What prompted Thomas Piccard to fire more than two dozen bullets at the Federal Building in Wheeling on Oct. 9 will never be known with certainty. Piccard's rampage ended when police killed him.
The 55-year-old ex-policeman left lots of clues. As U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II said last week, writings found with Piccard showed he had "deep hatred for the federal government."
But there was more. Piccard had learned recently he was seriously ill. And, again according to Ihlenfeld, the gunman had his "heart broken" by a woman.
It is known that Piccard obtained the guns and ammunition he used in the shooting legally. He was subjected to and passed background checks for both the rifle and pistol he purchased.
What, then, should those concerned about preventing violence make of the Piccard tragedy?
Piccard's situation was a very complex one, as Ihlenfeld hinted. Deciding his hatred of the federal government was solely or even primarily to blame for the shooting would be a mistake.
Too often, violent acts such as Piccard's are explained simplistically. As his case demonstrates, that is a mistake that may well prevent us from learning enough about troubled people to keep them from turning to violence.