Her mother’s son

Here we go again.

It’s been a week now since the Umpqua Community College shootings, when 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer, a student at the college, fatally shot nine people and injured nine others on the campus before killing himself when the police arrived.

His mother, Laurel Harper, was a proud gun afficionado and bragged of keeping loaded handguns and assault rifles in the house (guns that Christopher would take with him to school on the fateful day).

Here’s an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times story describing their relationship:

Reina Webb, 19, recalls how closely his mother would keep an eye on him, which to her, “was kind of weird, because he seemed like a grown man.”

She remembers how his mom had to calm him the day he found that someone had slashed the tires on his bike. “He had a fit almost,” Webb said. “Almost like a tantrum, like a kid. . . . He was upset, crying and doing all that stuff because of the tires on his bike.”

Other times, neighbors could hear him in the family’s apartment yelling at his mother as she tried to calm him down. “He would get mad if things weren’t his way,” Webb said. “But she always had him in control.”

Although she never interacted with Harper-Mercer, Webb remembers his mother as a “really nice lady.” “She’d always talk to everybody, say hello and be super nice and always try and watch her son,” Webb said. “She always tried to take care of him.”

Does this scenario sound familiar? It should. Yes, Harper-Mercer was yet another bitter loser, unable to get a girlfriend and with a hate-on for the entire world. But he’s also an example of the boy in the basement, a type I have already written about.

Laurel Harper, in turn, fits the stereotype of the enabling mom perfectly. You can check the items off the list: a single mom (widow or divorced), focusing all of her life on her (adult) baby boy; someone with a background as a professional caregiver (Laurel Harper is employed as a nurse); someone who gave in completely to the idea that her son was suffering from some kind of vague mental/psychological/social/emotional disability (here apparently Asperger’s Syndrome, though I don’t know what evidence there was for that).

Just as the report into the Sandy Hook killings concluded, it all led to a pattern of appeasement, enablement, and accommodation. As it did with Nancy Lanza. As it did with Wenche Behring (another divorced nurse looking after her adult son). Here’s how I concluded my review of One of Us: Anders Behring Breivik and the Massacre in Norway:

Living such an isolated life, Breivik needed very little assistance. He received it, again as so often is the case, from his unhappy, damaged mother. And this is probably the only takeaway. If we’re to recognize the warning signs and draw lines around such people, that’s a process that has to start at home.

It doesn’t take an advanced degree in psychology to see where these situations are heading. As I said at the end of my earlier post: know the signs and keep your distance.

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