‘Bad.’ ‘Monster.’ ‘Demon.’ As a mental health advocate, I cringe when commentators describe 18-year-old Uvalde school shooter Salvador Ramos in these terms. There is plenty of evidence that his traumatic childhood led to serious mental disorders, which could have been identified and treated. This was not the case. Illness and sickness are not bad.
No person with a serious mental disorder should have access to firearms or other weapons, especially if they are expressing violent thoughts or plans. Unfortunately, red flag laws restricting gun purchases are limited by incomplete data and Ramos had no criminal record. People on social media noticed his violent writings but took no action to alert authorities. After legally buying a gun, he headed to elementary school.
There, a door did not lock when closed. Local police botched the rescue, not following their own training to enter immediately. An off-duty border guard, alerted to the shooter, borrowed a private shotgun and helped track down the killer. In this case, privately held firearms provided timely assistance to law enforcement.
The disease caused the horrible episode. Until we understand this rare strain of mental disorder in young people, we will ignore the root of the problem. Kudos to the non-profit organization NAMI SW Washington for consistently educating us years ago about Adverse Childhood Experience Syndrome, or ACES. Childhood shocks and trauma create demonstrable physical changes in the brains of young people and the results are unpredictable. The youth may or may not become violent.
Shooters from Uvalde, Texas, and Parkland, Florida, each suffered such shocks. At 5 years old, Nikolas Cruz, the shooter from Parkland, witnessed the death of his father. Her mother died just three months before the shooting. Ramos’ early life was full of domestic violence between his family members, a drug-addicted and distracted mother, and bullying at school because he stuttered.