It didn't take long for the new year to be filled with ugliness on a local level.
As my girlfriend and her son and I were relaxing in a steamy outdoor hot tub in Modesto, the wail of sirens grew closer over the roof top and then abruptly stopped. I commented at how close the action seemed to be.
We continued to relax in the hot water in the chilly evening air on Thursday and then, as we dried off, thought we heard a voice over a bullhorn. Something serious was going on close by. We walked to Floyd Avenue where several ambulances and fire engines were staging.
One block over, on Sharilyn Drive, police were dealing with a mass murder. A male resident called 911 to say that he just shot and killed members of his family. By the time police arrived, Stephen Mingham, 57, had pulled the trigger on himself. Three were dead, the daughter critically injured but died hours later.
Reports are that Mingham killed his wife, Janet Mingham, 56, and grown adult children Chad Mingham, 33, and Nicole Mingham, 34, who lived with them. Reports are that he was troubled over money, a bankruptcy, and the strain in caring for a daughter who was brain damaged and a son who moved into the house after serving prison time for theft and drugs. It was too much for him to handle.
The tragedy reminded me of the one that played out on Red Oak Court in Turlock last June. Police say that Radni Babakhan, 39, stabbed his parents, Sarkis and Rozmary Babakhan, 78 and 70 respectively, to death. A fire was set in the house and the smoke and toxins killed the perpetrator and brother Robert Babakhan, 42, a disabled sibling.
Those crimes were bad, for sure, but not quite as shocking as the one that came out of Merced County on March 26, 2002 when John Hogan, a 49-year-old Santa Clara Sheriff's deputy, was distraught over his marriage break-up and killed his five-year-old daughter and three stepchildren, aged 14, 15, and 17, and then himself. Hogan had entered the house of his ex-wife, veterinarian Dr. Christine McFadden, when she was out walking with a neighbor. At the time of the crime, Mark Pazin of the Merced County Sheriff's Department said, "Who knows what goes through people's minds when they kill their own offspring? I can't even begin to speculate what thoughts were going through his demented head."
Indeed, that is the question I was asking on Thursday evening, as Modesto police processed the first homicide of 2015.
What makes a person do such a heinous act?
Invariably the neighbors speak in glowing terms of the perpetrator and family in which the tragedy takes place. Sometimes all the warning signs are there, such as in the case of John Hogan who was described by his ex-wife as verbally abusive, always cursing, moody and with an explosive temper.
I'm not the only one who has noticed that in horrific crimes, especially mass murders, the perpetrator is almost always male. Many of them are committed by white males in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
Often severe mental illness is behind horrible crimes. Remember the McDonald's massacre at San Ysidro? It was committed by 41-year-old James Huberty and before the end of the day on July 18, 1984, 21 people were killed and 19 were injured. Huberty had mental issues before the shooting.
Consider that white males were responsible for all of these:
• Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007 where 32 were fatally shot;
• Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 where 13 were killed;
• Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012 where 27 were killed;
• Killeen, Texas on Oct. 16, 1991 where 23 were killed at Luby's Cafeteria; and others.
I'm not one to blame guns for the problem. (Indeed, more guns in the hands of the trained would enable innocent parties to fend off such attacks). Remember that it was a pitchfork that was used by 27-year-old Jonathon David Bruce to kill two children in Merced County in 2000 and I don't hear the call for pitchfork control. (And, no, he wasn't on drugs at the time of the attack). Also remember that a knife - not a gun - was used to kill the parents Babakhan in Turlock. Any dangerous item can be used to kill someone so getting rid of guns is not the solution.
The problem is how do we identify time bomb personalities from going off? I think we can try but we must remember that nobody will be able to prevent all future mass murders.
In the 1993 movie "Falling Down," Michael Douglas portrays a frustrated laid-off Caucasian male who is obsessed with losing his daughter in a custody fight. He is tired of incessant LA traffic, the cost of living, multiculturalism gone amok, thugs trying to steal what's his, burgers not living up to the image on menu boards, and the loss of his daughter. The tension and anger build and he's just had enough. In the end he gets killed by Robert Duvall who plays a police officer.
Film critic Roger Ebert said Douglas' character "is the core of sadness in his soul. By the time we meet him, he has gone over the edge. But there is no exhilaration in his rampage, no release. He seems weary and confused and in his actions he unconsciously follows scripts that he may have learned from the movies, or on the news, where other frustrated misfits vent their rage on innocent bystanders."
There is no clear-cut explanation why stuff like this happens for what happens in the human brain is harder to explain than a disease in the body. A troubled soul is harder to fix. Surely we can agree that people - okay, men - get frustrated, fed up, feeling like they don't matter, depressed, feel hopeless and some can become so futile and dark in their soul that they do things that shock all of society.
It seems that since we know that 90 percent of all violent offenders are male - and are 80 percent of the victims - we should be concentrating on ways to stem future crimes committed by men.
Sociologists Randolph Roth and criminologist James Alan Fox have suggested that many mass killers have violent episodes after feeling they were denied something thought to be rightfully theirs - such as a job, promotion, relationship with a woman or a house. They suggest that perhaps white men, more than any race, tend to act out more if they are denied their "right" to things; a sense of entitlement if you will.
Indeed, Aurora theater gunman James Holmes had failed a Ph.D. program, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had washed out of Ranger school; and the man who shot up Cleveland School in Stockton in Jan. 17 1989 was an unemployed welder in Patrick Purdy, 24. Purdy had hatred toward Asian immigrants and said they took jobs from native-born Americans.
In more recent times, 22-year-old Elliot Oliver Rodger killed six persons (three men by knife) and injuring 13 by gunfire near the campus of UC Santa Barbara. Before the killing spree he posted a You Tube video in which he expressed a desire to kill women who rebuffed his sexual advances and killing sexually active men for living a better life than his. He, too, expressed contempt for racial minorities. In high school Rodger apparently had been bullied as a youngster. Online Rodger reflected an almost brat-like sense of entitlement when he said: "For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I've been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me ... I don't know what you don't see in me. I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman."
If anything more attention needs to be given this topic on a national, state and local level. There may be more we can do to prevent another senseless episode of violence, whether it take place in our city, our schools or our businesses - or our homes.
How do you feel? Let Jeff know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.