A town in Minnesota may have escaped another Columbine High School-like massacre. When student John LaDue was (thankfully) arrested a couple of weeks ago, he confessed to a plan that would have killed his parents and sister and many, many students and staff members at his high school.
If convicted of one count of first-degree attempted murder as an adult, he could serve up to 18 years, according to state guidelines. If convicted as a juvenile, however, he could be released from detention when he turns 21.
The teenager told police that he had an SKS assault rifle with 400 rounds of ammunition, a 9mm handgun with ammo and a gun safe with more firearms, all in his bedroom at home.
Authorities found seven firearms and three completed bombs there. Another three bombs, along with chemicals and other materials, were found in the storage unit. He also had 60 pounds of metal ball bearings.
The Star Tribune spoke with his apologetic father who says he looked for signs of trouble but never saw any.
The reason I’m posting about it here, though, is that one of the only “signs” father David LaDue can recall standing out was his son’s purported atheism:
It concerned him in recent months when his son came to him questioning obscure Bible verses, interpreting them to mean that God was unjust or cruel. Twice, David LaDue said, the verses he cited focused on the punishment of children. Another time, he said his son announced that he was an atheist. “I could tell he was leveling with me, so I let him, and then I just calmly continued to talk with him.”
The Bible verses were so little-known and interpreted so darkly, David LaDue said, that he assumed his son was being “fed” the material from somewhere, probably through writings or videos on the Internet. Still in some ways, he felt it was natural — even healthy — for a teenager to be questioning. “And yes, we did look at his browsing history and stuff, but he must have been covering his tracks.”
I don’t blame the Tribune for reporting this — it’s what the father believes could’ve been a warning sign — but it deserves mention that there is no connection whatsoever between atheism and criminality.
In fact, in a self-reported survey of prisoners in the federal prison system, only 0.07% of them were atheists.
But it’s this nasty (and false) stereotype that atheism must be synonymous with evil that led the religious father to consider that his son’s admission could’ve been a giveaway that he was up to something.
We don’t know the whole story yet, but it will be very easy for people — especially right-wing pundits who rarely care to look deeply into a story — to latch onto this one nugget of information as proof that John was going to commit a horrific crime.
Questioning what the Bible says isn’t a sign that something’s wrong with you. It’s a sign that you’re doing something right. You’re thinking critically. That practice needs to be encouraged.
It’s unfortunate that abandoning his faith is what stands out in the father’s mind. It would be equally unfair — though on par with the father’s hindsight logic — to say that John’s reading of the Bible, with its tales of genocide and slaughter, inspired him to plan out the attacks.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Roger for the link)