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Posts Tagged ‘suicide’

This is still a fresh and highly contentious subject so please navigate away from this page after the following paragraph if it is too sensitive a subject for you. My thoughts are often … unconventional … and though I certainly mean no disrespect some things I say could be potentially hurtful to others. Please beware.

George Sodini was responsible for the deaths of three women and the injury of several others recently at a gym in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. He left writings that outlined his plans and general attitude toward life. His last actions were terribly violent and should not be dismissed. These are my compiled notes on George Sodini and my thoughts on his life.

On paper, and even on video, George seemed like a very ordinary man. He worked an ordinary job, drove an unremarkable vehicle, and lived in a perfectly normal house. But he lived there alone and this seemingly led to (or was caused by) some of his personal issues. According to his purported “blog,” he had not been in a relationship since 1984 and had not slept with anyone since 1990. If said “blog” is genuine, it provides quite a peek into a disturbed mind.

The very first entry is studded with spite and dark sarcasm. Further entries blend melancholy, irritation, and disbelief with a perpetual foundation of frustration. “Result is I am learning [life] basics by trial and error in my 40s,” he wrote. “Seems odd, but thats true. […] Too embarassed to tell anyone this, at almost 50 one is expected to just know these things.” Later, describing his mother as a controlling, overbearing woman, he laments, “Why are people vicious with their closest ones?”

It feels almost like there are two different men writing. One is wholly negative, calling younger women “hoes” and stating that he will always be alone. But there is another man, a positive force who tries to hope that things will improve. The trouble is that the negativity always seems to win the argument. “Writing all this is helping me justify my plan and to see the futility of continuing. […] No matter how many changes I try to make, things stay the same.”

But those jumbled, sometimes resentful paragraphs help flesh George Sodini out as a real person, a living, breathing person who made a terrible, terrible choice. They portray a man who is tired of being alone but has no clue how to change. They show how out-of-control his life felt, and how he was convinced he was a total and utter failure as a human being. He seems to be saying, “Everywhere I look people have their shit together. They are getting married, are in relationships, are having kids… What is wrong with me that I am not? Why doesn’t anyone feel remotely interested in me?” None of the entries sound “crazy” or even demonstrably unstable until he mentions having “chickened out” of his plan with the guns in his gym bag. Until that point, he just sounds lonely, possibly depressed. Suddenly the post reveals him to be homicidal, suicidal, unexpectedly dangerous and seemingly without remorse for his intended victims. “God have mercy,” was his only remark.

“I already know what the problem is, but a solution eludes me,” he said months later. He attended church for many years and apparently didn’t want to go to Hell for seeing through this “exit plan” but had been assured such actions would not necessarily damn him. “[P]astor Rick Knapp … teaches (and convinced me) you can commit mass murder then still go to heaven. […] I think [he] did the most damage.” And though he did not consider the “exit plan” a real solution, it seems he could not identify a better option. Why he chose the gym one can only guess. Why his anger was funnelled into a murder spree instead of just a suicide is a mystery. But it seems odd that he would do such a thing when his words indicate that he did not hate women but their (real or imagined) rejection of him and the loneliness which followed.

His words show a man who felt lost and without hope that things would ever change. Expounding on a radio talk show caller, George wrote, “It is the quality of life that is important, he said. If you know the past 40 years were crappy, why live another 30 crappy years then die? His point was they engage in dangerous behavior which tends to shorten the lifespans, to die now and avoid the next 30 crappy years.” He had been recently promoted and liked his new boss, even found his new duties more rewarding. And yet he led a joyless life, ultimately punctuated by the shooting of innocent strangers.

I compiled all these notes and thoughts with one basic goal: to try and understand a man who felt so hopeless that he would take out his frustrations in the deaths of others and then kill himself. Many call him a blatant misogynist but I believe that falls well short. Others have labeled him “psychotic” and “psychopathic” and while I’m not sure that quite covers it, either, I think it is closer to the truth.

Psychopaths are mentally unimpaired but nonetheless engage in self-defeating acts. Often unable to delay or defer gratification, they are prone to impulsiveness, sometimes violence, and are often coupled with an inability to learn from past mistakes. Roughly one percent of the general population are psychopaths. A recent study at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London found that “psychopaths who kill and rape have faulty connections between the part of the brain dealing with emotions and that which handles impulses and decision-making,” according to a Reuters article. The findings were based on a small test group and is expected to be studied further. “As well as finding clear structural deficits in the tract in psychopathic brains,” the article continues, “they also found the degree of abnormality was significantly linked to the degree of psychopathy.”

Which makes sense. The less functional the brain, the more abnormal the behavior of the host. Which opens up a whole new bag of worms. If a brain isn’t functioning properly, how responsible is the host for its actions?

George Sodini decided to take three guns into a gym and shoot people. He decided to turn the last gun on himself and end his life. These were things he chose to do and which cannot be excused. But I wonder how much of the circuitry that led him to that choice was faulty, how much it interfered with his impulses and decisions. I wonder about the other one percent of psychopaths trying to live among us while their brains unknowingly mislead them. It is such a cruel and unpredictable world when the very thing that filters the world around us and keeps us going quietly betrays us.

I am reminded of a quote from Plato:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

If you’d like to read George Sodini’s “blog” for yourself, you can find it here.

And one parting thought … why did George Sodini turn out the lights before he started shooting? Some called it cowardly, insinuating that maybe he could not face the people he killed as he killed them. We will never know for sure, but I like to think differently. He could have hit many, many more of those women if the lights had been on. I like to think it was perhaps a last act toward decency, that if he could not or would stop himself from carrying through with his plan, he could at least try to give them a better chance by firing into the dark.

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This is a long one, folks.  Hang in there, I think it’s worth reading.  Though I never met him, I felt an unusual kinship to the man involved here and felt the need to share more of him and his story than the last few seconds of it.

Pieces of the story have circled the globe, from Schenectady to Sydney and back.  You may have read about it.  Or heard it on the radio.  Or saw it on a news program, a podcast, a text message…  You probably didn’t see him.  Or read his obituary.  Or hear the love and loss in his family’s words.  I speak of Sloan Carafello, of Schenectady, New York, who jumped without a parachute from a plane.  He was given permission to ride along for the sky-diving trip as an observer and to take photos – for a school project, he told the pilot and operator – but after the other jumpers exited, and apparently before the pilot was able to close the door, Carafello also exited the aircraft with only his camera in tow. 

Many comments of the blogs and online articles about his unusual demise are riddled with derision, insults, and scorn.  Perhaps some of these stemmed from the initial reports which stated no reason (or hypothesis) for his exit from the plane.  Lack of preparation and stupidity seemed to be the first conclusion, for scores of the comments have a “what a dumbass” sentiment, presumably (hopefully) due to the lag between the accident and the official statement of apparent suicide.  (I say “hopefully” because I hate to think of all these callous, faceless posters thinking his suicide was just a “dumbass” stunt.)
 
Carafello was not dumb, or ill prepared, or simply pulling a stunt.  The people who knew Sloan Carafello described him in words glowing with warmth and kindness:  “I’ll never forget his infectious laugh, big heart, and free spirit.”  “Sloan was a great friend and a gentle person.”  “What a wonderful boy he was.”  “I always looked up to Sloan.”  “Our family’s love for you will never die.”  “Sloan was one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever known and best friends I ever had.”

I did not manufacture a letter of those statements.  I did not change an apostrophe or take a line out of context.  These were people who cared for him, some very deeply, people who would have helped him if he had asked.  (I make the assumption he needed some kind of help since he killed himself.)  Why did he need help and, more importantly, why didn’t he ask for it?  On the outside he seemed quite “normal.”  He had a loving family, three brothers (including a twin), a job, hobbies…  He loved books, music, travel, had been to Europe and the Mediterranean…  There was no mention of a troubled past, no history of mental illness, no real “warning signs” to speak of.  So what happened here?  A young man with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of caring people on the outskirts of his life wanted to die.  And no one stopped him, or indeed even attempted to speak with him about it.  Apparently, no one knew.  How could that be?  And what would drive an otherwise perfectly healthy individual to take his life?

There are no easy answers.  And having never met him, I hesitate to make assumptions and presumptions that I know anything of what he experienced.  But these are my thoughts.

The reports describe him as a friendly if somewhat distant individual who kept mostly to himself.  A former landlord described him as smiling and waving when they crossed paths and that Carafello kept his apartment “immaculate” while he was a tenant.  He worked out and bicycled often.  He interacted with his co-workers but seemingly formed no real friendships.  In years previous he attended a community college where at least some of his classmates considered him a friend and he is fondly remembered.  But sometimes what is not said just as important as what is said, if not more so.

I said his “former landlord” because at the time of his death, Sloan Carafello was staying in a room at the Schenectady YMCA.  During his roughly nine-month stay, the manager stated he never missed a rent payment and never caused any trouble whatsoever.  His job, stocking fish at the local Price Chopper, likely didn’t provide a great deal of public mingling and I’m fairly sure it fell short of his long-term aspirations.  He “bicycled often” because he did not own a car, likely due to the expense.  So he was 29, single, unable to afford an apartment or vehicle, living at the Y, with few or no close contemporary friends, in a limited job at a grocery store.  Not exactly a charmed life.  After trekking across Europe and lounging on the sun-drenched beaches of Crete it must have seemed even less so.

It is so hard to close your eyes and forget the rest of the world.  It’s one thing to read guide books and dream of, say, Tahiti … but walking through the vibrant greenery and smelling the perfumed air in person is quite another.  And once bad luck or hard times begin to drag you down, it can be a Herculean task to break free.  I used to volunteer with the Salvation Army and knew several good men who were simple victims of chance trying to get back on their feet.  Without help, it’s nearly impossible.  Even with help it remains unbelievably difficult.  At 28, 29 years old, after living on your own for years,  it can be a crushing disappointment to find you just can’t “make it.”  Friends and family of Sloan Carafello said he was very independent, which probably made asking for any help that much harder.  No one wants to be a burden.  Or a failure.  At least two of his brothers had married, moved away, and probably seemed a lot more “successful” in their lives.  It’s not an easy situation to be stuck in.  When it feels like everyone you know is doing better in every way – careers, spouses, children, homes of their own – and you can’t even make rent, you throw fish every day for hardly better than minimum wage and memories of days of freedom haunt you at every step…  Sometimes it gets hard to breathe.

Not that this was the case for him, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable approach.  Many of us have been in similar circumstances.  Many have – more than once – walked across the tallest bridge in a city and wondered if it were high enough, if the impact would be lethal if there happened (happened) to be a jumper.  Many have fought the urge to turn the steering wheel into a bridge support or the path of an oncoming tractor trailer.  Many have wandered miles down the railroad tracks wondering if maybe a train would approach unheard, if the feel of rails thrumming would go unnoticed.

Many are not suicidal but have been uncomfortably close.  And without the iron ties to family, friends, significant others, career prospects, etc. … well, it makes it a lot more likely that some of those many would not be reading this, or indeed typing it.  Those who seriously approach the taking of their lives generally do so quietly and specifically.  The majority of failed suicide attempts are nothing more than cliched “cries for help,” perpetrated by people who rarely intend to actually die.  (There is some controversy on the subject, of course, and those who have made attempts often assert they did want to kill themselves … though their preparations and actions often tell a different story.)  For lack of a better term, “genuine” suicide attempts are often planned in detail, some long before the incident occurs, and precisely enacted, thus greatly increasing their likelihood of success.

Sloan must have put some time and effort into his own.  He had to find out who flew sky-diving runs, when they operated, and where; he had to invent a credible back-story for gaining access without being a regular jumper or arousing suspicion; he had to bicycle there, run through their pre-flight routine, ride to jumping altitude without anyone suspecting his intentions; and then he had to wait patiently for the others to go, for opportunity to rear its head in the few seconds between the last jumper and the closing of the door.

A single-engine Cessna 182 at 10,000 feet, the door open, wind rushing through, early afternoon sunlight angling down, and a young man in a white t-shirt with a camera in his hands.  A couple quick steps, a moment at the threshold, and then an empty seat, a bare doorway, an expanse of sky where his silhouette had hovered a moment before.

One report said Carafello got on his knees before passing through the doorway.  I wonder … I wonder what thoughts ran through his mind.

 

News articles feature this story here in the Albany Times Union newspaper, and here in the Schenectady Daily Gazette. Visit here for a succinct overview and tribute from a Harvard blogger.

“A brain that never stops ticking…  Sometimes an on-off switch would sure come in handy.  A mind that’s constantly cutting up, dissecting, looking for answers, committing murders along the way…  Is it the red wire, or the blue wire?  Pick one and cut, it just doesn’t matter anymore.  Did it ever?  Because I could never control when the bomb would explode.  Oh god, I love you…  I left my body behind to break the news.  It looks like it’s over…  Please remember all of the things I never got a chance to say.” 
Suicide Medicine  –  Rocky Votolato

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Sloan Carafello

Sloan Robert Carafello, 29, of Farrell Road died suddenly Saturday, June 7, 2008.  He was born on March 23, 1979 in Catskill, N.Y. and was the beloved son of Jerry E. and Orlinda Reid Carafello.  Sloan was a graduate of Lansingburgh High School and had attended Hudson Valley Community College in Troy.  A world traveler, Sloan enjoyed backpacking and discovered Europe this way.  He enjoyed hiking, photography, playing the bongos and painting oil scenes.  Sloan had a great love of music, especially Bob Marley’s selections.  He was an avid reader who enjoyed biographies.  He was a communicant of St. Augustine’s Church Lansingburgh.  In addition to his parents, Sloan is survived by his devoted brothers, Jerry (Lea) Carafello of Nassau, his twin, Ryan (Kimberly) Carafello of S. Mills, N.C. and Chad Carafello of Chesapeake, Va.  He is the uncle of Hannah Carafello of S. Mills, N.C.; also survived by several aunts, uncles and cousins.  Funeral will be held Wednesday morning at 9:30 from St. Augustine’s Church, 115th St. & 4th Ave. in Lansingburgh, where the Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated.  Calling hours will be from 4-8 p.m.  Tuesday in the Morris-Stebbins-Miner & Sanvidge Funeral Home, 312 Hoosick Street in Troy.  Interment will be in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Waterford.  Memorial contributions may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Memorial and Honor Program, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.  The family has entrusted funeral arrangements to the Morris-Stebbins-Miner & Sanvidge Funeral Home, 312 Hoosick St., Troy, NY 12180.  Phone (518)-272-3930.

 

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