This is about an interview, over an hour long, that I just listened to on the Washington Post site. It is with Lee Boyd Malvo, who at 17 years of age, was one of the two snipers who terrorized the D.C. area, killing at least ten people a decade ago. After posting this, I found an extensive article by the reporter who did the interview (who crossed his pass during the killings) that while well written does not allow the depth of understanding as hearing Malvo's own voice. So, I recommend taking the time to listen to the 75 minute interview.
After listening to the interview, I left this comment:
Lee Boyd Malvo was a lost child whose mother ignored him when not expressing complete hatred. He found what he needed the most, someone who would acknowledge his existence. His suffering was so great at one point that he attempted suicide, and his mother responded by "beating him to a bloody pulp"
What Lee needed was simple human contact, and he found it. It could have been someone else, maybe someone who is reading this. We channel our emotion over his murders into hatred of Lee, as that is relatively easy. Will any of us seek out those like him, those children who are desperate and give them our time. Will I have the courage to call school districts with the most dysfunctional families and try to relate to a child.
Lee is not making excuses, as there is no reason to. His fate is sealed and he knows it. He is describing his existence, how his need was an opening for the disturbed man John Muhammad who was the puppeteer whom he followed when he first met him when he was only fourteen years old. It could have been Rev. Jim Jones, or any cult figure, or an abusive spouse, or a pimp......any one who would provide attention, and what passes for affection.
Lee is describing a common social psychological phenomenon, that is only differentiated by cultural norms from what he described as "child soldiers" throughout the third world, but also our own military, where we desensitize young adults to the inborn resistance to killing another human. If he had been an American Marine, or a SEAL, his singular focus on killing the enemy, as it would have been validated by our patriotic values, would have made him a hero.
One of the messages of this interview is the insight that it provides to those who have been in the midst of military combat, who suffer some of the same regret, but are prevented from full release by it being considered not something that is shameful, but heroic.
I plan to listen to this again, and write more extensively on what we as a society can learn from Lee's experience. Those who feel only contempt for this murderer, that this interview is giving a platform for someone who deserves only the worse punishment, will not be able to accept my approach. Yet, out of this tragedy the only good that could come form it would be increased understanding of the human condition.
Malvo's erudition, even his mispronunciation of certain words, shows that he learned the hard way, not in a classroom, but by reading books where the pronunciation can be ambiguous. His fate was not preordained, as he is highly intelligent with a profound thirst for knowledge. Those whom he killed, and the penumbra of these deaths, the extensive "exponential harm" that he himself describes to neighbors and communities need not have happened. Personally, I will not be satisfied to simply punish this man, nor do I reject his being punished. The tragedy, this one that we can control, would be not to learn anything from his life.
This is a link to the report by the Psychologist Steve Eichel that describes the defense argument that resulted in Malvo being sentenced to life without parole rather than execution.