The stabbing death on campus of a Binghamton University professor has elicited an eerie déjà vu: another bout of deadly public violence, incomprehensible in its savagery.
As Ehtisham Siddiqui, president of the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier, said Sunday in a memorial for slain Prof. Richard Antoun, the murder "goes beyond all explanation ... a lot of us are struggling to understand ... and frankly, I have no clue."
There may never be a full understanding of the crime that has left 46-year-old post-graduate student Abdulsalam S. Al-Zahrani charged with murder. What has emerged is that the suspect was perceived as being anxious about transferring to another academic program and receiving financial aid. Some observe that he may have been irrational.
As we mourn Prof. Antoun, we must wonder whether any preventive measures could have averted the tragedy.
How fine is that line between anger and violence? How can a disagreement turn into a knife-wielding threat, as reportedly was the case when Al-Zahrani confronted a roommate over a cigarette and then walked away? And what would go through a person's mind that might provoke an attack on a professor who spent much of his life promoting peace?
For most of us, arguments seldom trigger such violence.
It's no exaggeration to say this is a time of almost unprecedented stress in our country, our community and in our families.
Many people have been knocked off their feet by circumstances beyond their control. Jobs lost or threatened, mortgages going unpaid. Givers forced to become takers at food pantries.
Al-Zahrani has been described as "desperate," an emotion no longer unfamiliar to many people. Would appropriate intervention have made a difference, if he had sought it?
Many human services agencies are working with individuals who are not their typical clientele, points out Keith Leahey, executive director of the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier. His organization is no exception.
Some who always managed to cope with life's problems are now having difficulty doing so. They understood they needed help, and reached out for it.
"I think everyone has their threshold," Leahey says. "We also have a huge problem with suicide. Many find themselves feeling so hopeless they find themselves contemplating - or completing - suicide."
Help is waiting for anyone who feels overwhelmed - and there is no shame in using it. And if you see someone who may be in trouble, intercede by suggesting help, or get a person in authority to do so. Anyone can call and talk to counselors who need never know their name. And any face-to-face meetings are strictly confidential.
The national mental health/suicide prevention 24-hour hotline is (800) 273-TALK (8255). A call to that number will be routed to the nearest crisis center where a trained individual will listen, provide other resources - and offer some hope.
"There is always hope," Leahey says. "It may require a little bit of digging, and looking inwardly, but there is always hope."
Hope for help out of personal crisis, and maybe even help in preventing a tragedy.