This time, we can't say nobody knew. Apparently, people knew.
After all, Elliot Rodger posted YouTube videos about his murderous plans for students in Isla Vista near the University of California Santa Barbara. After seeing the video, Rodger's mother contacted Santa Barbara County to alert them. It was not the first time. She had contacted them previously because of she feared he might be suicidal.
But there is a big difference between knowing that someone needs help and actually getting them that help.
While Rodger displayed signs that he might be suffering from mental illness, he did not meet current criteria to bar him from buying the guns he used. But it is important to note that he began his spree by stabbing to death his roommates, two students from San Jose and a pal from Fremont, the finest of young men. He also used a knife and his BMW to commit violent acts. So this is not just about guns.
In this case, it seems that mental illness and violent inclinations were manifest. One does not imply the other, but when the characteristics significantly overlap, the results can be tragic. Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine, Oikos and dozens of other cases have demonstrated that.
Forget about blame here. Our mission should be to uncover what we can do to lower the chances of such things happening.
We can strengthen mental health services to treat those who need it; we can make it easier for loved ones to help in attaining those services; and we simply must work to remove the social stigma that surrounds mental illness and its treatment.
We recognize these are challenging tasks.
The first one requires devotion of more money -- much more money -- in tight economic times, which is always hard. The second treads in the difficult waters of individual rights and the challenges that police face in assessing the mental health of adults.
The third is, in our view, the most difficult of all because it requires overcoming generations of prejudice, misunderstanding and ignorance about mental illness. None of these imperatives are new, but the sheer enormity of conquering them so far has overwhelmed our society's ability to effectively respond in a comprehensive manner.
To start, we can improve communications between police and mental health professionals and ask them to seek better ways to collaborate when evaluating someone who may be dangerous. And we can empower police to take preventive measures when somebody lays out plans for mass murder on social media.
These are just conversation starters, but start we must. Otherwise, all that's left is to attend memorials and wait for the next time.