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Who is a hero and who is a villain?

Heroism can be a strange thing. It’s like a double-edged sword. Anything or anyone can have the word attached to their deeds and rightfully so. Yet, how it is perceived in the public eye and by those involved can vastly differ. Rarely is there a clean-cut case where the honor is unanimously bestowed on its recipient.

In January, we watched heroism right before our eyes as a passenger plane that had taken off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City was forced to do an emergency landing on the Hudson River. The pilot of that plane, Chesley Sullenberger, was hailed as a hero by all.

This past week former tennis great Andre Aggasi had excerpts of his upcoming autobiography released. In them, he admitted to taking crystal meth when he was playing professionally. Though he managed to kick the drug habit and become a tennis legend, his heroism in admitting as much has been met with both praise and harsh criticisms.

This past week, there was yet another heroic deed that occurred. However, much like Agassi’s case, this action is being called both an act of heroism and an act of unnecessary violence.

On Tuesday, October 27, 2009, a very bizarre and tragic scene played out at Massachusetts General Hospital. The events unfolded this way, according to an article in the Boston Globe.

The Globe said that Dr. Astrid Desrosiers was attending one of her patients in the Bipolar Clinic and Research Program on the fifth floor of the hospital. The patient, Jay Carciero, attacked Desrosiers with a knife, stabbing her multiple times. A colleague attemped to throw Carciero off of Desrosiers to no avail.

Paul Langone, an off-duty security officer, was on the same floor. A “Special Officer,” licensed by the police and authorized to carry a gun and make arrests, but employed by a private company, he saw a situation that required immediate action. Langone allegedly ordered Carciero to stop, but was ignored. Then Langone fired at Carciero several times, hitting him in the chest and head. Carciero died of his injuries.

This is where heroism becomes a double-edged sword. To the hospital staff, Langone is clearly a hero. But for Carciero’s family, Langone killed a sick man. In his attorney’s view, Langone acted “rashly”, as the Boston Globe quoted him.

Is Paul Langone a hero? I think he is. I understand that the patient in question had bipolar disorder. But that doesn’t excuse attempting to murder someone.

In this case, it is clear that Carciero was a danger to others, attacking a doctor with a knife. Without intervention, Desrosiers would have been killed. As of Oct. 31, she is still in serious condition.

Now many will question the means in which Langone acted. Put yourself in his shoes? What would you have done if you were him? If you saw a 250-pound man in a rage, with adrenaline flowing, violently stabbing a doctor, what would you do? He ordered Carciero to stop, and he didn’t. If Langone had charged and tried to tackle Carciero, would it have done any good? The man was in a rage and that may have given him more time to deliver the fatal stab to Desrosiers. Additionally, a colleague of Desrosiers had already tried that without success.

Langone probably understood this. He did what he was trained to do. Sometimes, deadly force is necessary. Langone shot Carciero to halt the stabbings. He fired several times to make sure that the attacker was subdued.

In a situation like this, one does not have time to aim and go “Ok, a few in the chest and head should do the job.” Langone may have known in the vicinity he was aiming, but he likely just fired at will at the man. Langone was trying to prevent a murder and used the force that he felt was necessary  per his training to subdue the target.

It is tragic that Carciero died. But perhaps the situation called for it. Is Paul Langone a hero?

Matt Kushi is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at mkushi@student.umass.edu.

Comments
2 Responses to “Who is a hero and who is a villain?”
  1. Ed says:

    The real question is not who was the hero, Langone clearly was (and is THE case for EVERYONE being allowed to carry a gun, the classic case of where private gun ownership saved a life) but who was the villain?

    One of the things that I have seen – far too often – is true incompetence in the mental health profession (particularly with social workers) who then hide behind the law to sort out the messes that they have created. If you nonchalantly put up a building wrong and it falls over, well, (a) no one expects the building to fall over and (b) you don’t get to blame it on the building. We all know that if a doctor operates on the wrong leg, it is malpractice.

    Yet I have seen (repeatedly) such levels of malpractice in the mental health field and it is nonchalantly ignored. Don’t bother to do your job well, and then throw the guy into jail (commit) because you didn’t. Well, why exactly was he stabbing the doctor in the first place????

    Bipolar or not, something set him off. I am not saying rationally, but something set him off…

  2. Mike says:

    The mental health field is not as clear-cut as surgery or other sciences. Everyone has a leg, and the insides look and work the same. But, no two brains operated the same. With mental health, every case is different, requiring deep investigation into each patient’s mental health and history.

    However, this is no excuse for the bipolar man being put in the situation where he could possibly kill a doctor.

    Now, I believe guns should be available to all. BUT, there needs to be stricter background checks AND training. Would you trust an everyday person (not a security officer) with a firearm to save your life without damaging you? With the adrenaline soaring in an untrained person, the odds of them hitting the correct person is very low.

    The same level of training and licensing required for driving an automobile (a deadly weapon in the wrong hands) should also be required for firearms.

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