After Columbine. After Aurora. After Sandy Hook. After whatever the latest mass murder may be, we ask ourselves, what went wrong? How could we have not seen what was coming? Why didn't somebody say or do something?
There is never one simple answer.
And our grief often overwhelms our ability to see things clearly.
But I have good news.
Sometimes, things go right.
Sometimes things work the way they are supposed to work and people do the things we hope they would do. Sometimes people do the things we would like to think we would do ourselves under similar circumstances. Sometimes law enforcement officers at all levels go the extra mile and do all the right things. Sometimes the media tell the story that most needs telling and get it right.
This time, a would have been mass murderer is in a place where he is no longer a danger to himself and to others. (He is charged with a felony, with more possible, and is receiving a court-ordered mental health evaluation.)
And I am very pleased to be able to bring us a story of things working the way they are supposed to work. Thanks to Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon.com, we have what is probably as good an account as we are going to see anywhere of how another unspeakable tragedy was averted.
It began on Saturday night with a single tweet by Jonathan Hutson—linking to a New York Times story about that day’s deadly attacks at a free-speech event and synagogue in Copenhagen—and a torrent of hateful responses, including threats to kill schoolchildren and Jews. It ended with the arrest of a 28-year-old suspect, David Joseph Lenio, late Monday afternoon at Whitefish Mountain Resort, near Kalispell in Flathead County, Montana, just one county east of Idaho, immediately south of the Canadian border. In the interim, Lenio had retrieved two rifles from a storage locker, one a semi-automatic to add to his semi-automatic pistol. If it hadn’t been a three-day weekend, there’s no telling what he might have done before the police and the FBI caught up with him.
“He had motive, and he had means,” Hutson told Salon, “and one sheriff’s deputy told me, ‘Thank God it’s Presidents’ Day weekend; because of the holiday we have an extra day to track him down and try to catch him.’ And they did. They also had a plan for the schools, to go on soft lockdown, and have enhanced security. They took it very seriously.”
Lenio is now in jail on felony charges of malicious intimidation and criminal defamation, and on a half-million dollar bond. But it’s easy to see that it could have ended up like another Sandy Hook instead.
Here is some of what Lenio said that compelled Hutson's attention -- and that of the FBI and local cops in at least three states (Oregon, Michigan and Montana) who collaborated in tracking down the suspect, David Lenio. The young man's tweets were becoming increasingly hateful and threatening, and revealed his vainglorious vision of mass murder at a synagogue or an elementary school -- going out as a martyr in a hail of police gunfire. Or as it is sometimes called, suicide by cops.
Here is a small sample of the horrific tweets that so alarmed Hutson and the cops working on the long holiday weekend. (There are lots more of Lenio's tweets in the Salon story.)
By day... Hutson is communications director for the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a job he’s held since last Dec. 1. But 24/7 he’s the father of a first-grade son, and that’s the role that was really key in motivating him, especially after his hate-filled interlocutor—original identified only as “@PyschicDogTalk2”— asked him where his own children went to school.
“That chilled my blood,” Hutson recalled, and it motivated him to keep working until the suspect, David Joseph Lenio, was safely in custody. By then, he’d already encountered “dozens of threats to execute grade-school kids.”
“It’s very difficult as a dad trying to explain to my first-grader what was going on,” Hutson reflected. “He got up on Sunday morning and he saw daddy on the computer, and he heard daddy on the phone, and he wanted me to play video games with him. And I wanted to, but I just couldn’t.” The pain was palpable in Hutson’s voice. “So I had to explain to him why I couldn’t play with him, why I had to be stuck on the computer and on the phone. And it broke my heart to shatter his innocence and reveal to him the idea, which was totally novel, that a bad man with the gun would want to shoot grade-school kids. And brag about it on the Internet.”
“His eyes got really wide and he thought about that all day,” Hutson continued. “That night, when I was putting him to bed, he said, ‘Daddy can you tell the police my idea? That man should be locked up for a long time, until he’s much, much better.’
“‘Yes, sweetie, I will,’ [Hutson replied]. And I did.”