Feature Story

Protesting the Real Message for Change
By Sgt. Anthony Espino

The Parkland school shooting has sparked protesting students throughout the country calling for the abolishment of guns. These students, along with some of their teachers have been accusing the National Rifle Association (NRA) of being the problem for past school shootings that had taken the lives of so many young men and women. I commend these kids for speaking out against the violence, but unfortunately, many of them are misinformed about what the real problems are.

Research indicates at least 36 school shootings and or school-related acts of violence have been committed by children taking or withdrawing from psychiatric drugs which resulted in 172 wounded and 80 killed. This information is not part of the protester talking points. Why? Because it doesn’t fit the “guns are only to blame” narrative.

The counter-narrative research is not hard to uncover. Through my research, I found ten documented incidents where school shooters had been under the influence of psychiatric drugs when the school shooting occurred. Not one, not two, TEN. Since nobody is paying attention to this reality, here they are below according to the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) International:

1. Sparks, Nevada – October 21, 2013: Jose Reyes, a 12-year-old student opened fire at Sparks Middle School. Reyes killed a teacher and wounded two classmates before committing suicide. The investigation showed that he had been seeing a psychiatrist and had a generic version of Prozac (fluoxetine) in his system at the time of death.

2. Myrtle Beach, South Carolina – September 21, 2011: 14-year-old Christian Helms had two pipe bombs in his backpack when he shot and wounded a Socastee High School “resource” officer. Evidence showed that he was planning an attack and made a list of who he was going to kill. Helms had been taking prescription drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and depression.

3. Huntsville, Alabama – February 5, 2010: 15-year-old Hammad Memon shot and killed another Discover Middle School student Todd Brown. Memon had a history of being treated for ADHD and depression. He was taking the antidepressant Zoloft and “other drugs for his conditions.” He had been seeing a psychiatrist and psychologist.

4. Cleveland, Ohio – October 10, 2007: 14-year-old Asa Coon stormed through his school with a gun in each hand, shooting and wounding four students before taking his own life. Coon had been prescribed the antidepressant Trazodone.

5. Hillsborough, North Carolina – August 30, 2006: 19-year-old Alvaro Rafael Castillo shot and killed his father, then drove to Orange High School where he opened fire injuring two students. It was later confirmed by his mother that he was on prescription drugs for depression.

6. Chapel Hill, North Carolina – April 24, 2006: 17-year-old William Barrett Foster brought a shotgun to school and took a teacher and a fellow student hostage at East Chapel Hill High School. Fortunately, he was talked out of shooting the hostages but fired two shots through a classroom window before fleeing the school on foot. Foster’s father testified that his son had stopped taking his antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs.
Red Lake, Minnesota – March 21, 2005: 16-year-old Jeff Weise, while on Prozac, shot and killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend. Weise then went to his school on the Red Lake Indian Reservation where he shot and killed five students, a security guard, and a teacher and wounded seven before killing himself.

8. Greenbush, New York – February 9, 2004: 16-year-old Jon Romano entered his high school in east Greenbush and opened fire with a shotgun. Special education teacher Michael Bennett was shot in the leg. Romano had been taking the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. He had previously spent time in a psychiatric care facility.

9. Wahluke, Washington – April 10, 2001: Sixteen-year-old Cory Baadsgaard took a rifle to his high school and held 23 classmates and a teacher hostage. Three weeks earlier, his doctor had switched Baadsgaard’s prescription from Paxil to Effexor. The morning of the incident, his dosage of Effexor had been increased. Baadsgaard said he had no memory of the incident.

10. El Cajon, California – March 22, 2001: 18-year-old Jason Hoffman, who was taking antidepressants Celexa and Effexor, opened fire on his classmates, wounding three students and two teachers at Granite Hills High School. He had been seeing a psychiatrist before the shooting.

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was not a man of peace. On social media, he told of his desire to perpetuate the exact type of violence displayed on the afternoon of February 14, 2018. Before he allegedly committed one of the worst mass shootings in US history, police officials say Cruz wrote social media posts so threatening he was reported to the FBI. Cruz said he would shoot people with his AR-15 and singled out police and anti-fascist protesters as deserving of his vengeance. Just six months ago, he stated his aspiration to become a “professional school shooter.” A former classmate said Cruz had shown him guns, and other students said they worried he was violent. School officials used emails to warn teachers of Cruz’s behavior. Accordingly, one teacher said they were told that Cruz should not be allowed on the school campus with a backpack. Cruz was expelled from Stoneman Douglas High School in 2017.

An investigator with Florida’s Department of Children and Families learned Cruz was cutting himself in late 2016 after breaking up with his girlfriend. The investigator was “concerned about (Cruz’s) talk about wanting to purchase a gun and feeling depressed,” according to the agency’s investigation records.

How did Cruz fall through the cracks? Why didn’t law enforcement officials
address these threats and why was he not
he helped? Clearly, this young man had issues that were alarming and but they were never addressed. Yet we have children protesting that guns are the problem and that the NRA is killing our children. Here’s the reality: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. A detonating device strapped to two barbecuing propane tanks, and thrown into a school can kill massive amounts of students. If this horrific example happened, would propane tanks be banned? No, it would be the mental health of the shooter or the prescriptions, so why is this argument any different?

I believe these students have been used as pawns to push a political agenda. These protests should include the behavioral history of these shooters and what can be done to help keep these children from committing future acts of violence.

My greatest concerns are that we are missing the real problems with school shootings and therefore, we will be ineffective at solving this massive issue. As we have seen with the ten incidents above, guns are not the only factor at hand. Clarity is what we need. Not another cause that will ultimately do nothing to solve the problem. No child should die in his or her school. Not a single one! We must be willing to analyze all angles and make certain we are appropriately identifying the problem. Our children are our most precious commodity. As mentioned, I commended them for standing up, and am hopeful they and their teachers encouraging them will dig intellectually more profound beyond “guns are to blame.” If we honestly identify the underlying issues, we can solve this problem.

Sgt. Anthony Espino is a 18-year veteran police officer, assigned to the Patrol and Crime Prevention Unit. His passion is to lecture to community members, teachers, and students to promote awareness and offer tips to prevent crime and victimization.