After mass shootings, do parents shoulder some of the blame?
Those questions have been asked repeatedly since 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer shattered the community of Roseburg, Oregon, and shot nine people to death inside his community college classroom.
What’s also being asked, in his case, is whether his mother, Laurel Harper, shoulders some of the blame.Postings on online forums reveal a mother who worried about her son’s developmental issues, but who was also a passionate defender of gun rights.
With the similarities between Harper and the mother of Adam Lanza — the man responsible for killing 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School — so striking, a conversation is emerging about just how accountable parents — both mothers and fathers (Harper-Mercer’s father had not seen his son in years) should be for the crimes of their children.
“Can we say (parents) are directly responsible?” said Dr. Gail Saltz, associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. “Obviously that becomes more of an ethical, philosophical question, but it is true that not enough parents are looking for flags that require intervention and treatment, and could really make a difference in terms of who is going to go on to commit violence later.”
The shooter’s mother, Laurel Harper, wrote that both she and her son suffered from the mental disorder called Asperger’s syndrome. Studies have shown that people with Asperger’s are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the population. But because the mother herself may have had it, she may have been unable to recognize any warning signs that her son’s life was moving in a dangerous direction, said Saltz.
“This mother was also on the (autism) spectrum and we just don’t have supports that include education … and what you can do for adults who have an issue and who have … a child that has an issue,” said Saltz, author of “Anatomy of a Secret Life.”
“Left to her own devices, if you are trying to reach your adult child and they’re floundering and you love them, you are looking for what you can bond over,” she said. “It’s devastating that she allowed it to be guns, but clearly that was the motivation.”