Airport Attack Could Start New Mental Health-Violence Debate

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Federal officials say that the gunman who opened fire in a Fort Lauderdale airport after retrieving the weapon from his checked luggage, killing five people before surrendering to police, had been treated for mental health issues in Alaska after complaining of hearing voices, reports the Christian Science Monitor. It’s unclear whether Esteban Santiago had been formally diagnosed with an illness. In November, the former  National Guardsman and Iraq war veteran claimed at an FBI office in Anchorage hat U.S. intelligence agencies were controlling his mind and forcing him to watch ISIS videos. The shooting seems to be an example of a type of mass violence that is much rarer than most people believe: studies show the mentally ill account for just one percent of gun violence against strangers, although almost two-thirds of the public sees such incidents as a reflection of failures in the mental health system, the Pew Research Center reports.

The Fort Lauderdale shooting may ignite fresh debates over whether law-enforcement and mental-health authorities could have done more, or if they should be able to more freely disclose patient information. Such questions about the mental-health system’s ability to head off such tragedies have been raised in cases like the 2012 shooting in Aurora, Co., by James Holmes, who had told psychiatrists and family members about his homicidal thoughts, as well as the depressed German pilot who deliberately crashed a commercial liner in 2015, killing all 150 people on board. On the Fort Lauderdale shooter, “the early reporting seems to indicate this is someone with a significant history of mental illness,” says psychiatry Prof. Liza Gold of the Georgetown University School of Medicine. “Everyone may have been doing their job and this still happens.”

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