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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 7/19/13

Jahar is Famous, and So Were the Columbine Kids! But What We Really Need To Know Is What Triggered Their Actions.

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"Directors will be fighting over this story. I know we're gonna have followers because we're so f***ing God-like. We're not exactly human-- we have human bodies but we've evolved into one step above you, f***ing human s***. We actually have f***ing self-awareness." [Dylan Klebold (Columbine Killer) on his plan for fame in "The Basement Tapes."]

We can all sit back and get mad at Rolling Stone for plastering a photo of Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev on its cover, but, unfortunately, Rolling Stone isn't the first publication to do so. After the attack, the kid was plastered on the cover of The New York Times, and that source (like every other in the media) was simply doing what sells. Everyone loves to rubber-neck a good tragedy, even without any real insight into the reasons behind it.

From a reader's perspective, the NYT cover detracted from the article. I immediately remembered the "monsters next door" Columbine killer cover that emerged after Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire on their school. I had put that magazine down. This time, however, I read what the author Janet Reitman had to say about the Tsarnaev brothers in Rolling Stone. I won't take the time to bash her article, but it covered ground the Boston Globe had already covered and information we already knew.  

Rolling Stone' s article and cover were a marketing ploy to try to raise the magazine from the ashes and make it Number One again. But such ploys come with a price.

The Tsarnaev brothers, once normal, promising individuals who had turned domestic terrorists, craved attention both to further their own beliefs and to not be held accountable for acting in the way they did on whatever grievances may have led them to their crime. Naturally, it is important to know why the brothers reacted in the way they did, as such information could help to prevent similar acts. But I believe I've found the triggers to their actions in any case, because at one point in my life (and I'm sure this will win me a bunch of friends and make me real desirable to a bunch of employers) I could relate to them.

I've studied some high-profile domestic terrorists for the past year, after being diverted from sympathizing with James Holmes following his appearance in court for the Colorado theater shootings. I know that statement makes me sound like a trial voyeur, and it even disgusts me a little with myself.

But, to clarify, I was once compared to the Columbine killers by a detective who interrogated, accused and arrested me for allegedly planning an attack against my college at the time when I was little Dzhokhar's age, 8 years ago.

Although I'm not sure I would ever have attacked my school, I certainly see some traits I shared at one point in my life with domestic terrorists like the Boston Marathon bombers and the Columbine attackers. Those traits range from being incredibly angry and depressed at the time of my arrest, to not knowing how to share that anger with anyone in a healthy, nonviolent way. So I lashed out.

However, studying these mass killers has given me a different kind of empathy I'm not sure I'm all too comfortable with. It's as simple as this: If you truly want to know how to prevent a massacre, you have to understand what triggers such tragedies and talk about it.    

What's Behind the Mass Killings?

Here, let's just talk about the Columbine killers and the Boston Marathon bombers.

Like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Tsarnaev brothers felt like they never particularly fit in, and that's an incredibly hard thing to deal with for some. Now, keep in mind that I'm not an expert, and what I'm about to speculate is based strictly on the reports I've read in the Boston Globe, the books I've read on terrorists, and, to an extent, on my own experience in being accused by a detective of having the makings of the next Columbine killer.

In speculating about the Tsarnaev brothers, let's start with the older brother, Tamerlan, who moved to the United States when he was a pre-teen and old enough to remember the different culture he was a part of in Russia. Tamerlan may have initially tried to integrate himself into his American community, but somewhere along the line he gave up and radicalized himself. It didn't help that the brothers' parents were both unbalanced and riddled with morals (sad attempt at sarcasm).

For his part, Dzhokhar, the younger Tsarnaev brother who is now gracing the cover of one of our great entertainment magazines, was obviously searching for some sort of stability outside of high school. This was undoubtedly due in large part to the fact that his flaky parents had divorced and moved back to Russia, leaving their family behind. That left Dzhokar with no one to turn to but his unbalanced, homicidal brother. I read somewhere, in what may sound like some sob story, that, when Dzhokar was in high school and captain of his wrestling team, his parents never attended a single match in which he competed. (I know: "ABSENT PARENTS," how shocking!)

The fact remains, however, that the only structure Dzhokar received during his teen years was with his high school wrestling team. This is sad, in my opinion, because, from what I've read, Dzhokar seems to have been a neat kid in high school.

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Is an aspiring writer and advocate on mental illness awareness.

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