Did psychological treatment in the form of anger management fail to prevent another mass shooting?
Ahmad Alissa, charged in the shooting deaths of 10 people in a Boulder grocery store on March 22, received psychological anger management as part of his sentence of probation, after pleading guilty to a charge of misdemeanor third-degree assault in 2018. As a high school senior in 2017, Alissa had attacked a classmate by punching him in the head without warning and continuing to punch him when he fell to the ground.
Alissa is now being held in Boulder County jail on 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. Police found him at the scene of the slaughter with a tactical vest, a semiautomatic handgun and an assault rifle, according to the arrest affidavit.
Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold also received psychological treatment. After being arrested for breaking into a van and stealing electronic equipment in 1998, both spent 11 months in diversion programs, which included psychological counseling. Harris’s program also included an anger management class.
Just two months after Harris and Klebold completed their diversion programs, they launched their attack at Columbine High School in April 1999, killing 13 people and wounding 26 others.
Documents later released by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office included a diary kept by Harris, filled with hateful and angry entries written over the two years leading up to the Columbine attack.
In an entry dated November 22, 1998 – just days after completing his anger management class and while his counseling was ongoing, Harris wrote about purchasing weapons and ammunition for the assault he would launch with Klebold the following April, concluding: “It’s all over now, this capped it off, the point of no return.”
Harris had also been taking antidepressants for at least a year before the Columbine massacre, drugs which have been linked to agitation, aggression, abnormal behavior, mania, psychosis, suicide and violence. Psychiatrist Peter Breggin and biopsychologist Ann Tracy are among those who make the case that Harris’s anger was fueled by the antidepressants.