“I don’t know if we’ll ever know why,” Toronto police Det. David Dickinson told reporters outside the court.
Even an exhaustive trial may not have provided an answer, but the search for an explanation after a horrific crime is common, experts say — it’s part of how we cope.
McArthur is next in court Monday for sentencing proceedings that are expected to include a detailed statement of facts and at least two dozen victim impact statements.
“People are really just hoping there’s a simple answer at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “But criminologists and sociologists have been studying the motivations for violence for millennia and we still don’t really have a foolproof answer.”
Earlier this week, the FBI concluded its investigation into the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival, when Stephen Paddock killed 59 people, including himself, and injured 851 more while firing indiscriminately into the crowd from his 32nd-floor hotel suite. Despite a thorough, months-long investigation, authorities could not find a “single or clear motivating factor” behind the attack.
Surviving victims of last summer’s shooting on the Danforth and the families of Reese Fallon and Julianna Kozis may likewise never know why gunman Faisal Hussain did what he did.
The lack of explanation for a violent tragedy is part of the trauma, Lee said. “It’s part of the ongoing anxiety and stress that’s connected to thinking about your loved one, whose last moments were in all likelihood very traumatic.”
Trying to make sense of a senseless act helps construct a “grief narrative,” said Stephen Fleming, a psychology professor at York University who specializes in grief. “If we can find out what is motivating (the killer) we have some reason for it.”
Random deaths are “intolerable” to us, Fleming said. “It means that we’re all vulnerable.”
Knowing why a loved one was killed doesn’t make someone feel better, but it does allow people to put some “distance” between them and the crime, Fleming said. “If there’s no reason and it’s completely random it’s way too threatening. It means any of us could die. If you can get a reason you can build a sense of safety back into the world.”
But understanding a killer’s motive won’t bring closure, Fleming stressed — “Don’t ever use that word with bereaved people,” he said. Closure only applies to discrete acts, he said, so while McArthur’s guilty plea might give closure on the question of who is responsible, it doesn’t soothe the thoughts, feelings and emotions of the victims’ friends and families. “They go on a lifetime.”
That said, Fleming added, it’s only after the legal process is complete can grieving truly begin. Before that point “you’re kind of frozen,” he explained.
“To be able to begin to grieve and feel that vulnerability of loss, you have to feel a sense of safety and how can you do that if you’re being constantly retraumatized?”
Scott Bonn, a criminologist and author of a number of books on serial killers, said as humans we are uncomfortable with ambiguity. “We don’t like things that are unresolved, particularly when it involves something as heinous as murder.”
Bonn said we try to understand why a violent crime was committed in order to make it seem less frightening.
“Otherwise, if we don’t have the answer, then it’s just this terrifying idea that maybe we could become the victim of a perpetrator for who knows what reason.”
Brendan Kennedy is a Toronto-based investigative reporter. Follow him on Twitter: @BKennedyStar