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Questioning an Answer

By Noah I. Dauber

"We must search for answers," counseled the Reverend Edward Casey at the eulogy of 22-year-old Jeremy Giordano, one of the two victims in the recent "pizza killings." This is not all that unusual a thing to say at a funeral. Death often comes by surprise, leaving survivors to puzzle out a meaning. Somehow, though, this death is more capricious than most--more shocking in its suddenness. As Dennis O'Leary, the prosecutor assigned to the case, has said, "There's a randomness to it, I think that a lot of people find very unsettling and scary."

Indeed, without any motive, the facts are few: two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, lured two pizza delivery men out to a secluded house on Saturday, April 19th and shot them in the head and chest straight through their rolled-down car window. Both men were then dragged from the car and shot multiple times at point-blank range. The killers used stolen handguns, looted from a sporting goods store some days earlier. No money was taken from the delivery men and the pizzas were left untouched.

The police have resorted to pure speculation, suggesting that the teenagers killed the delivery men "just to see how it felt." But I have had much trouble with this conclusion. It leaves me unsatisfied not because it does not explain the teenagers' actions, but because it cannot explain the pizza deliverers' deaths.

The teenagers' actions are only one half of the question, and perhaps the less important part of the question at that. The newspapers are very concerned with this half, as is their business. After the who, what and when, come the stabs at why. The New York Times blames the killers' upbringing, the broken homes and (pushing their luck) even the fact that there is nothing for teenagers to do in Franklin, New Jersey. The Daily News stretches still further, blaming "gangsta rap."

I cannot make heads or tails of such explanations. All of them seem calculated at some political end or another, without offering much in the way of explanatory power. I think of this grasping at straws as some ploy to understand the world, to suggest that the elimination of broken homes would spell the end of evil.

The police have more of a handle on things. They state simply, with the criminologist's eye for psychology, that the boys killed to see how it felt. Here we have an entirely inward explanation, severed from the world at large as well as from the victims. In some sense this explanation is convincing as one female teenager from Franklin made clear on ABC: "That's something that not very many people in the world know what it feels like. They probably just wanted to know, see if they could get away with it, I guess."

How can curiosity account for the deaths of two young men? It may explain the actions of the teenagers, but it fails to reach beyond them. I am reminded of Kant on the existence of God, who explains that our thinking cannot wish God into existence. Nor can the thoughts of two teenagers explain the deaths of two other men.

Traditional motives weave killers and victims together. A social component may bridge the divide between the murderer's psychology and the reality of the victim's death. For instance, we may be satisfied that years ago a killer was wronged by a victim in a business dealing.

Without such a motive, the important question becomes: why these men in particular? Giordano's parents have had a remarkable response. "They are not very angry about this now," said Reverend Casey, "They're hoping and praying that, because this happened to their son, maybe that means it saved someone else."

There is a meaning to Giordano's death. Giordano in particular died so that another might live. This is the greatest of human sacrifices, to be understood through the sacrifice of Jesus. This is a response of tremendous humility and generosity.

Some will have difficulty with Giordano's parents' answer. They will find any attempt to explain the randomness of the modern world naive. On my more skeptical days, I have to agree. But I find some consolation in the Biblical story of Job, perhaps the unluckiest good man ever to have lived. When Job demands an explanation for his bad luck from God, a voice replies out of the whirlwind: "Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Who fixed its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line over it? And on what do its supporting pillars rest?" Perhaps there is someone who understands, even if we do not.

Noah I. Dauber's column appears on alternate Tuesdays.

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