Thursday, August 6, 2009

All the Lonely People

The story of George Sodini, the gunman in the Pittsburgh gym shooting that killed three women and injured nine more, is really a story about the sickness of our society.

I suppose there have always been loners, even back in the days of the Neanderthals. But Sodini clearly didn’t want to be a loner. He longed to connect to people, specifically women. He just didn’t know how.

“A man needs a woman for confidence,” he wrote. “He gets a boost on the job, career, with other men, and everywhere else when he knows inside he has someone to spend the night with and who is also a friend.”

What a heart-wrenching sentence! Sodini was 48, and by his own admission hadn't had a girlfriend since 1984. I imagine him passing the years, knowing he was getting older, his prime slipping away with his potential for marriage or fatherhood.

I don’t mean to excuse what he did. Lots of people are lonely, and they don't go on shooting sprees. By all accounts Sodini planned his crime over a period of months -- time he could have better spent learning how to socialize, or at least seeing a therapist.

But I can’t help but be touched by the depth of his loneliness. How does someone who apparently looked reasonably normal, owned a home and held a professional job become so alienated, so lost? Where was his family?

His neighbor said he was friendly but largely kept to himself. I suspect he was scared of socializing, crippled by his own insecurities. Clearly the desire was there.

This is what I mean by the sickness of our society -- how can someone live in such isolation? Why didn’t George Sodini have some kind of support network?

The Beatles’ song “Eleanor Rigby” comes to mind:

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

(Photo: Edison, New Jersey, August 2009)


  1. The sickest part of this story, in my opinion, is the fact that he had easy access to a gun. It's hard to go on a killing spree without one. It takes a lot of energy to beat people to death, even to stab them to death, but to shoot a bunch of people, all you have to do is squeeze the trigger.

    There have always been lonely, lost people. Before guns, they had to become super strong, powerful, and skillful before they could kill a bunch of people. In that process, they often became wiser, too.

    I love the tale of the guy who "invented" Aikido. He studied martial arts because he was determined to kill the people who killed his parents. He wanted revenge. But by the time he finally encountered the murderers, he was so skillful he simply stepped aside every time they came at him, until they worse themselves out. He didn't have to kill them after all.

    I hate guns.

  2. I guess you could build a bomb that kills a lot of people quickly, but even that takes skill.

  3. Until the murderers wore themselves out, I meant.

  4. I wholeheartedly agree, Reya. Guns are a major part of our social sickness. (I kept waiting for some NRA-type person to say the women in the gym class should have been armed -- as if having a gun battle in the gym would have solved the problem!)

  5. I'm convinced that loneliness is an addiction as fierce as any drug or alcohol addiction. The addicts simply can't pull themselves out of it, often sinking deeper and deeper and occasionally going off the deep end as this guy did, taking innocent people with him.

    I agree that it is so sad that no family members or religious or humanitarian interest groups stepped forth to save him. But maybe he didn't want to be saved.

    No one would ever suggest that women carry guns, advising them instead to carry Mace, so they could deter men attempting to rape them. Why is it that it's mostly men in this society who are the perpetrators of such heinous crimes?

  6. In my usual technological daze i started this message earlier. Hope that post just disappears.
    Because a brain tumor made me sick for several years and changed my personality I wonder if people like this killer could have been diagnosed with a brain MRI, and then perhaps treated.
    If you haven't read my essay on my tumor that Newsweek ran on its website, it's at
    My advice is always to refer anyone you know who has an unexplained personality change to a good neurologist.