Arsonist is product of national disease

Poor Shane Knapp. His plan to get more money seemed like such a good idea at first. All he had to do was set fire to his apartment building, destroy most of his possessions and collect the renter’s insurance money. What could be more simple?
But something went horribly wrong. A young woman lost her life in Knapp’s money-scheming fire, which he set last week at 301 University Ave. S.E. Eighteen-year-old East-African immigrant Letu Hayato died near the stairwell of the third-floor fire trying to escape. Before that fateful night, she spent four years in a refugee camp after escaping war in her homeland. She sought freedom in America, but instead she found death caused by the stupidity and greed this liberal country sometimes breeds.
Knapp said he needed money because his girlfriend had been pressuring him about his weak finances. Instead of getting off his ass to find a decent-paying job, or telling his girlfriend to take a hike, he decided to jeopardize the lives of everyone in the 27-unit apartment complex to garner a little extra cash.
He didn’t need the money to pay for a lifesaving operation. He didn’t need it because credit card companies, collection agencies and University libraries were harassing him to the breaking point. He didn’t need the money to finish college and make a better life for himself. Not that any of these reasons could ever excuse such a terrible deed, but any of them would be better than “my girlfriend wanted me to have more money.” What the hell is that! That’s the lamest excuse I’ve ever heard.
It boggles the mind how one person can value their own selfish desires over another person’s life. It’s hard to believe Knapp wanted anyone to die from his fire, but the possibility must have crossed his mind at least once during the three times he tried to torch the place.
Fire, Mr. Knapp. You know, that really hot, flaming substance that destroys homes, forests and countrysides every year? It’s that stuff that feeds on oxygen and whatever other material it can consume: wood, cotton, plastic, flesh — yeah, the same materials you find in your apartment building. Did you honestly think you could harness fire to do your bidding without incident?
Fire doesn’t follow the wishes and wants of foolish humans. It does what it wants to do, and this time it took a young woman’s life. She lost her life, Mr. Knapp, because your greed and stupidity got as out of hand as the fire you set.
You created a personal hell for the family of Letu Hayato and all the other people who lost their homes and possessions. Their loss is not only physical, but emotional, as is anyone’s who has suffered through so much at the hands of someone as arrogant as yourself.
As hard as it is, though, life will go on for the survivors. But as far as Mr. Knapp is concerned, he hasn’t even begun his trip through hell. Poor Shane Knapp, indeed. He has many years left in his very young life to think about his incredibly stupid mistakes. If the American justice system works in this case, he will spend those years in a small, dark jail cell tediously experiencing the signs of aging without the joys that accompany them.
Perhaps this sounds like a harsh fate for such a young man’s follies, but people like Mr. Knapp are destroying the very country Letu Hayato dreamt about for so many years. America should evoke images of opportunity, community and freedom to lead one’s own life. Recently, however, America conjures images of school-age terrorists, stock-brokerage psychos, disgruntled postal workers, coma-lapsing college drunkards and a wealth of other negative Americanisms that are quickly reversing the direction of this country from good to worse.
I’ve never worn red, white and blue on purpose, and I am well aware that this country wasn’t discovered as much as taken, but the concept of America used to exist; people actually appreciated the advantages of living here.
Hard work, persistence and kindness used to go a long way, but nobody seems to believe in that anymore. The advent of fast food, fast lube, power naps and high-speed modems brought with it the “I want it, and I want it now” attitude. Oh, and don’t forget its companion, the “And if you won’t give it to me, I’ll take it” mantra.
People grow up in this country with all the world’s riches dangling from a string in front of their faces. The televisions and computers in nearly every home offer glimpses of wealth and bits of distorted dreams. After a daily appetite of the land’s fat, children are tucked into bed with the words, “You can be whatever you want when you grow up.”
Ask any American child what they want to be when they become adults, and they’ll tell you: I want to be an astronaut, a doctor, a movie star or a lawyer. I want to discover a lost city, or be rich or travel the world. Big dreamers, these kids.
But after years of poor schooling and afternoons spent without adult supervision, these children lack the motivation, work ethic or know-how to actually realize their dreams. Thus spawns Shane Knapp, Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Mark Barton and all the other big dreamers who got lost on the way. They grew up thinking the world owed them success, but when reality dealt them a blow, they snapped.
Nothing short of a huge nationwide overhaul in the social psyche will ever solve this unique American phenomenon. But massive social changes don’t happen overnight. It takes years of physical and emotional destruction dealt by the disease-ridden population to get others to notice the problem. Then it takes a few more years of steady violence-induced episodes before the awareness turns to actual change.
I’d say the national meter registers somewhere between realization and modification. Let’s hope it doesn’t take too many more Shane Knapps before America figures out how to solve its biggest problem: how to reclaim its lost children.

Emily Dalnodar’s column appears on alternate Fridays. She welcomes comments to [email protected]