WE TURN OUR SERIAL KILLERS INTO CELEBRITIES

How could someone do that?” a friend of mine asked. “How does someone get so sick?”

He was talking about the sniper who has been systematically killing innocent people in Maryland and Virginia, stalking them in their everyday acts, then shooting them as they put gas in their car or mow their lawns.

“He’s jut picking them off, like target practice,” my friend said. “He kills one, then he goes and kills another! What could possibly make a person that twisted?”

I thought about that as I headed home. I thought how only someone truly demented would be attracted to such random, unprovoked violence. I mean, the victims were just everyday people leading everyday lives, right?

And then I noticed a few things about our everyday lives.

I noticed the No. 1 movie in America is “Red Dragon,” a film about what? Serial killers. We went in droves. We always do. We lionize its madman, Hannibal Lecter, so much so that the actor, Anthony Hopkins, has reprised the role three times.

I noticed a coming attractions preview for a film called “Phone Booth” in which a sniper holds a man hostage by threatening to shoot him if he hangs up the phone.

I noticed the biggest drama on network TV is “CSI,” in which detectives try to find killers by examining the evidence left at the murder scene.

I notice a pattern.

Everyone gets to comment

I notice the nonstop TV coverage this sniper has gotten on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, even network and local TV. I notice the special reports and the breathless anchors who almost can’t wait to bring you an update on a possible next victim.

I notice the forensics experts and the psychological experts, and the criminal, weapons and investigative experts who jump at the chance to sit in the chair and offer their opinions on the killer’s motivation.

I notice the newspapers that carry stories about the sniper and the radio stations that play sound bites from mourning relatives. I notice the “Today” show, the most-watched morning news program, opening its show from Maryland, with Katie Couric sitting outside a police station.

I notice all this, and I remember that what often motivates serial killers is the attention their crimes keep getting them.

I notice it hasn’t stopped.

I notice the Columbine High School shootings and how the two troubled teens eerily predicted that they would be famous after their killing spree.

I notice video games in which the sole purpose is to kill as many people as possible.

I notice a Web site called Sniper Country in which information about snipers, guns, scopes and other special equipment is readily available. There are even chats between visitors in which they debate the value of shooting at real people instead of targets. There is a message on that Web site in response to critics after the Maryland shootings.

“If you are anti-gun in your politics,” the site writes, “then there is no help for you and we do not apologize. . . . Firearms have been at the heart and soul of the success of this nation.”

I notice the irony of that statement.

An easier road to murder

I notice how easy it is to get a gun in this country.

I notice states — like Michigan — passing laws to make it easier.

I notice gun shows in which laws are regularly flouted. And although the availability of guns doesn’t make someone a killer, it sure gives a wanna-be killer an easier path.

I notice prisons that don’t hold criminals for long. I notice “The Sopranos” and their “whack your enemies” mentality being celebrated.

In short, I notice a society where violence gets you famous, where serial killers are considered riveting, where guns are easily available, where Web sites spill out killing information and where the surest way to earn a TV movie of the week is to keep firing, keep firing.

“How could someone do that?” my friend asked. “How does someone get so sick?”

I don’t know. Do you?

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or albom@freepress.com. “The Mitch Albom Show” is 3-6 weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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