Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous rampage – during which he killed 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech – is prompting research into gun laws, resident aliens and graphically violent writings. Investigators also may want to check his medicine cabinet, because psychiatric drugs have been linked to hundreds of violent episodes, including most of the school shootings in the last two decades.
The New York Times has reported the killer was on a prescription medication, and authorities have said he was confined briefly several years ago for a mental episode. They also have confirmed that the “prescription drugs” found among his effects related to the treatment of psychological problems.
Dr. Peter Breggin, a prominent critic of psychiatric drugs and founder of the International Center for the Study of Psychiatry and Psychology, said even if Cho wasn’t taking psychiatric drugs the day of the shooting, “he might have been tipped over into violent madness weeks or months earlier by a drug like Prozac, Paxil, or Zoloft.”
While media reports have focused on guns and gun laws, Cho’s violent writings and autistic behavior at Virginia Tech and the delay in notifying students and faculty of the beginnings of the shootings, there are those who say the focus should be on his medical history.
“In my book ‘Reclaiming Our Children,’ I analyzed the clinical and scientific reasons for believing that Eric Harris’s violence was caused by prescribed Luvox and I’ve also testified to the same under oath in depositions in a case related to Columbine,” Breggin wrote, referring to the 1999 tragedy when Harris and classmate Dylan Klebold shot and bombed students at the Colorado school until a dozen were dead.
“In my book “The Antidepressant Fact Book,” I also warned that stopping antidepressants can be as dangerous as starting them, since they can cause very disturbing and painful withdrawal reactions,” he added.
The TeenScreenTruth website, dealing with the campaign to “screen” children for “problems” and then prescribe drugs, has documented an extended list of violent episodes believed connected to the use of psychiatric drugs.
They range as far back as 1985, when Atlanta postal worker Steven W. Brownlee, who had been getting psychotropic drugs, pulled a gun and shot and killed a supervisor and a clerk.
Among the specifically school-related attacks the site documents are:
- In 1988, 31-year-old Laurie Dann, who had been taking Anafranil and Lithium, walked into a second-grade classroom in Winnetka, Ill., and began shooting. One child was killed and six wounded.
- Later that same year, 19-year-old James Wilson went on a shooting rampage at the Greenwood, S.C., Elementary School and killed two 8-year-old girls and wounded seven others. He’d been on Xanax, Valium and five other drugs.
- Kip Kinkel, a 15-year-old of Springfield, Ore., in 1998 murdered his parents and proceeded to his high school where he went on a rampage killing two students and wounding 22 others. Kinkel had been prescribed both Prozac and Ritalin.
- Patrick Purdy, 25, in 1989 opened fire on a school yard filled with children in Stockton, Calif. Five kids were killed and 30 wounded. He been treated with Thorazine and Amitriptyline.
- Steve Lieth of Chelsea, Mich., in 1993 walked into a school meeting and shot and killed the school superintendent, wounding two others, while on Prozac.
- 10-year-old Tommy Becton in 1996 grabbed his 3-year-old niece as a shield and aimed a shotgun at a sheriff’s deputy who accompanied a truant officer to his Florida home. He’d been put on Prozac.
- Michael Carneal, 14, opened fire on students at a high school prayer meeting in Heath High in West Paducah, Ky. Three died and one was paralyzed. Carneal reportedly was on Ritalin.
- In 1998, 11-year-old Andrew Golden and 14-year-old Mitchell Johnson apparently faked a fire alarm at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Ark., and shot at students as they left the building. Four students and a teacher were killed. The boys were believed to be on Ritalin.
- In 1999, Shawn Cooper, 15, of Notus, Idaho, took a shotgun to school and injured one student. He had been taking Ritalin.
- April 20, 1999, Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher and wounded 24 others. Harris had been taking Luvox.
- Todd Smith walked into as high school in Taber, Alberta, Canada in 1999 with a shotgun and killed one and injured a second student. He has been given a drug after a five-minute phone consultation with a psychiatrist.
- Steven Abrams drove his car into a preschool playground in 1999 in Costa Mesa., Calif., killing two. He was on probation with a requirement to take Lithium.
- In 2000, T.J. Solomon, 15, opened fire at Heritage High School in Conyers, Ga., while on a mix of antidepressants. Six were wounded.
- The same year Seth Trickey of Gibson, Okla., 13, was on a variety of prescriptions when he opened fire on his middle-school class, injuring five.
- Elizabeth Bush, 14, was on Prozac. She shot and wounded another student at Bishop Neumann High in Williamsport, Pa.
- Jason Hoffman, 18, in 2001 was on Effexor and Celexa, both antidepressants, when he wounded two teachers at California’s Granite Hills High School.
- In Wahluke, Wash., Cory Baadsgaard, 16, took a rifle to his high schooland held 23 classmates hostage in 2001. He has been taking Paxil and Effexor.
- In Tokyo in 2001, Mamoru Takuma, 37, went into a second-grade classroom and started stabbing students. He killed eight. He had taken 10 times his normal dosage of an antidepressant.
- Duane Morrison, 53, shot and killed a girl at Platte Canyon High School in Colorado in 2006. Antidepressants later were found in his vehicle.
- In 2005, 16-year-old Native American Jeff Weise on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota was under the influence of the antidepressant Prozac when he shot and killed nine people and wounding five before committing suicide.
Another case involving a school-age youth – although not at a school – happened in 1986, when 14-year-old Rod Mathews of Canton, Mass., beat a classmate to death with a baseball bat while on Ritalin.
And just a few among the dozens of incidents cited, but not apparently related to schools:
- William Cruse in 1987 was charged with killing six people in Palm Bay, Fla., after taking psychiatric drugs for “several years.”
- The same year, Bartley James Dobben killed his two young sons by throwing them into a 1,300-degree foundry ladle. He been on a “regimen” of psychiatric drugs.
- Joseph T. WesBecker, 47, just a month after he began taking Prozac, shot 20 workers at Standard Gravure Corp. in Louisville, Ky., killing nine. Eli Lilly, which makes Prozac, later settled a lawsuit brought by survivors.
- In 1991, 61-year-old Barbara Mortenson, on Prozac for two weeks, “cannibalized her 87-year-old mother …”
- In 1992, Lynnwood Drake III, shot and killed six in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay. Prozac and Valium were found in his system.
- Sixteen-year-old Victor Brancaccio attacked and killed an 81-year-old woman, covered her corpse with red spray-paint. He was two months into a Zoloft regimen.
- While on four medications including Prozac, Dr. Debora Green in 1995 set her Prairie Village, Mo., home on fire, killing her children, ages 6 and 13.
- Kurt Danysh, 18, shot and killed his father in 1996, 17 days after his first dose of Prozac. “I didn’t realize I did it until after it was done. … This might sound weird, but it felt like I had no control of what I was doing, like I was left there just holding a gun.”
- In 1998, GlaxoSmithKline, maker of Paxil, was ordered to pay $6.4 million to surviving family members after Donald Schnell, 60, just 48 hours after taking Paxil, flew into a rage and killed his wife, daughter and granddaughter.
The website also cites psychiatrist Chester M. Pierce, in a speech advocating for the treatment of children and youth.
“Every child in America entering school at the age of five is insane because he comes to school with certain allegiances to our founding fathers, towards our elected officials, towards his parents, towards a belief in a supernatural being, and towards the sovereignty of this nation as a separate entity. It’s up to you as teachers to make all these sick children well – by creating the international child of the future,” Pierce told a 1973 childhood seminar.
Breggin’s conclusion that whatever mental manifestations were causing Cho’s dangerous behavior, resulting in a professor asking for him to be removed from her class and two complaints of stalking, there was a solution.
“The answer to vengeful, violent people is not more mental health screening or more potent mental health interventions. Reliance on the whole range of this system from counseling to involuntary treatment failed. There is not a shred of scientific evidence that locking people up against their will or otherwise ‘treating’ them reduces violence. As we’ll see, quite the opposite is true,” he wrote. “So what was needed? Police intervention.”
He wrote that “it’s not politically correct to bring criminal charges against someone who is ‘mentally ill’ and it’s not politically correct to prosecute him or to remove him from the campus. Yet that’s what was needed to protect the students. Two known episodes of stalking, setting a fire, and his threatening behavior in class should have been more than enough for the university administration to bring charges against him and to send him off campus.”
He continued with a warning, “And what about drugs for the treatment of violence? The FDA has not approved any medications for the control of violence because there are no such medications. Yes, it is possible to temporarily immobilize mind and body alike with a shot of an ‘antipsychotic’ drug like Haldol; but that only works as long as the person is virtually paralyzed and confined – and forced drugging invariably breeds more resentment.
“Instead of offering the promise of reducing violence, all psychiatric drugs carry the potential risk of driving the individual into violent madness. For example, both the newer antidepressants such as Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa, and the antipsychotic drugs such as Risperdal and Zyprexa, cause a disorder caused akathisia – a terrible inner sensation of agitation accompanied by a compulsion to move about. Akathisia is known to drive people to suicide and to aggression.”
He said he’s been writing for more than 15 years about the capacity for psychiatric drugs to cause mayhem, murder and suicide, but it wasn’t until 2005 when the FDA issued a warning that such drugs produce “anxiety, agitation, panic attacks …”
He said in the Columbine case, Harris “looks the most like Cho. Both were very emotionally disturbed in an extremely violent fashion for a prolonged period of time.”
Carolyn Rude, chairwoman of Virginia Tech’s English department, said Cho’s writings were so disturbing he was referred to the school’s counselors.
“Sometimes, in creative writing, people reveal things and you never know if it’s creative or if they’re describing things, if they’re imagining things or just how real it might be,” she said. “But we’re all alert to not ignore things like this.”
In a statement posted on the TeenScreen opposition site, Sidney Taurel of Eli Lilly noted that it would be “unreasonable” to expect “that there is such a thing as a risk-free drug.”
Another website concerning the psychiatric drugs, called RitalinDeath, also documents some of these cases, as well as additional ones.
Dr. John Breeding concluded in a report shortly after Columbine that there were about five million school children now being given psychiatric drugs, and the number had been doubling every 10 years since the 1970s.
“This has got to be a cause for major alarm in all adults,” he said. “The bottom line is that we are giving stronger and stronger psychiatric drugs to more and more children. Many of our children are taking more than one of these drugs at a time, and many of these drugs were never even tested and approved for children.”
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