Special to Great Pacific Review | By Jason James Barry
Police go where the facts and evidence lead. They need to. They can’t sidestep truths — and shouldn’t — in spite of their inconveniences. Nor should we want police to. Nor the media. But I sense a hesitance to turn over the shovel in the dig for detail about the mass shooting Monday at the Covenant School in Nashville where three adults and three 9-year-old children were murdered.
I’ve spent more time than I’m willing to admit wandering the mind of murderers. Among them, notably the Connecticut serial killer Michael Ross, who was convicted of killing 8 women and girls through the early 1980s — and who became a suspect in a still unsolved missing girl case my father was assigned to investigate for the Connecticut State Police.
The details of why, the prospective and possible and confessed motivations are essential in fully understanding the aspects of the most vile of crimes. And that murderous mindset is matched in the investigative chess game police are left playing — what I've been left wading through for the upcoming book, “The Midnight Coffee Club," which not incidentally has become a guided tour of the weight and lure of police life. Police deal in these theories and thoughts of killers all too often.
After the University of Idaho killings, details became quickly apparent what likely drove suspect Bryan Kohberger to murder — a fixation on pretty women amid his own awkward, repelling behavior as his most paramount. And there is worth in examining why — the why for committing violent murder.
This is where the investigators must go. To the twists of the mind. Through the clouds of confusing thought. Into the stressors and touch points and rages and mental abrasions. The media, as fact gathering surrogates for all of the rest of us, need to be leaning in, and unblinkingly so.
Michael Ross had a type for his victims — girls and young women who he came across along roadsides. Before his execution, Ross shared the influences to his murders — testosterone driven thoughts for violence, and a domineering mother. Other aspects he hid — including a possible childhood molestation by an uncle, and his experimentation killing small animals.
In Nashville, police and the media can’t show hesitance for this shooting. For this case, still amid its layers unfolding, details emerge about the presumptive shooter, Audrey Hale.
Outside and apart from this violent event, details begin to see light: Hale self identified by he/him pronouns and presented as transgender. Hale was an artist, and maybe foretelling, designed with murderous words, an image of the deranged “The Shining” Jack Nicholson character. And from the most late breaking of nuggets, it is being reported Hale was being treated for an emotional disorder, concerning enough for Hale’s parents to forbade Hale from having or keeping any guns.
Then, going where the facts go — as we know them so far — Hale planned this attack against The Covenant School, a private Christian school Hale is believed to have attended. And notable too, this attack coincided — in possible reaction — to new Tennessee law prohibiting transgender care to minors. Tennessee Governor signed such legislation earlier this month, prohibiting gender-affirming care, including hormones and puberty blockers for anyone under 18.
Here though, as with other cases, there isn’t value in a leap to any conclusions. There is a need for a culling from the vastness of information and notion — to connect even seemingly disparate detail and crumbs to build to fact patterns. The twists of twisted minds can be hard to understand fully. Likewise, motives can also be clear and evident for near anyone to see if they look. And accordingly, police (and the media) must go where the details, the leads, and the evidence take them. Unblinkingly so.
Jason James Barry is an author and award-winning journalist. He previously served as a police officer in Connecticut and as a DEA Special Agent.
In 2022, Jason published “A Season in Madness,” a collection of essays detailing teen travails during COVID school closures in California. His upcoming autobiography, “The Midnight Coffee Club: Grit, Glimmers & the Pull of Police Life,” is scheduled to be published this summer. Follow his work and updates on his upcoming autobiography at WriterJasonJames.com.