Deciding Who Dies

Death at a Bible study back in 2015, and at Fort Lauderdale airport last week, has been in the news.

It’s probably not as exciting as what glitterati were wearing and saying at the Golden Globe Awards; but I figured now would be a good time to talk about those deaths, and decisions:


Fort Lauderdale Airport: Death and Luggage

Death happens. I’m not looking forward to it, or the final performance review that follows, but it is inevitable. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1007, 1022)

Death isn’t the end, since in another sense I can’t die; so being prepared is a good idea.1 (Catechism, 1014, 1022, 1682)

I don’t think morbid preoccupation with death and life’s comparative brevity makes sense. But neither does forgetting that death can happen anywhere: even at an airport’s baggage claim area.

Five folks were killed at Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday. Four have been publicly identified so far:

  • Michael Oehme
  • Olga Woltering
  • Shirley Timmons
  • Terry Andres
  • Unknown
    (Wikipedia)

A half-dozen more were injured by Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, three of them were sent to intensive care units. Several dozen more got hurt while getting to comparatively safe areas.

The last I heard, some 20,000 pieces of luggage and their owners are still getting sorted out. That’s non-trivial for folks who were going through airport security at the time, or whose medication is still in their luggage.

Until the mess is cleared up they don’t have personal identification; shoes; or, in some cases, meds that have been keeping them comparatively healthy.

Death at a Bible Study

Dylann Roof sat down with a Bible study group on June 17, 2015. About an hour later, he started killing people.

Some were later identified by their jobs or what they did in the church — a speech therapist and track coach, a member of the church choir, a pastor, a state senator.

One of the dead was a grandnephew of the choir member, another a sister of a state senator who apparently wasn’t at the Bible study:

  • Clementa C. Pinckney
  • Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd
  • Daniel Simmons
  • Depayne Middleton-Doctor
  • Ethel Lee Lance
  • Myra Thompson
  • Sharonda Coleman-Singleton
  • Susie Jackson
  • Tywanza Sanders
    (Wikipedia)

News media and resources like Wikipedia pay more attention to “important” folks like senators, pastors, and coaches. That’s understandable, since their actions effect us in more obvious ways than what “ordinary” folks do.

Some of the jobs held by folks at the Bible study may be more vital to economic and civic affairs in Charlestons and South Carolina than most. But that doesn’t make them more or less important as people.

A Good Reason to Care and Think

From Nomader, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
(The memorial service for victims of the Charleston church shooting filled a church to capacity, with more folks gathered outside.
(Picture from Nomader, via Wikimedia Commons))

My family, friends, and acquaintances, get more of my attention than total strangers; and I’m more aware of folks who get their names in the news than those who don’t.

But I realize that God doesn’t have me and my family on a celestial A-list.

Humanity, all of us, male and female, are made “in the divine image;” with equal dignity. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 1700, 1934)

Human life, each human life, is sacred: no matter who we are. (Catechism, 2258)

That is a good reason to care about and grieve for the lives ended that day, and at Fort Lauderdale airport last Friday.

It’s also a good reason to think about the people who are on trial for causing those deaths.


1. Murder at Fort Lauderdale Airport


(From Getty Images, via BBC News; and ABC News; used w/o permission.)

Florida airport shooting suspect appears in court
BBC News (January 9, 2017)

A 26-year-old Iraq war veteran suspected of opening fire in a crowded Florida airport last week has appeared in court to hear charges against him.

“A 26-year-old Iraq war veteran suspected of opening fire in a crowded Florida airport last week has appeared in court to hear charges against him.

“Esteban Ruiz Santiago is accused of murdering five people at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International airport on Friday.

“During a 15-minute court appearance on Monday he was told by the judge that he may face the death penalty….

“…Authorities say they have not ruled out terrorism as a motive, and that they are investigating whether mental illness may have played a role in the attack.

“In November 2016, Santiago visited an FBI building in Anchorage to tell agents he was hearing voices and believed that US spies were trying to control his mind….”

It’s easy, with 20-20 hindsight, to say that that someone should have done something other than what they did.

Most of the news/op-ed seems to be focusing on the weapon used, but some folks are talking about whether Esteban Ruiz Santiago should have been forced to get evaluation and treatment.

From what I’ve read, it sounds like he was under a lot of stress; and may have real psychiatric problems. Since he killed five folks for no good reason, restraining him seems like a good idea.

Forcing him to get evaluated for psychiatric disorders may be a good idea, too.

Or maybe not. I’m old enough to remember when locking up folks with the “wrong” way of looking at things was easier.2

Since I’m one of ‘those people’ who aren’t squarely on the 50th percentile,3 I’m not particularly motivated to institutionalize folks who “aren’t normal.”

2. “Nothing Wrong With Me”


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Six of the victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson, Rev Sharonda Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Rev Daniel Simmons, Depayne Middleton-Doctor”
(BBC News)

Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof: Nothing wrong with me
BBC News (January 5, 2017)

The man convicted of killing nine worshippers at a South Carolina church has addressed the jury for the first time to deny he is mentally ill.

“‘There is nothing wrong with me psychologically,’ Dylann Roof, 22, told jurors considering a death penalty.

“The white supremacist did not ask to have his life spared, and said he would not present any evidence or witnesses….

“…Earlier on Wednesday prosecutors read other excerpts from a journal that was discovered in his jail cell six weeks after his arrest.

“‘I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,’ he wrote at the time, leading prosecutors to argue that a death penalty was justified….”

Dylan Roof might not qualify for an “insanity defense” under today’s law. What’s legally crazy4 and what’s not has changed in the English-speaking world since Daniel M’Naghten shot the Prime Minister’s private secretary in 1843.

I do, however, see a problem with Mr. Roof’s reason for rejecting mental health evaluations and testimony:

“…According to a handwritten motion Roof filed, he said he would not call mental health experts to testify at his trial because he is sceptical of psychology.

“‘It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t,’ he wrote separately in a journal….”
(BBC News (January 5, 2017))

I’m not surprised that someone who managed to get labeled as a “white supremacist” would be skeptical of a “Jewish invention.”

I know too much of my family history to see racial or ethnic prejudice as anything but a problem.

I look ‘Anglo,’ but am nearly half-Irish: which is not, by some standards, “white.” I think that’s crazy, in more ways than one, and that’s another topic. (November 29, 2016)

Getting back to insanity, law, and justice; I think there’s a sort of ‘insanity defense’ in Hammurabi’s law code. Punishments for assault were significantly reduced if the accused could say “I struck him without intent:”

“…206. If a man strike another man in a quarrel and wound him, he shall swear: ‘I struck him without intent,’ and he shall be responsible for the physician.
“207. If (he) die as a result of the stroke, he shall swear (as above), and if he be a man, he shall pay one-half mana of silver.
“208. If (he) be a freeman, he shall pay one-third mana of silver….”
(The Code of Hammurabi (Harper translation), via Wikisource)

On the other hand, Hammurabi’s law code assigned the death penalty to crimes that didn’t result in death. (September 25, 2016)

Nearly 38 centuries later, we still have laws; and folks who break the laws.


Justice and the Death Penalty


(Today’s decisions have lasting consequences.)

Killing an innocent person is wrong. That’s because human life is sacred. The divine image is in each of us; no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:27; Catechism, 357, 361, 369370, 1700, 1730, 22682269, 1929, 22732274, 22762279)

What we do with our life, and the lives of those around us, is up to each of us: for good or ill. (Catechism, 17011709, 2258)

Everyone’s life is precious, including mine: and yours. That’s why defending myself, using the least force necessary, is okay: even if that action results in my attacker’s death. (Catechism, 22632267)

I don’t think that makes ‘I thought he was going to hit me, so I killed him’ a legitimate defense. And it sure wouldn’t make it okay for me to kill someone I’d tied up: no matter how angry or insecure I felt.

Killing a prisoner is allowed, if that really is the only way that innocent people can be protected. (Catechism, 2267)

I do not doubt that and Esteban Santiago-Ruiz and Dylann Roof are guilty of murder.

I also think that letting either of them go free would put innocent lives in peril.

But I do not think that the United States of America is so desperately poor or weak that we must kill these two men in self-defense.

And killing them to appease a visceral desire for more death doesn’t make sense.

Not Trusting My Feelings


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“‘Everyone’s plea for your soul is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win’, a relative of one victim told the suspect”
(BBC News))

I keep saying this. I’m expected to love God, love my neighbors, see everyone as my neighbor, and treat others as I’d like to be treated. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789)

“Everyone” means everyone: no exceptions. (Catechism, 604605, 1465, 2608, 2844)

Feeling angry about mass murder is a natural reaction. But we’re supposed to think.

Emotions happen. It’s part of being human. So is using my brain, thinking before I act or speak. (Catechism, 1951, 1730, 17631767)

Emotions may show that something requires attention. After that, my job is using reason to decide what I should or should not do. (Catechism, 1763, 1765, 1767)

Controlling what happens inside, in my heart, is harder: but that’s also required. (Matthew 5:2222, 15:1819)

Letting anger build into a desire to harm or kill someone else is a very bad idea. (Catechism, 17621775, 23022303)

Forgiving someone who has done something very wrong isn’t easy. But it is a good idea: and not the same as pretending that an injustice never happened. Respecting the “transcendent dignity” of humanity means that we work for justice. The trick is hating the sin — not the sinner. (Catechism, 976980, 19291933, 2820)

I’ve talked about this before:


1 St. Joseph is the patron Saint of a happy death, among other things. I know: “happy death” seems like a contradiction in terms, but it makes sense if you look at if from St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s viewpoint —

“Since we all must die, we should cherish a special devotion to St. Joseph, that he may obtain for us a happy death.”
(St. Alphonsus Liguori)

That’s at the top of the third page of this resource:

2 More:

3 The inside of my head isn’t a nice place, but it’s what I have to work with. I’ve talked about this before:

4 A quick look at insanity and American law:

  • Insanity defense
    Wex, Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School, Last Updated in July of 2016 by Emanuel Francone

Some of my take on law, history, and being human:

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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  7. Anni H. says:

    Very thought-provoking, insightful, and so true. Many times, after a gruesome attack, as people are rallying for heads to roll, I feel I’m alone in a crowded room shouting, “Pray for the conversion of hearts!!” We are tasked to pray for everyone – and, to forgive them… the unique aspect of forgiveness, though, is it is an ongoing action. And, it’s an action – not an emotion!

    Great thoughts!

    • Thank you, very much. As you say, forgiveness is something we do. It’s easier if it’s also something we feel: but the feeling isn’t necessary. (Catechism, 1768)

      One of the difficult parts, I think, is exercising forgiveness and mercy – – – while protecting innocent people from those who cannot be trusted with the freedom most of us enjoy.

      Getting angry is much easier for me, than thinking about forgiveness: or thinking about anything. I still think it’s important. Alessandro Serenelli is my favorite example of an unlikely ‘reformed character.’ ( http://brendans-island.com/catholic-citizen/celebrating-mercy/#forgiving )

      Now, shameless self-promotion. I’ve talked about this sort of thing other times. Those posts have the ‘life issues’ or ‘legitimate defense’ tags.

Thanks for taking time to comment!