Wisconsins Morning News

Gene's Blog: Anyone else bothered by this?

A grisly, random slaying generates little buzz

Trying to clean the house before the big day.

Settling issues that need tending do. Deferring obligations. Making sure things I need to reach are above waist-level from Wednesday moving forward.

Admittedly, I'm a little distracted as my double-knee surgery approaches. Both get "resurfaced" Wednesday, meaning what seemed to be forever to get pre-surgical needs done is now down to hours before I'm laid up for at least the next month.

That doesn't mean life stops happening. 

The Brewers are in a fight for their post-season lives, relying on September roster expansion to plaster over the gaping holes in the lineup. Speaking of rosters, the Packers pare theirs down to the league limit ahead of Thursday night's season opener in Chicago.  "Who's going to be Aaron Rodgers' backup?" we breathlessly pondered in the days before The Turk came a-callin'. Spoiler alert: IT DOESN'T FREAKING MATTER. If #12 goes down for an extended amount of time, Christmas is canceled, and playoff hope dies. Yes, the football world is well aware that a backup led the Eagles to a Lombardi Trophy, the same brand of destiny that leads the blind pig to the occasional acorn. 

Then there's the huge boil of meteorological rage roiling off the Florida coast, the category five hurricane threatening not just the Sunshine State but also a hefty hank of the nation's southeast coast. If you have friends/relatives now in harm's way, this is no time to remind them of all the occasions where they would kid you about the next snowstorm heading for  Wisconsin, or the most recent polar vortex. They have better things to do down there than suffer your barbs--boarding up windows and fleeing for their lives come to mind.

The newest mass-murder rampage--this one in Texas--claims seven lives as of this writing and serves as a vivid reminder that, after pledging to do something after the outrages a few weeks ago in Dayton/El Paso/Gilroy/Chippewa County-Eau Claire, we have collectively done nothing.

Then there's Greenfield, where a guy just doing his job died a violent, grisly death in broad daylight on a quiet residential street last week. If anyone is raising questions about how this all went down, I'm not hearing them.

"A 19 year old Greenfield man faces a homicide charge in a stabbing that followed what police say were months of violent behavior and potential mental health issues," the Journal/Sentinel reports. Amando Lang is held in the death of Ben Christianson, a 49 year old contractor from Madison who is the latest person to die at the hands of a very troubled person, merely for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It's not as if Lang didn't send out troubling signals ahead of the heinous act he's accused of:

--he often carried weapons, including knives.

--his sister says he'd leave the house, saying he was going out to kill people. She adds he has anger issues, and is in a state of psychosis.

--she says he was paranoid about her stealing from him, or hacking into her e-mail. "She says he always had issues," an affadavit says, "but things have really been bad since he turned 18." 

--A neighbor snapped a photo of Lang walking around his yard with a sword. 

--Lang's mom says he stopped taking his meds, and that if anyone broke into their home he would stab them.

--A Snapchat acquaintance quotes Lang as saying, "I'm not trying to die. I'm trying to smell death."

Lang filled his lungs with that awful aroma during the noon hour Tuesday when he allegedly ended Christianson's life with a swipe of a blade, an innocent victim to all, but convicted of a crime in the mind of his troubled attacker. "Basically what happened is that man was a criminal. And, I understood that every single day that this man was going to murder, you know, my family," court papers quote Lang as saying after his arrest.

Christianson didn't know his killer. He was just doing his job, taking soil samples in a median near 60th and Armour. Video shows a man dressed in dark clothes walking to what was about to become a crime scene in the moments before the attack.

Christianson would've turned 50 on Labor Day.

We are frustrated by mass murders committed by otherwise "quiet" men whose monstrous behaviors aren't pre-sold or foretold by the criminal, folks with clean rap sheets and no history of mental issues. It's not a crime to buy guns en masse--even assault weapons--or enough ammo to start a war. It's not illegal to climb on hate-filled web sites to stoke rage, or demonize those who belong to an opposition political party. 

Then there's Ben Christianson, dead after his alleged attacker said and did all manner of disturbing things in the days and weeks before he acted out. Sure, neighbors are predictably shaken up--one says they knew Lang was weird but that they didn't think he was capable of murder.  He's now accused of just that--in the first degree.

The quiet that follows is just as bothersome. Do we now live in a world where stories like this are dismissed as "random", a bad thing that happened to someone most of us never mett, with "traffic and weather next"?  Are we numb to the fact that Ben Christianson could've been a friend, a relative? Is he less dead because the weapon of choice was a knife, and not a gun? 

Where is the mental health discussion? Why aren't we talking about the troubling signs, the actions that should warn others that someone in their orbit could be a danger to themselves, if not others? Was there something that could've been done to make sure Lang didn't meet Christianson Tuesday afternoon? If there a lesson to be learned here for the rest of us? If so, what is it? Does a law need to be changed, do restrictions have to be altered to make sure that someone who openly says he's going out to kill people is stopped before the door closes behind him? 

We're all distracted. Life gets in the way. We should never be so busy that we let incidents like this pass without discussion of change, reassessment of procedures, talk about making sure it doesn't happen again. More importantly, we need action. 


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