One other factor was crucial in this case, the role of firearms in his family history and their inadequately secured presence in his home. Mental illness, the example of Columbine, and emotional attachment and access to guns were the crucial factors that came together in the Heritage High School shooting incident.
These things are clear from this case. Could there be other cases in which the same three factors did not produce the same result? Undoubtedly there could. The fact that there is at present no way to assess how many such cases there are is not reassuring.
Still, there is one potentially hopeful element here. To the extent that there is a copycat thread connecting the recent school shootings, this presents the possibility that it could run its course, as the infamy of being just one more suicidal loser dims. At a minimum, the increasing passage of time without further recurrence would seem to be favorable, to the extent that a copycat process has occurred.
If, however, the trend of mass school shootings does subside and, in so doing, diverts attention from the plights of other youths as seriously mentally ill as T.J. Solomon, then that diversion of attention would be unfortunate. The problems of family communication, rapid community change, and lonely young people sinking into despair in the midst of an affluent, heavily armed society are widespread. Those like T.J. still need help, even if most of them never hurt anyone but themselves.
Finally, this case raises a wide range of questions, most of which cannot be answered here, about youth, mental illness, and justice. The paradoxes of T.J.’s course through the juvenile and adult justice systems are several. In order for him to be tried as adult, it was necessary to deny his mental illness, a denial that has been definitively mocked by subsequent events. In an era in which the long-standing assumptions of the juvenile justice system are under sustained attack, this case reminds us that youth are not adults, and it points to a very particular aspect of this difference. Mental illness does not arrive full-blown. It cannot be assessed in a 15-year-old as well as in a 25-year-old.
This realization leads directly to another paradox. Even though in this case state law formally tied transfer to adult court to an assessment of mental health, the ability of state institutions to provide adequate treatment to mentally ill juveniles may have been severely compromised. Just two years before the incident at Heritage High School, the State of Georgia resolved an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice into conditions of juvenile confinement by signing a memorandum of agreement designed to improve education and mental health services and improve monitoring of physical abuse. The judicial processes that sent T.J. to a long prison sentence as an adult did not happen in a vacuum. They