This week marked the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Two senior students killed 12 students and one teacher. Many others were injured. I grew up not far from there and have spent many years trying to understand what happened. A few weeks ago, Wellington Menezes de Oliveira embarked on a massacre in a Brazilian school. Twelve students were killed. I’d actually been meaning to look into the coverage more since early reports mentioned both that he was raised as a Jehovah Witness and that he, at the very least, expressed an interest in Islam. But the coverage was so weak on those angles (here, here, here).
I did some research, found some conflicting reports, and decided to drop it. He’d left a note mentioning something about his burial wishes (including that nothing “unclean” touch him). The same note mentioned Jesus. That sort of thing. The religious snippets indicated that neighbors believed he’d converted to Islam a couple of years ago but also confusion or mixing of belief systems. The non-religious picture that emerged of the young man was of someone (in my completely non-professional view) with serious mental health issues.
In any case, today I come across an Associated Press story that included four pictures that Brazil’s Public Security Bureau recently released. They came from a scrapbook they found in the home of the shooter. One of them accompanies this post. The piece is headlined:
Video, texts of Brazil school shooter show anger
The article explains that the murderer was angry and said he was reacting to bullying. He praised other school shooters. This is all really interesting. Here’s the sum total of the religion in the piece:
In videos and letters, Oliveira mentions God, quotes the Bible extensively, and discusses the quotations in long, rambling passages. He also says the attack was motivated by the bullying and humiliation he suffered as a student and continued to suffer into adulthood.
He cites Virginia Tech gunman Seung-Hui Cho as “a brother” along with a Brazilian teenager who in 2003 shot and wounded six students in the school where he’d studied, then killed himself.
We’re told that the pictures and videos he left are reminiscent of ones left by Cho before his murderous rampage. This all may be true. I speak no Portuguese so I’m relying on English-language media to explain everything to me.
So how does the piece explain the appearance of Oliveira?
Easy: It doesn’t. Nothing to see here. It’s the oddest treatment of the release of pictures that I can recall. Literally the only question I have is, “Hey, what’s up with the beard and stuff?” I mean, I wonder what most readers think when coming across a story like this. At least I was already prepared for someone to emphasize mental health or anger issues. But there’s “emphasis” and then there’s “really going out of your way to avoid discussing something.”
I’m sure it’s complicated, but the way this story has been handled is just weird.
Prior to these pictures coming out, the Wall Street Journal had a good — particularly for its brevity — story on videos Oliveira had made. Here’s how they explained the role religion played in his videos and suicide note:
A transcript of his suicide note suggests a ritualistic spiritual longing he somehow expected to be fulfilled upon his death. In it, he asked that his body be cleaned by glove-wearing orderlies, buried next his adoptive mother and visited by a religious person so that his soul would be ready for the second coming of Jesus.
He had developed confused set of religious beliefs that appeared to combine aspects of Islam with evangelical Christianity, and family members said he was glued to his computer, where he obsessed on videos of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and played video games.
Muslim officials in Brazil said he was not a member of any mosque. Rio security officials say writings recovered include confusing mix of references to Islam, the Jehovah’s Witness branch of Christianity terrorist attacks and violent video games.
There are many interesting angles to this story. For instance, why were so many of the targets female? Religion also seems to have played an intriguing role, one that could be much better covered and explained, even just within the context of mental illness.