If you missed Wednesday’s Jane Velez-Mitchell on HLN, her topics included the strange game of “musical guardians” that appears to be going on with respect to the late singer Michael Jackson’s children plus the latest developments in the Colorado movie theater shooting case.
First, briefly, the Jackson family: When Jackson died, he designated his mother, the children’s grandmother, as their guardian with singer Diana Ross as alternate guardian (in case Jackson’s mother were unwilling or unable to serve in that capacity. Well, on Wednesday, Jackson’s adult nephew — not Diana Ross — showed up before a California family court, requested, and got temporary guardianship of the children by alleging the grandmother’s unexplained and extended absence from the state. Then later in the day, the grandmother’s attorney announced that the grandmother was en route back to California after a vacation at an Arizona health spa. She reportedly plans to seek immediate reinstatement of her guardianship upon her return.
Hmmmm. As a child-custody expert charged with looking out for the best interests of children, this doesn’t pass my “smell test,” and I’m glad there’s now a judge involved who appears to share my concern. I hope that the grandmother is physically healthy and mentally competent, but I have to wonder whether “spa” could be code for “rehab” or “inpatient mental-health facility” in the Jackson family. Stay tuned.
Now, Wednesday’s developments in the Colorado shooting case: Multiple media outlets are now reporting that the shooter sent a package to a mental-health staff member at his school prior to the massacre. It’s not yet clear whether there was any prior relationship (e.g. doctor-patient) between the shooter and the recipient of the package, nor is it clear when the package arrived at the school, but the recipient apparently didn’t find it and notify law enforcement until Wednesday. The contents of the package reportedly included a collection of written statements and drawings outlining the shooter’s intentions, and perhaps also his reasons, for committing mass murder.
If in fact this proves to be some kind of a “manifesto,” it will be entirely consistent with my theory of the case, which is that the shooter has something to say and committed mass murder in order to get it heard and taken seriously by the nation. The Virginia Tech shooter behaved similarly, mailing a package to the media prior to the massacre there. The difference is that the Virginia Tech shooter planned to die in the course of his rampage, while the Colorado shooter went to great lengths to survive his. Therefore, I suspect that the Colorado package was more of an “insurance policy,” ensuring that his message would still get out if in fact he had been killed in the course of his rampage, and I still suspect that he’ll attempt to deliver that message orally from the public platform of a trial.
In any case, the reported discovery of this package may raise questions about whether the recipient could have averted the massacre had he/she discovered it earlier, which I doubt, and may then raise questions about whether there’s any potential negligence liability on the part of the recipient and the school, which I also doubt. In order for a mental-health professional to have a legal duty to warn of potential violence, the professional generally has to have actual reason to believe that harm to a specific person or persons is imminent.
This isn’t likely to be a Penn State situation, in which school personnel actively turned a blind eye to evidence of ongoing or impending violent felonies. If the package arrived before the massacre, sure, it’d be great if the recipient would’ve received it, opened it, and stopped the carnage, but I doubt that the shooter risked that possibility. Any assertion of liability on the part of the recipient and/or the school would be rooted in alleged negligence, which would require that similarly-situated, reasonable others would’ve acted differently (e.g. would’ve gotten the package to the addressee more quickly and/or would’ve opened the package more quickly) in the face of a reasonably-foreseeable risk (in this case, an impending mass murder). Given what’s known at this point, a negligence case seems weak. Again, stay tuned!
(P.S. Jury selection is complete, and opening statements in the Drew Peterson murder trial are set to begin Tuesday, finally!)