April 10, 2011

The Shooter

Information is poring in about Tristan van der Vlis, the shooter who killed 6 people yesterday in a Dutch mall and wounded many more. It's sad really, and in retrospect a textbook case of a disaster in the making. Today the news came out that Tristan already spend time in a mental hospital for depression and suicidal urges. In 2006 he even mentioned to people in the institution that he thought about not only killing himself but other people as well.

It is clear he also had a fascination for weapons. In 2003 he wounded himself with a BB gun which was reported by the police. Somehow he managed to get a permit for 5 weapons, of which he carried 3 on his shooting spree. In Holland only semi-automatic weapons are allowed to citizens (with a host of other strict regulations), yet the weapons used by him were full automatics. That implies that he had probably got his hands on illegal gun parts or he made the modifications himself. Gun owners are also obliged to take up membership with a shooting association - which he did.

In his suicide note, the one found in his car, he wrote that he had left explosives in 3 other malls, which turned out to be false. He also left a note to his mother which the police is still investigating but they did mention that it had more to do with 'spiritual matters' along side his wish for dying.
While this not may be the appropriate time, I do wonder why this person slipped through all the social safeguards. The combination of guns, depression, police contact and expressed violent urges should have set off alarm bells with several people or institutions. He was also described as a loner, which probably aided him in not being detected as a danger to society. What strikes out, at least for me, is that there were many (social) indicators of a disaster waiting to happen. Psychologists, police officials and social workers really should do a study on this as to prevent such tragedies happening in the future.

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