The Animal Within

Can you be cornered at a round table?  Clearly the 62 year old woman who was glaring at me through her tears, her hurt, and her anger felt cornered.  She turned to her husband – three weeks from turning 65, two weeks from Medicare – and asked, “Is this working for you?”  “Yes”, he replied.  “I’m learning something”.  That really got to her. 

            I’ll wait in the car, Harry.

            Sit down Rachel.  He’s trying to help us.

            But I’ve done three months of research.  We already know what we need to do.

            No, we need to ask him more questions. 

Clutching some of the booklets and brochures she had brought to my office, she returned to her seat.  She only threatened to wait in the car one more time over the next 90 minutes.  Through her outbursts and his more restrained rage I learned about their long history of victimization.  The insurance companies had screwed them!  The hospitals had ripped them off!  The details were fuzzy and contradictory, but their emotions were red hot. 


Harry and Rachel (not their real names) had contacted me and had asked for an appointment.  I didn’t want Rachel to wait in the car.  I wanted them both to leave.  But her behavior was so erratic and unpleasant that I had to wonder if her outbursts were medically related.  The smartest thing I could do was to try to calm them down, listen to their bitter litany of complaints, and ease them out of my office.       

We have all had our share of victories and defeats, allies and adversaries.  In a perfect world we learn from our mistakes, create more friends than enemies, and spend our lives moving forward instead of reliving our past.  There are, however, some people who obsess about every time that they have ever been wronged. 

If you believe the armchair shrinks, ex-FBI profilers, and the spokesmen for the various law enforcement groups, Christopher Dorner collected grudges.  And when his head ran out of room to store them all, he unleashed a revenge based assault on the system that he felt had failed him.  Four people have died, countless traumatized, and a fortune was spent to keep others from being harmed and to bring him to justice.  Was he returned to the courts to face a jury of his peers?  No.  He died alone, in a cabin that was on fire and under siege, possibly with a bullet from his own gun. 

Could we have prevented Christopher Dorner and, more importantly, future Christopher Dorners from losing control and becoming a danger to themselves and others?  Probably not.   

Christopher Dorner wasn’t just another loser with a gun.  Dorner graduated from Southern Utah University with a degree in political science.  He was an officer, an ensign, in the Navy and served in Iraq.  While not on active duty he also joined the Los Angeles Police Department.  The Navy had evaluated him.  The LAPD had evaluated him. Every step along the way there were people authorized to say, “No, this guy might abuse his position”.  That wasn’t done. 

If the U.S. Navy and the LAPD couldn’t see this coming, didn’t know that they were arming and training a future killer, how can we believe that we can prevent the future slaughter of innocents?  We can’t. 

The first two victims were truly innocents.  On February 3rd Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence were executed while sitting in a car in a parking lot.  Quan was the daughter of Randall Quan, the LAPD officer who had unsuccessfully represented Dorner during his termination appeal.  Lawrence was Ms. Quan’s fiancé. 

Christopher Dorner wrote that Quan had failed him.  The price of failure was Quan’s daughter. 

So we are left with four dead and three seriously injured.  In a case of mistaken identity, two of the injured were people shot by the police during the Dorner manhunt.  But the biggest toll, the biggest cost for the rest of us, has been that once again we have been reminded that there are people amongst us who can not process defeat.  And as their losses mount and their sense of entitlement increases, their anger and hurt take over. 

And the human animal, armed, dangerous, and unbound by social restraints, is truly scary when cornered.