Remembering the Connecticut Lottery attack

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The front page of the Hartford Courant on the day after the shootings at the Connecticut Lottery headquarters.

March 6 marks the 20th  anniversary of the Connecticut Lottery Corporation massacre in Newington.  That Friday, a 35-year-old employee used a knife and gun to kill four bosses. We condemn the actions of the killer, and express deep sympathy for all the victims and survivors.

Within hours,  gun legislation, and metal detectors were discussed. After 20 years, we still have terrorism and violence — workplace, domestic, military, police, government …and yes, Columbine, Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas.

Hartford Courant and New York Times articles published following the lottery attack provided details of the incident, personal profiles, and background information. Matthew Beck, an accountant, was employed by the Connecticut Lottery Commission for eight years.  Beck reportedly worked overtime without complaint, and was called “a genius” by one supervisor. He enjoyed golf, running, and UConn basketball. Never in trouble with police, he legally owned a gun.  He had family, friends, and a romance with a female co-worker.

In July, 1996 family members noticed his depression — after the lottery shifted from  being a state to quasi-public agency.  New  management meant new duties. While preferring accounting, Beck took on IT for career advancement. The job mismatch necessitated a transfer request, which management denied.  Instead of recognition and  promotion, work brought stress, and frustration, ultimately leading to a union grievance. Managers previously describing him bright and competent, testified against him. But Beck prevailed on the grievance and awaited financial settlement.

Depression led to psychological treatment and medical leave.  Upon return, Beck assumed new duties as determined  by management. He discovered another man had not gotten the job he wanted, but had replaced him with the woman, too.  Disparaging water cooler whispers about his mental status became a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Snap.

Now we’re reeling from the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Bravery of teachers and students who perished and those who survived, cannot be praised enough.  However, administrator comments about how effective the security, law enforcement, and first response system worked, are questionable.

The shooting was allegedly perpetrated by a teen-ager, expelled from Stoneman Douglas, who was known to have personal, mental, anti-social, and emotional issues. So was the school’s “Pontius Pilot” approach really the best solution — expel him and he’s not the school’s responsibility?  Could his issues have been identified and addressed better?

Similarly, shouldn’t we question why, nationwide, preschoolers are suspended and expelled from schools? Connecticut passed legislation with limitations, but a May 21, 2017 Hartford Courant op-ed noted in the “last school year,” 1,674 state pre-schoolers to Grade 2 children were suspended. If human brains aren’t fully developed until mid- 20s,  why expect babies and 6-year-olds to act responsibly and get suspended for their actions?

We’ve seen Stoneman Douglas teens taking positive actions instead of waiting for “adults” to act. While their  gun control and security arguments  haven’t moved legislators, several weapon vendors voluntarily adopted stringent policies regarding gun and ammunition sales.

While gun control is certainly important, there are so many  other pieces to the puzzle.  Security and public  surveillance, psychological and medical profiling, social website reviews, drug testing, access to mental health services, job stress, family or school stress,  physical health problems,  destigmatizing mental health care, drugs, lack of self-esteem, lack of positive role models, lack of  rewarding jobs,  addictive behaviors, bullying,  lack of adequate support systems — all these and can be part of problem, and must be part of the solution.

Most workers have known a disrespectful boss who believes in top-down management, and the modified golden rule –“the one with the gold makes the rule.”  Arrogance of power equates to bullying — what we won’t tolerate from children in a schoolyard. Yet workplace bullying has often been tolerated….and we now know that  “me too” is directly related to this.

We go about working, studying, and doing our best for our families, friends, communities and ourselves every day.   Modern life is very stressful. School is challenging. Rewarding jobs are hard to get and life can be lonely. Parents, teachers, and others say you can be anything you want to be — so roadblocks that appear in one’s path can be  perceived as personal failures, carrying guilt and stress. What makes nearly 330 million citizens get through those trials and one, not?

Whether Parkland, Sandy Hook, or Newington, the same questions remain about the motives of the perpetrators. Billions of information bits can be computed in milliseconds.  We have data, but who or what entity is assembling the puzzle pieces into a complete picture?   Who’s developing a plan to address these complex problems? As Americans, let’s compromise and work together to comprehensively address these issues.

Lastly, isn’t it time to revise laws, identify motivations, but also look inside ourselves? Mutual respect, support, non-judgmental attitudes and some basic humanity toward others could also go a long way. It’s certainly worth a try!

Linda Cavanaugh lies in Farmington and is a producer for Nutmeg TV – Public Access.

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