While in high school, James Kimmel — now a lecturer in the psychiatry department — faced a challenge familiar to millions of students: constant bullying. Although the taunts started with more minor verbal and physical abuse, the bullying slowly became more serious and extreme, Kimmel said. One night, a group of students drove up to Kimmel’s home and shot his pet beagle in the head. The following week they blew up his mailbox. It was on that night, he said, that he reached a breaking point. Kimmel said he grabbed one of his family’s loaded guns and pursued his bullies by car, catching up to and cornering them outside a barn. With one hand he grabbed the gun, and with the other he reached for the car door. But — in what he attributes to a “spiritual experience” — Kimmel said he realized that by shooting the bullies, he would effectively be ending his own life in the process, as well as taking everything away from these students. He put down the gun and drove away.
Decades later, Kimmel is starting a website called Saving Cain to provide resources and support for others contemplating murder or mass shootings. Kimmel said the website includes the phone number for the national crisis hotline, as well as a nine-step role-playing tool that enables users to release tension and satisfy harmful urges in a nonviolent way. Just as the focus of the war on drugs has shifted from mass incarceration to individual treatment, Kimmel said efforts to prevent shooting should include both stricter gun laws and preventative mental health resources. Because would-be assailants often spend significant amounts of time reading about mass shootings and conversing on the “dark side of the Internet,” Kimmel said it is important to provide an alternative online resource. He added that the inspiration for the website came from the recent shooting that killed ten people at an Oregon community college, as well as his own traumatic high school experiences.
“Late one night last week, I was awakened by the idea of what supports are out there for someone who is thinking about murder,” Kimmel said. “If they were on the Internet searching about why they are having these thoughts and what they can do about it, they would have found nothing. I’ve also been there — I held a gun and stared at my victims right up until the last second. I did that because I wanted justice. I know that feeling deeply, and I have worked for decades trying to find ways of controlling it.”
Kimmel said he believes the website is the first of its kind, adding that evidence supporting its effectiveness is two-fold. First, the part of the brain that contains the desire for revenge — an urge associated with murder — is also associated with drug addiction, he said. By offering tools that have proven successful in treating substance abuse, the website could be effective in reaching would-be shooters, Kimmel said. Additionally, he said that because mass shootings commonly result in suicide or long-term incarceration for the shooter, suicide hotlines — like the one included in his website — could make a difference.
While those interviewed said Saving Cain can only have a positive impact, they still doubted the effectiveness of Kimmel’s approach.
Stacy Spell, a former law enforcement officer and the New Haven project manager for Project Longevity, an initiative which aims to reduce violence in Connecticut cities, said an online platform meant to curb the problem of mass shootings could work, though the success of the website will only become clear with time. However, Spell said he doubts Saving Cain will ultimately be effective because its target audience typically would not be interested in exploring such a resource.
“The problem is that people so mentally ill will not normally reach out to an alternative site or mental health alternative, because they are geared toward becoming infamously known or linked to a shooting incident,” he said. “But anything that provides a ray of hope for these people — anything that would give them a way to articulate, vent or direct them toward the proper resources — is of course worth trying.”
Emma Speer ’17, a cognitive science major, said one potential issue with the site is that motivations for mass shootings vary greatly — from mental illness to a bad day — but the website’s content is fixed.
However, because Saving Cain could help would-be shooters feel like they are not alone, psychology major Luca Eros ’18 said she supports the website.
Ashlynn Torres ’19, a prospective cognitive science major, said there are only advantages to launching Saving Cain.
“I think it’s worth trying, because there’s a chance it could reduce the number of mass shootings,” she said.
Kimmel is the author of Suing for Peace: A Guide for Resolving Life’s Conflicts.