As horrific as the massacre at the Florida high school was, the murder of Deane Stryker in the Winchester Public Library hit me even harder, in a visceral way I didn’t expect. It seemed more real, more familiar, less nightmarishly remote.
I graduated from high school 40 years ago and, since my kids are grown, I haven’t set foot in a high school in years. High schools seem to me exotic places, like a Joe & Nemo’s or Paragon Park, existing only in a memory bank that, like real banks, closes early.
But libraries? I love libraries. I’m in libraries two to three times a week. The one in Hingham. The ones in Milton and Dorchester, where I read and write and think and surf not the waves but the Internet.
Just as those kids in Florida could be any of our kids, Stryker, a kind, compassionate medical student, could have been me or you.
The biggest similarity between what happened in Florida and what happened in Winchester is that the perpetrators are mentally ill.
Some will exploit that as a distraction, a way to claim that all this talk about gun control misses the point, that it isn’t the weapon that kills, it’s the person who kills.
That is, of course, patent nonsense.
If the guy who stabbed Deane Stryker had walked into the Winchester Public Library with an AR-15 instead of a 10-inch hunting knife, there would have been just as many if not more dead and injured as there were in that high school in Florida.
In every other developed country, the incidence of mental illness is approximately the same as the United States. But no other developed country experiences the obscenely regular scandal of mass shootings by unstable people armed with high-powered, high-capacity semi-automatic rifles because, unlike the US, other countries don’t allow people outside the police or military to have access to such weapons.
The truest, most sobering, most depressing connection between Nikolas Cruz, the Florida shooter, and Jeffrey Yao, the Winchester stabber, is that they are mentally ill young men in a country and culture that cares little about such people.
Stigma, ignorance, the lack of a powerful constituency, fractured families that struggle every day — all that leaves the mentally ill wandering our living rooms or our streets, as the rest of us avert our eyes, go to another room, or cross the street, praying they don’t confront us.
The reality is the mentally ill are far more likely to harm themselves than someone else, which is, of course, no comfort to Deane Stryker’s family.
Yao’s lawyer, Jay Carney, says his family tried to get him help. The statistical likelihood is that the Yaos are like so many others, unable to secure adequate, long-term care for someone who is clearly delusional and disturbed.
And even if Yao’s family had been able to get him committed to a hospital, nothing would have changed unless he was willing to engage in treatment. If Yao’s family didn’t want to take him home, they would be given a list of homeless shelters and a handshake.
Most insurance companies, with admirable exceptions such as the Andrew Dreyfus-led Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts, make it so hard for families to pay for mental health care that many just give up, and the Jeffrey Yaos of this world walk around, not able to tell right from wrong, actual reality from their perceived, paranoid reality.
It is a recipe for the kind of disaster that happened in a quiet library on Saturday morning.
It is probably only a matter of time before some fool, maybe the one in the White House, suggests we arm librarians with guns, because only a good librarian with a gun can stop a bad guy with a knife.Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org