The brightest scientists, neurologists and psychologists don't know exactly how the mind works and how things influence the mind in the way they do, so we are left to speculate. When tragedy happens, we point fingers at things we don't understand. We blame this influence or that. We make broad assumptions, some of which are probably true and some of which most assuredly are not.
Even now, authorities continue to comb through the personal items of Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez and talk to his friends and acquaintances to learn the motivation behind the 24-year-old Hixson man's shooting to death of four Marines and a Navy petty officer on July 16.
Meanwhile, a 22-year-old Chattanoogan Aaron Roden has been released from jail and has apologized for a drug-induced, middle-of-the-night rampage that caused $60,000 in damage at Westview Elementary School and more at Erlanger hospital almost a year ago. It's impossible to know just how his bipolar disorder affected his actions and how the additional drugs he took manifested themselves in the incident.
More hazy is the future of Ariel Bradley, a 29-year-old Hixson native who is living in Islamic State-controlled territory in the Middle East after marrying a Muslim man that she confirmed is a fighter for Islamic State terrorists. Though raised in a Pentecostal home and home-schooled, according to a Sunday Times Free Press account, she nevertheless has seemed to move from inspiration to inspiration in her short life to find somewhere to belong.
We know Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait of Palestinian heritage and that he was raised, for the most part, in the Chattanooga area. He spent his teenage years in the same way thousands of others do with friends, sports and school. We know he had a troubled home life, was prescribed medication for depression and smoked marijuana. He also traveled outside the country and had wrestled with aspects of the clash between his faith and politics.
Since he was killed by Chattanooga police during the attack, the world may never know if the depression, the medication, the home life, possible connections to radical aspects of his faith, or none of those, precipitated his attack.
Roden, who had an extensive history of mental illness, drug abuse and addiction, according to Times Free Press archives, had broken up with his girlfriend before the Westview incident. His adoptive parents, who have tried throughout his life to help him, recalled times as far back as nursery school when their son "could not calm down and was 'angry'." He'd been through counseling, a wilderness program, various medications and a diagnosis of being bipolar at the age of 16.
Today, newly released from jail but facing 10 years of probation, a stay at a residential treatment center in Utah and more than $16,000 in restitution, he says he takes "full responsibility for what I did." Yet, since he doesn't remember much about what happened that night, he might never have an understanding whether the breakup fueled the drug abuse, which in turn fueled the rampage, or if his actions simply were a manifestation of his mental illness.
Bradley went from quoting Bible verses to denouncing Christianity to atheism to joining a religious sect that embraces communal living to converting to Islam. After the shooting by Abdulazeez, she wrote on Twitter that she was "gifted this morning w/the news of a brother puttin fear n the heart of kufar [nonbelievers] n the city of my birth. Alhamdullilah [thanks be to God]."
What put her in the midst of a terrorist group wreaking havoc on the Middle East? A confined home life? Mixed messages in the various groups of which she was a part? A mental illness? Her current faith? We don't know, and we may never know.
Thousands of Muslims are born elsewhere, grow up in the United States, live relatively Western lives, and discuss their faith and politics without committing an act of terrorism. Thousands of young adults who live with mental illnesses do not ravage a school. Thousands of young women go through phases of finding themselves without ending up surrounded by violent extremists.
What affects one person won't affect another. What drug helps one person may hurt another. What faith or organization provides solace for one person won't for another.
As can-do Americans, we want to immediately identify and classify a problem, put it neatly into an envelope, seal it and be done with it. But three families are looking for answers they are unlikely to find, because life, unfortunately, is not that easy.