I tried to Google the events and find his name, but I couldn’t. Probably it is just as well. He may now be an orthodontist in Minneapolis or something. I might get sued if I got the details wrong. Seems strange that I would have to consider legal action by an axe murderer while posting in my blog! What a nation of lawyers we live in.
I was on the swimming team for four years at Carnegie-Mellon University, beginning in 1968. During the first or second year, I recall that there was a quiet guy that had the locker next to mine. It was where we changed into our Speedos (caution, do not allow a mental image to form of me in a Speedo, it may cause permanent psychological scarring)
They guy was a senior and I don’t recall him being remarkable in any way. His hair was neat and short in an era where I got kicked off the team for having a mustache (story for another time). He was an engineering student.
After he had graduated, his name appeared in a big story on the front page of the Pittsburgh newspaper. He had been dating a girl and had gotten engaged to her. She decided to end the engagement. He got drunk one night and climbed up to the second floor of her house where she was asleep in her room. He chopped her to death with a weed cutter (wood handle, big steel blade, you get the idea; I always say “axe murderer” because it has entered into the lexicon in a way that “weed cutter murderer” never will.)
If I remember correctly, her parents were asleep in another room when he killed her. He hurt his back when he jumped off the roof of the front porch to escape, and was quickly apprehended.
The thing that has made the biggest impression on me is how ordinary he was. Absolutely nothing clued me into the idea that this guy was dangerous. On the contrary, he seemed meek compared to a lot of the jocks I had to deal with.
That was almost forty years ago. In a more recent decade, many thousands of the citizens of Rwanda and Burundi decided that they really didn’t like some of their neighbors. In fact they killed 800,000 of those neighbors in a few short months. Mostly they hacked them to death with machetes. The scale and suddenness of the genocide is astounding. But for it to happen at all, those thousands of people all had to cross the same line that the fellow in my college had to cross. They didn’t have to be ignorant, savage, or dedicated to a particularly violent ideology. I believe most of them referred to themselves as Christians. It almost seems that their collective crime is more understandable than that of my former swim team associate. He acted alone with only alcohol and the sting of rejection to break down the wall of civility that generally stops us from killing each other.
The folks in Africa had a long history of being angry with their neighbors and were whipped into a frenzy by politically motivated leaders. Most of them must have been caught up in a sort of mass hysteria.
I find it very important to remember that the only axe murderer I ever knew was very ordinary. Otherwise I start to think that all those people that commit atrocities are somehow in a different category than you and I. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Most of us have committed murder in our thoughts. Many of us have come much closer to seriously physically harming someone that we would care to admit. Probably most of us have caused more spiritual and psychological damage to our fellow humans than we can possibly imagine.
It is not a matter of “there but for the grace of God”. We are already there. I thank God for his mercy and grace.
follow up article bottom of page dated 2007