Wednesday, April 18, 2007


In the story that ran Friday, April 13, on The Killer Within -- the documentary about Bob Bechtel, a University of Arizona psychology professor, who, 52 years ago at Swarthmore College, killed fellow student Francis Holmes Strozier -- I excerpted a statement from the Swarthmore administration in repsonse to the film. Below is the statement in its entirety:

"The film is compelling but potentially misleading. After an exhaustive internal investigation following the shooting, the Swarthmore community concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that Bob Bechtel had been the victim of bullying by any other students. It is particularly notable that Holmes Strozier was widely considered to be a kind and thoughtful young man. The single most important factor that cannot be overlooked, and certainly influenced Robert Bechtel's behavior at the time, is the diagnosis of mental illness that prompted a jury to find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
We believe that many of the issues raised by the film are worthy of exploration – whether or not a person can be redeemed following such a heinous act; whether or not someone ruled insane can recover his sanity; the struggle between a desire to forgive, on the one hand, and a desire for justice, on the other, these are all complex issues.
However, out of respect for the Strozier family and our alumni from the time, and for the sake of accuracy, the Swarthmore administration objects to Robert Bechtel's misleading portrayal of the events of 1955. In his comments to the media, to the Arizona Legislature, and in the documentary film "The Killer Within," Prof. Bechtel appears to attribute the shooting solely or primarily to "bullying" perpetrated by his fellow students. Holmes Strozier was a completely innocent victim and no one can watch the film without being moved by the nobility and generosity of his family. We are enormously saddened by the unrelenting pain foisted upon the surviving Stroziers via the senseless murder of Holmes."

In my interview with Bechtel, he disputed Swarthmore's findings that he was not the target of bullying: "Some of the people said there wasn’t any bullying at Swarthmore. I think that’s kind of embarassing to them, because it’s a totally unsupportable position.… If they want to do that, obviously they have a right to, but it’s pretty indefensible."


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