at least the yearning for it. More than other classes social, racial, economical, they believe they should be entitled to such things. And for those who cannot get them whatever the trigger may be (lack of sex, money, prestige at work, bullied by someone) that rage finally boils over into giving up on the pursuit of normal human goals and replacing it with a destructive one. It’s happening more often due to social media giving a voice to these people since they’re not getting the personal attention they deserve.

  4. Andrew Moxon says:

    Very interesting take, and a perspective I hadn’t considered.

    I do want to stop giving these sad fucks the notoriety they so clearly seek, but zi don’t think information should be surpressed.

    How about this:

    Report the name of the killer. But all media uses a single stock photo for any and all of them: A pooping dog, hunched over and looking ashamed of himself.

  5. Ken Prevo says:

    I am a poor one to comment. I pretty much stopped watching local news quite a while back. When I do occasionally watch something, it will be The News Hour — even with its bias it still does some actual reporting. Maybe the occasional Deutsche Welle when I see something international that I am pretty sure won’t be picked up by local or national.

    I get a fair amount of news off the net. It is more like my father’s newspaper — the one where he could decide what was important. The 70’s brought the consultants to TV new and it has been downhill since. Now Sylvia — our Health Reporter — will tell you whether red wine is good or bad for you this week.

    So, name or not doesn’t matter, it will be over-covered and worked in to stories for the next year or so because it is a grabber.

  6. Randy says:

    It’s two of the most important questions we are taught to get in every story. Who? What? When? Where? and most important in this case, Why? It’s the question that haunts me as a parent. Who would do such a thing? Why, oh why, would you ever consider such an act?

    Despite protests to the contrary, I think most people still want to know those answers. I want to know. Even if it’s close to impossible to get that information out of such dark minds. I want police, psychiatrists and journalists working overtime to try to figure out what went wrong.

    Few things are solved in the dark. So, we’ll keep shining a light into those dark places. Maybe, someday, it’ll help. Maybe it’ll help a parent spot potential trouble in their own child’s future. Maybe it’ll push them to act and get help for their child before it’s too late. Maybe, it’ll save a few lives. Maybe it already has.

  7. CurtisK says:

    Drizz, Maybe the white male feels they are loaded with most of the responsibility for the ills of society (racism, sexism, homophobia, income gap, slavery, you name it) and no protection by and from the “PC” masses. I do feel entitled to equal treatment but don’t get or expect it any longer. Anybody think that is worth exploring? I doubt it anyone wants to give up scapegoats today.

  8. Andrew Moxon says:

    I’m in a unique position to speak for The White Male. You see, I am The White Male. Speaking as The White Male, I would have to say that entirely clear The White Male has been and continues to be the beneficiary of the ills of society (racism, sexism, homophobia, income gap, slavery, you name it) and still is. However, there has been a diminishment of this effect, and I think that Drizz is referring to the rage and frustration that some of The White Man feels as a result.

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