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Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 & Darion Marcus Aguilar

Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 & Darion Marcus Aguilar

Two stories, both of them front page, juxtaposed in my mind this morning as I was reading the newspapers. A Washington Post headline announced, “Mall Shooter Obsessed with Columbine Attack, Police Say. ” The New York Times proclaimed, “Theories Grow Without Facts on Lost Flights.”

Both articles concerned subjects of key interest to this column and this website – violent crime and international security – yet would seem to have little to do with each other.

But in the most important sense, they most certainly do.

The story on Darion Marcus Aguilar, the 19-year-old who went on a shooting spree at The Mall in Columbia, Maryland on Saturday, January 25, that left two dead and one injured, gave us two pieces of information from the Howard County Police Department that appeared at first glance to explain the young man’s depraved actions.

One is that he was obsessed with the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, idolizing its perpetrators Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to the point of dressing like them and using a similar weapon. He trolled the Internet for months for every scrap of information he could get on Columbine and other mass shootings.

The other is that he also spent considerable time surfing the Net for information about mental illness, from which he apparently knew that he suffered. He even joined a chat room of people contemplating suicide. Indications from his writing suggest that the internally warring instincts of self-loathing and hatred for the rest of mankind ultimately brought him to his violent end. Police reported that his casualty count would have been much higher had he just been able to spot more victims after he killed the first two.

But while revealing and giving us some specificity, these two fact patterns actually tell us almost nothing. We already knew that Mr. Aguilar was mentally ill. How could he do what he did and not be? Have we ever come across a mass murderer who wasn’t mentally ill? They may not all be insane by the legal definition (there is no medical definition) of the term, but no one in his right mind shoots up a school, shopping center or movie theater full of innocent people.

And we already knew that Aguilar must have looked to his mass murdering predecessors for identification, inspiration, strategy, and a means to make his inner demons manifest and meaningful; in other words, to have his suicide take on worldly significance.

The New York Times article was more straightforward: a recapitulation of what we don’t know about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which mysteriously disappeared last Saturday somewhere between the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, or possibly the Straight of Malacca and the Indian Ocean, or maybe even somewhere else for all we presently know.

Pilots are speculating about some kind of sudden catastrophic equipment failure, possibly combined with a weather event or something from the natural world. Security experts are weighing the likelihood of a terrorist bomb, or even perhaps a hijacking that involved flying the plane to some unknown destination. Psychologists and behavioral “experts” are considering the possibility of mental instability on the part of one of the pilots. And the lunatic fringe, of course, is looking at alien abduction. But none of these constituencies is really sure about anything (except perhaps the alien abduction cohort).

And what ties these two stories together is that despite all of the scrutiny and science that law enforcement, security experts, the media and the public have directed at these two events, the simple fact of the matter is that we just don’t know what caused either to occur. We’re getting progressively better at understanding both our machines and ourselves, but we still don’t know nearly enough about either to keep bad things from happening.

We crave to know what actually took place in both cases – inside the fuselage of the airplane, and the brain of the shooter – so that we can try to prevent similar tragedies. But we also want to know for more subjective reasons: because we want to understand the human condition, the reasons people do the things they do, the reasons things happen the way they do. That is why the market for both true crime and crime fiction is so large – in books, on television, on movie screens and in the public news media. Crime represents the passion of the human condition writ large – at the extremes of behavior and circumstance.

Eventually we will know more about what happened to Flight 370, though we may not understand why it happened any better than we know what motivated Darion Aguilar. They may both remain mysteries we just can’t solve.

That is the maddening frustration.

And that is the tantalizing fascination.

13 Responses to The Mysteries of Why

  1. seesthru says:

    They are speculating now, that the pilot was suicidal due to the breakup of his marriage. I personally reserve any contemplation of motive on this one because there are too many questions that may go unanswered.

    If it were the actions of one man, why did the other people not try to stop him? He flew off course for hours. Right? They let him? Why? It doesn’t add up.

    If it were the actions of both pilot and co-pilot, why did the crew not call for help? Surely they would know they were off course. The other plane staff would know if they were off course, would know if something wasn’t right.

    If it were mechanical failure someone would have called. People on the plane had cell phones but no one called anyone? 9/11 taught us that in emergency situations, people will call loved ones and anyone they can to get word out.

    That leave us with an organized number of people, but can they stop the whole plane of people and crew and pilots from attempting to call for help? If they got up, and took the plane hostage, it would still take time to commandeer all the phones.. someone could have texted out, someone could have radioed. If they managed to take control of the plane from the pilot and co pilot, how did they do so without anyone noticing? Even if they took a hostage and stood them up with a box-cutter at their throat and threatened to kill them if anyone so much as picked up a phone, someone with a self preservation instinct that over-rode compassion would have attempted to text or something, Right?

    Why have we not had anyone come forward and claim responsibility for this? Surely someone would have bragged by now.

    I can’t think on motive, because I don’t know how anyone could take out a plane in this day and age of communication, of selfies and with the echoes of “let’s Roll” in the heads of plane passengers worldwide without at least one call getting through to someone. unless the whole plane crew were suicidal, and managed to pull the wool over the passengers’ eyes all the way into the water. That seems an unlikely premise to me.

    I reserve comment on the mall shooter, except to say there will be many more to come.

  2. Mindhunter says:

    Sorry, it should be”you can easily see this….”. (These newfangled phones!). Mindhunter

  3. Mindhunter says:

    You guys are spot on. I would add that the motive is to feed one’s (false) ego. This is the root for a lust for power. You can easily this in the crime I e-mailed to you Mr. Olshaker, I know I don’t even need to mention the obvious correlation. The perpetrator most responsible even adopted a name reflecting this trait. We can only try.
    I don’t remember the whole quote but it starts “Evil wins when……”
    Have a great day all.

  4. Zeno says:

    People think now it might have been a hijacking. Does John have any thoughts on the missing plane to share with us. I know this is not his usual area but they would interesting to her.

    • It’s looking more and more like human intervention rather than an accident. But we really don’t have the evidence yet. It is difficult to believe that passengers would not resist hijackers in this day and age, but we really don’t know yet and John doesn’t like to speculate without at least a fact pattern to work from.

      • Zeno says:

        From the start it looked like whomever was involved knew quite a bit about technical aviation. The fact that they turned around at the safest point and that certain distress signals were not used showed this.

      • Zeno says:

        It is interesting if you start thinking that it was planned ahead of time. In that area you start to look at the pinging that does not give a location. It was receiving these up until over 7 hours into the flight. The flight however was only fueled for 8 hours.

        As long as it is on it would receive pings. Even if not airborne. It could have landed earlier and been kept on to send pings just to confuse authorities.Hence it may have landed somewhere hours earlier but made to look as if it was still up there

        Just a possibility.

      • Zeno says:

        Are there any small nations around the area where the plane was last seen on radar? Not the satellite,which did not give the location but the radar.

        The idea is that the arcs could be intentionally misleading. It could have landed but they kept the plane on to send the pings which could not identify locations to confuse people. Hence it could be closer. Is this possible?

      • whosear says:

        I can only add that I would pose the question of whether or not mostly Chinese passengers would resist a hijacking. There is one correspondent, James Fallows, with The Atlantic, would might have some insight, as he is well-versed on both flying and the Chinese.

  5. Cornerstone says:

    “because getting one’s mind changed is not what the individual is after”

    Everyone wants to validate that they are normal, but when the numbers don’t bear that out, they may make the leap that they are superior (having fewer moral constraints and some degree of narcissism or lack of empathy to hold them back, I presume, and therefore entitled.)

  6. Cornerstone says:

    One thing I’ve noticed in online forums, such as relationship forums where people come for advice is that they are not looking for advice; they’re looking for validation. For example, there are so many posts from people who are obsessed with one person who either isn’t treating them at all well or isn’t even really in their life. They will get 15 replies telling them they need to move on, she/he isn’t interested or isn’t available, but the original poster will come back over and over trying to offer more info that will change the respondents’ minds. Then there will be one person who says something to agree with their view, and that is the one they’ll latch onto and take to heart. Often these posters have definitely crossed the line into stalking.

    I think Aguilar was online seeking validation, and the only place he found it was with the Columbine shooters, someone who had the same thoughts as he did, felt justified in taking action. It’s a shame he was looking into psychological aspects but didn’t follow up on it. I think a lot of people just don’t have the resources to do so, and should have.

    • I think this is a highly interesting insight, Cornerstone. And I think it validates what we’ve been saying for a long time about confirmation bias. It also explains a lot about why merely presenting the facts is often not sufficient to change minds – because getting one’s mind changed is not what the individual is after; it’s not part of the agenda.
      Thanks for posting.

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