Why are people so afraid?

The first time I heard about what later became known as the case of the elderly man who was randomly selected and shot dead on the street and whose killer posted it on Facebook was when my wife got a telephone alert from the university where she teaches telling people that a shooter was on the loose and asking people not on campus to stay away and those on campus to get into lockdown mode. The puzzling thing was that the message mentioned the location of the shooting and it was several miles away from the university and there was no indication that it had anything to do with the university nor that the shooter was heading towards it. So why the warning?

My own university did not issue an alert immediately but apparently some students and their parents were incensed that students had not been alerted and told to take shelter. In response the university did issue an alert a little later. The idea that a killer was on the loose seemed to have created widespread panic.

I don’t get it. Cleveland is a major American city and thus murders take place with dreary frequency pretty much on a daily basis and it takes time for the killers to be apprehended, if at all. At any given time, you can be sure that there are murderers wandering loose on the streets of the city. So why was this killing such a panic inducer? Was it simply because it was posted on Facebook?

I have noted this tendency before, especially with parents of students away from home, who view with alarm any shooting that occurs within 100 miles of their children’s college. As I wrote back in 2012 in response to other tragedies.

My children were in college during the time of the shootings at Virginia Tech and other college campuses. Since the events did not take place on their particular campuses, it never crossed my mind to call them to see if they were ok and they did not expect it either. When we did speak at some point, they said they were surprised at the number of parents of other students that had called to make sure their children were fine.

Maybe I am heartless or maybe our family is somewhat more phlegmatic than others but it all seems a bit much to me. We have not suffered like the friends and family of the people who were killed and it somehow seems insulting to them to act as if we had.

It seems to me that many people live in a state of latent anxiety and almost any incident is enough to bring it to the surface.


  1. OverlappingMagisteria says

    If I were to play devil’s advocate, I’d say that the Facebook killer chose his target at random, so the kids at a college campus are as much potential targets as anyone else within his range. On the other hand, the regular Cleveland murders are assumed to be because related to drugs/gangs/things that a good college kid would never get involved in. There is a bit more fear when the killer might be anywhere and anyone might be the next victim.

    But I largely agree… going into lock down is a bit too much.

  2. Siobhan says

    I mean, I did it too. Contacted my ex girlfriend after Orlando.

    My excuse is that I live in perpetual fear of a politician trying to legislate me out of existence though, so of course I just kind of float around in a heightened state of anxiety.

  3. Friendly says

    I’m guessing the thought process works like this: Better to be the target of annoyance for issuing warnings that are probably necessary than the target of lawsuits for not issuing warnings to people who were later victimized.

  4. jrkrideau says

    I’d suggest that with the hysterical 24 hour news cycle in the USA, people may be losing the ability to sensibly evaluate risk.

    I read about an interesting study a few years ago about fear of crime among francophone and anglophone Canadians where the francophones were far less worried about crime. The authors suggested one of the reasons may have been that the francophones seldom listened to US broadcasts—I was going to say news sources until I remembered Fox News was probably in there.

  5. says

    This one I can understand. A man murdered someone at random and then said there were going to be more. Until he was caught or dead (the whole thing ended exactly the way I suspected it would) he was a legitimate public threat and people would have been right to take precautions.

  6. Johnny Vector says

    I still recall the Washington DC snipers in 2002. Everyone was wondering why I was still out doing stuff. Um, because they shot 13 people over the course of a couple weeks, probably about 1/3 the number as died in car crashes during the same period. If I were truly concerned about one in a million chances, I’d be out buying lottery tickets.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *