How does a 14-year-old kid obtain a firearm that he takes to school and turns on five friends and himself?
My heart goes out to the families of the victims as well as to the family of Jaylen Fryberg, the freshman who opened fire in Marysville-Pilchuck High School last month. When will we say enough is enough? A lot more can be done to prevent such tragedies than we are doing.
Much is still unknown about this latest tragedy, but likely an undiagnosed and untreated mental health disorder will be implicated. Many kids are struggling with emotional and behavioral health problems – a staggering 20 percent of American children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness during a given year. But only a fraction of these children are identified early and receive mental health services.
The vast majority of these kids will never be violent towards others, but many will have thoughts about suicide, attempt suicide or die by suicide.
Consider these statistics from the Centers for Disease Control:
It is likely that Jaylen Fryberg had thoughts about suicide before he planned this massacre. Research on murder-suicide shows the majority of perpetrators showed suicidal thoughts prior to the murder-suicide.
So it’s possible that intervening to prevent youth and adult suicide – devastating tragedies in and of themselves – could also help avoid massacres such as the one in Marysville.
But, here is what we will need to do to get there:
Schools also have the potential to promote the emotional health and wellness of their students early on, before problems arise, through the use of existing curricula designed to help students build resilience, problem-solve and to regulate their emotions.
It is high time we got serious about changing the norms in our culture in support of greater gun safety and responsibility. Washington is behind other states in not having child access prevention laws that require gun owners to store their weapons in such a way to prevent access by minors without appropriate supervision.
The public health message is long overdue: Know the warning signs and risk factors for suicide, and prevent access to guns by people who are struggling.
Jaylen Fryberg's life and those of his five friends are part of the price we continue to pay for our collective inaction.
Jennifer Stuber, Ph.D., is a faculty member at the University of Washington School of Social Work. She lost her husband to a firearm suicide in 2011.