The 20-year-old man who allegedly killed one woman and injured 19 other people by driving his car through a crowd of counter-protesters at a white nationalist rally, like several other recent violent domestic extremists, grew up fatherless.
James Alex Fields Jr. was raised by a paraplegic single mother after his father was killed by a drunk driver before he was even born, Fields’ uncle told The Washington Post. Fields is facing several charges including second-degree murder and malicious wounding.
The alleged murderer is just the latest alleged young killer to have come from a broken home.
Dylann Storm Roof, the then-21-year-old white supremacist who murdered nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina two years ago, had a tumultuous home life as well. Roof’s parents divorced three years before he was born, and reunited just long enough to produce a child who would later become a convicted mass murderer.
His father later divorced his stepmother, who had been more involved in Roof’s life than either of his biological parents.
The Boston Marathon bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, similarly lacked an active father in their lives. Their parents divorced years before the terrorist attack. Their father later left the country for the Russian region of Dagestan.
Jeff Weise, the Nazi-obsessed school shooter who killed nine people in 2005, lost his father to suicide. According to news reports, his mother suffered severe brain damage after a car accident. Weise opened fire on his grandfather and his grandfather’s companion, before shooting up his school on Red Lake Indian Reservation.
Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old who killed 27 people (including 20 children) in Connecticut in 2012, hadn’t seen his father in two years before he carried out the shooting. His parents divorced while he was in high school.
Chris Harper-Mercer, who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in 2015, also came from a broken home. His parents separated approximately one year after his birth.
A wealth of social science points to a clear connection between absent fathers and violent young men.
Sociologist David Popenoe writes that “fathers are important to their sons as role models. They are important for maintaining authority and discipline. And they are important in helping their sons to develop both self-control and feelings of empathy toward others, character traits that are found to be lacking in violent youth.”
University of Virginia professor Brad Wilcox has written extensively on the relationship between absent fathers and violent teens and young men.
School shooters in particular are often the product of divorced or absent fathers, according to Wilcox, who notes that “turmoil at home all too often accounts for the turmoil we end up seeing spill onto our streets and schools.”