Christy Sheats, a 42-year-old mom from the small town of Katy, Texas, shot and killed her two daughters. On Friday night she convened a "family meeting" with her husband, Jason Sheats, and their two daughters; Madison (17 years old), and Taylor (22 years old). She opened fire on her entire family, chasing them out into the street, according to TIME. Christy went back into the house to reload her weapon, and returned to shoot her daughter Taylor again before following Madison and killing her too. While the entire story is awful and will be discussed, there is one thing people need to remember about the mom who shot her daughters that fateful night.
Since the shooting on Friday that ended the lives of three women (an officer fatally shot Christy Sheats in the street when she refused to relinquish her weapon), there has been a lot of chatter on social media about the case. People are understandably concerned and confused; Sheats was a mom, after all. And not only did she kill her girls, but she chased them down in the street to kill them. She even took time to reload her weapon. It's impossible to comprehend, isn't it? Especially to other moms, I think. People look for explanations, they look to understand how a mother could do something like this. And it looks like some people feel they might have found the answer: People reported recently that Christy Sheats had a history of mental illness.
According to People, the Fort Bend County Sheriff's Office had visited the Sheats' home more than once for "previous altercations" involving her "mental crisis." Sheats and her husband had recently reunited after a separation, and People reported that Friday was his birthday.
The altercation happened after a family argument broke out between the couple, and family friend Madison Davey told New York Daily News that Jason Sheats told his wife to "just shoot yourself. Make it easy on all of us, just shoot yourself." To which Christy Sheats reportedly replied, "No, that's not what this is about, this is about punishing you."
While it's tempting to play the "blame game," citing Sheats' reported history of mental illness and washing our collective hands of her, perhaps it's not as simple as that. It's psychological profiling to pigeon-hole "those" people with mental illness and make assumptions about them. Of course, she had a mental illness, so that explains everything, right?
According to a study by John Hopkins School of Public Health researchers, only 3 to 5 percent of people suffering from mental health issues are violent. So why do people so often try to point to mental illness as a factor in violent behavior? The study points the finger at media reports that encourage the connection between mental health issues and violence. The researchers wrote that, "The news media's continued emphasis on interpersonal violence is highly disproportionate to actual rates of violence."
It's tempting to want to find a scapegoat, to use mental illness as the go-to explanation for acts of violence many of us can't understand. But it's far too dangerous a road to travel. Christy Sheats reportedly suffered from mental illness, yes, but she was also a longtime pro-gun advocate. Her Facebook feed was filled with pro-gun rhetoric, particularly in recent months. She wrote a post in March saying,
It would be horribly tragic if my ability to protect myself or my family were to be taken away, but that's exactly what Democrats are determined to do by banning semi-automatic handguns.
And in January she shared a meme that read, "I have 10 guns. Obama wants 8 of my guns. How many guns do I have? That's right, I have 10 guns."
In reality, none of us will ever really know what drove Christy Sheats to kill her girls. So let's try not to make assumptions that could potentially wound people who suffer from mental illness. They need our support, not our off-handed labels or the stigma that could prevent them from seeking help should they need it.