Understanding Teen Killer's Mind: Your Questions Answered

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Theresa asked: Was Jovan suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness and if so how was he able to maintain a normal lifestyle for so many years? He must have been evaluated psychologically when he was in juvenile hall and was that information sealed?

Dr. Welner answered: Information is sealed to enable someone to move on with his life. The system that releases Collier is as invested in his leaving his life behind as he is, because it is a system that has pronounced him ready to go. Drugs and alcohol are also common contributors to teenage violence. Some mental illnesses, such as depression, may bring out violence in teenagers with rage and personality problems. Without more information about the events of his killing, and whatever he communicated to treaters, we have no way of knowing whether his emotions are as unstable. The only thing we know is that he doesn't have schizophrenia, or he would not have the social skills to develop and to deepen new relationships with others who experience him as "normal" so many years later. He would have been noticeably limited. And he would not have the joie de vivre of his life with depression.

I hesitate to credit him for having a normal life until we know more about his work and relationship history. He has the appearance of normality and is likeable enough to draw others to him; the wreckage of his life even independently of the killings it is therefore more indicative of severe personality disorder. Getting more specific is difficult because of how elusive he has been; how does one appreciate him more than as a person who slips through your fingers?

Joe asked: Jovan (i.e. Peter) says he was abused and in some ways tries to blame his actions on being adopted. Why would he kill his younger brother who was also adopted?

Dr. Welner answered: Collier's younger brother was not abusing him, and as he killed his younger brother, he was alienated from him rather than aligned. Collier may well have been abused. But the death of the younger brother speaks to more to the story.

Abuse is a reality in some adoptive homes. Statistically, we cannot generalize about whether it is the nature of the adopted home or the alienated lethality of the teenager who elects to kill. The dead cannot return and tell their side. The explanation that a teen killer provides, "I was abused," is realistic, sometimes manipulated, and often hard to disprove even when illegitimate.

Your Questions About Jovan Collier Answered

Elisa asked: This story terrifies and fascinates me. I recently finished my mental health rotation in nursing school. Something that really stood out to me is that it seemed like his affect was inappropriate during much of the interview segments that were aired. Can you discuss the things that really stood out to you in that regard during the interview and what clinical disorder(s) you think he may have?

Dr. Welner answered: Affect is hard to interpret from a television appearance. The inappropriateness of his nonchalant expression may just be a sign of immaturity and discomfort acknowledging fault. What you learn from is whether those in his life, off camera, experience the same inappropriateness to his expression and reaction.

What one can see is that he is neither intellectually disabled or manifesting a severe psychiatric illness. Sometimes the scariest diagnosis is one with no diagnosis at all.

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