Lessons of WDBJ Shooter’s Horrifying POV Video

Usually, journalists convey the news. Today, tragically, a reporter and camera operator became the news when they were ambushed and shot to death by a disgruntled ex-colleague.

In a bizarre twist, the killer – a former journalist himself – posted a POV video of his approach and attack on his (now suspended) Twitter account. In this truly sickening footage, you can see that as he approaches Alison Parker and Adam Ward and stands RIGHT NEXT TO THEM, they NEVER suspect that anything is wrong. In fact, over 20 seconds pass from the time he raises the gun to the time he actually fires.

It is not shown in the video, but it’s unlikely that the killer holstered his pistol during that time. Clearly, he’s standing no more than a few feet behind Ward the whole time. Ward has his eye on the camera viewfinder. As a news camera operator, he is probably used to curious members of the public rubbernecking at the correspondents while he is working. He had no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. Parker, clearly a professional, maintains eye contact with her interviewee the entire time. She never even SEES the pistol pointed directly at her.

As terrible as it is to see the last few seconds of another human being’s life, everybody should watch this video (YouTube is removing copies of it as soon as they see it, so you may have to search a bit), because it vividly demonstrates three terrible lessons:

1) When you feel safe is when you are MOST VULNERABLE. Not only were Parker and Ward focused on doing their jobs, they apparently knew this guy, so even if they noticed him out of their peripheral vision, their natural response was to ignore him. If they had been in some sketchy neighborhood, instead of a tranquil pier, they probably would have noticed somebody pointing a gun at them. But, they felt safe, just as most of us do, most of the time, and they had no reason to think that anything would happen to them.

2) Bullets aren’t magic. Alison Parker was not a physically large and imposing person. Nor was she under the influence of any controlled substances. Yet, when she was shot, her reaction was one of SURPRISE. She did not fall down, she was not thrown backwards; she flinched, screamed, looked in horror at the attacker, and then ran away. Movies and TV have taught us that bullets are powerful things that instantly take down werewolves and psychopaths, but this video reveals the truth: the impact of a bullet is MINOR. According to the killer, he used hollow point bullets, which are generally recommended for “stopping power.” This is a chilling reminder that, if you ever need to use a firearm to defend yourself, you must not expect bullets to work in real life the way they do on TV.

3) Crazy people are truly dangerous. According to ABC news, the killer had a list of grievances against his former colleagues. This type of persecution complex is a common feature of mentally ill people. At work, at school, in our neighborhoods; we all know one or two people who “aren’t quite right,” and always suspect other people of plotting against them. Unfortunately, our society has very limited capacity to deal with the mentally ill. If somebody threatens you, and they are demonstrably insane, in many states, there’s nothing the courts can do. We all want to help out other people, and to be compassionate. But if you can tell that you’re dealing with somebody who is “not quite right,” the best thing you can do is GET AWAY AND STAY AWAY. Do not get involved in their lives (personally or professionally), and do not allow them to get involved in yours. Chances are, if they feel you are on their side, they will ask for more and more of your time, attention and sympathy. Once you start to pull away, they are likely to feel betrayed, and turn against you – perhaps violently. It is far better to be rude at the outset than deal with a potentially dangerous lunatic later on.

It goes without saying that the murder of two completely innocent people is a tragedy and an outrage. As so many of these perpetrators do, the killer took chose to avoid justice and take his own life shortly after committing his attack. There is no excuse, justification, or higher meaning to what he chose to do. The best any of us can do is to learn from it, and hopefully to apply those lessons to our own lives in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones a little bit safer.

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