Could mental health stand at the root of mass shootings?

By Alfonso Flores

Florida State University

The recent tragic events in Tallahassee have triggered the heightened discussion on gun violence, an issue thoroughly discussed at the Miami Herald’s inaugural Florida Priorities Summit.

As part of its Influencer Series, the Miami Herald selected a group of experts from an array of different backgrounds discussed the Florida’s challenges and collectively proposed solutions.

On Nov. 2, a gunman opened fire in a Tallahassee yoga studio, taking the lives of two individuals– and injuring five others. Scott Beierle, the 40-year-old shooter,  died of a self-inflicted gunshot moments after the attack.

He wasn’t the first active shooter in Tallahassee. Four years prior, Myron May,  31, opened fire in Florida State University’s Strozier Library, and shot two students and a faculty member before being gunned down by the police.

Both shooters had a history of mental illnesses.

“Often times, clearly the victims of those who die of gun violence are the primary focus, and it should be,” said Dr. Robert McClure, President and CEO of the James Madison Institute. “Often times too, there is so much collateral damage to those who are left behind—the friends and families of those who are killed to students who may live in fear and anxiety. Unfortunately, Tallahassee still sees itself as a small town where these kinds of things don’t happen.”

Prior to entering the yoga studio and killing Maura Brinkley, 21, a student at Florida State, Nancy Van Vessem, 61, Beirle had a history of posting provocative videos that suggested a hatred of women. The former military veteran and Florida State alum also had a record of physically harassing women on numerous accounts.

May, an attorney and FSU alum, had published videos on YouTube that depicted the Wewahitchka, Florida, native as depressed and seemingly suicidal.

“A lot of these people, particularly those in Tallahassee, had major mental health issues,” said McClure. “Red flags were popping up for a long time before and for whatever reason, those folks weren’t stopped, they weren’t held up, they weren’t taken into a hospital.”


Florida Priorities Summit identifies the state’s most pressing issues

By Alfonso Flores

Florida State University

One week after the midterm elections, the Miami Herald, el Nuevo Herald and Bradenton Herald are hosting the Florida Priorities Summit as part of their “Florida Influencer Series.”

The two-day summit, at the University of Miami, brought together experts from across Florida to use their expertise to propose solutions to the major challenges facing the state: education, gun violence, healthcare, transportation and infrastructure, and environment.

“We went out to the influencer group and said ‘what are the top critical issues that we need to address,’” said Alexandra Villoch, president and publisher of the Miami Herald. “We also went out to readers across the state and invited them to come back and give us their ideas. There was a remarkable amount of consensus that led to these being the top topics.”

Using a crowd-sourcing tool, the Miami Herald asked readers across Florida which issues and topics mattered most.

“The number one issue that the influencers identified as most important to Florida’s future is education,” said Julio Frenk,  president of the University of Miami. “Education is truly the engine that makes progress possible in all other areas: the economy, the environment, social justice and healthcare.”

At the event, the influencers were divided into groups, each of which focused on one of the five different topics., and explored potential solutions to some of the hottest topics facing the Sunshine State.

“Between the work of the influencers today and the summit tomorrow where we invite the community in, our goal is that we will prepare documents that we deliver to our new governor and to our new elected officials in Tallahassee and to the local officials,” Villoch said. “We want to continue this through the 2020 elections and we want to make sure that we have civil engaged discourse that really speaks to the real issues that we have.”