Victor Bloom MD
The deranged man who started shooting on the southeast part of the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one man, wounding six and finally turning the Beretta on himself, seemed to be trying to make a political statement. He had letters pinned to his chest blaming the Big Three (in this case, the U.S.A, England and France) for his troubles. They carved up the Middle East after World War I in such a way as to make sure that no Arab state would predominate. He also blamed Israel for his plight because his family became displaced in the war which followed immediately after the U.N. partition of Palestine, creating the state of Israel. He settled in Gaza and became well known as an English teacher there. He worked very long hours and after several decades of dedicated work and thrift was said to have amassed a personal fortune of five hundred thousand dollars.
He had a large family and sent his children to schools of higher learning. Eventually,he thought he would have a better life in America and he presumably came here to invest his money with friends who promised him a great profit. It was thought that they swindled him out of his money, his considerable life-savings, and he was humiliated and disillusioned. So far there is no verification for this speculation.
Given the facts of his ultimate fate, it can be assumed that he became consumed with what turned out to be uncontrollable murderous rage and took it out on innocent people on top of a historic and symbolic landmark, which he called the 'den' of the Zionists. His ejaculation was bullets to momentarily assume a feeling of power and potency to cover his feelings of helplessness and impotence. In Arab culture as well as our own, wrongs had to be righted, and violence is sometimes considered an acceptable form of retribution.
So far the story seems adequately explained in socio-psychological and historico-political terms. But chances are the pathology runs deeper and includes mental illness. The man was deranged, but what are the clues to the diagnosis? One clue is the history of his long hours working, teaching English. It was said that every child in Gaza was his pupil. Despite meager earnings and large expenses, he was able to save a half million dollars. People who are manic are capable of great endurance and performance, fuelled by the fires of neurochemical imbalance. Whereas most of us may be happy and euphoric some of the time, a manic is driven, euphoric and grandiose. The latter extreme often deteriorates into psychosis and wild, uncontrollable behavior with great lapses in judgment. Fantasies are not just thought about, they are acted out. He evidently acted out a revenge-fantasy.
Here is another case of what happens when a serious mental illness is not diagnosed or treated. In previous articles I wrote about the suicides of Vincent Foster and Admiral Boorda. In this case we do not have exact knowledge of whether this man received any treatment for his condition, which would have been a combination of anti-depressive medication, Lithium and psychotherapy.
Absent the treatment, the sensational and dramatic tragedy hits the headlines for a couple of days, but the sad horror is felt deeply by those close to the victims and will be remembered for a long time. It is a matter of luck that more people didn't die, but the Empire State Building is not trusting to luck. They are upgrading the security system and introducing metal detectors to the observation roof.
And the state of Florida is reviewing their guidelines for determining who is eligible to purchase a gun. There were rules in place exempting a foreigner from purchasing a gun in less than 90 days residence. But there were no guidelines for checking this out, despite existence of databases which could easily have been tapped.
What is it they say about locking the barn door?
Dr. Bloom is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Wayne State University School of Medicine and in private practice in Grosse Pointe Park. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org.