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Friday, June 16, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Lance Dickie / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Unsettled by the horror of unfathomable violence

I called the Oregon State Penitentiary to make sure someone was still locked up. He is in there; Delta block, fifth tier, in a single cell. The crazy bastard.

Twenty-five years ago, May 7, Lawrence Moore walked into a packed Salem, Ore., tavern on a Thursday "Ladies Night" and emptied his pistol into the crowd. He stepped outside, reloaded, and went back inside to finish the job. As one wave of horror ebbed, another began.

Four people were killed and 19 wounded. Every one a stranger to him.

The coincidence of an anniversary connected to that bloody night I covered as a reporter may have inspired my curiosity, but it was the murders this spring on East Capitol Hill that really shoved Salem's tragedy back into my consciousness.

In March, 28-year-old Kyle Huff murdered a half-dozen young people and wounded two others. He barely knew them. They had invited him into their house after a nearby rave to keep the party going. In the early morning light, he briefly slipped away — offended, addled or ignored — to arm himself and return with belts of ammunition, a 12-gauge shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol.

Interrupted in his rampage, Huff shot and killed himself that Saturday morning after he was confronted by a police officer.

The link between the two mass murders is that neither tragedy will ever be explained or understood. And that is the scary part for me, and, I guess, most of us.

Moore and Huff were a pair of unremarkable and unnoticed 20-somethings with demons, perhaps connected to being unremarkable and unnoticed. Their motivations will never be divined. Huff is dead, and throughout a trial and 25 years behind bars, Moore has never revealed himself.

My heart does not bleed for either man. That bothers me.

Moore is going nowhere. A jury could not abide sending him to a mental institution. He is locked up for life, working in the prison kitchen, and keeping to himself. One disciplinary infraction in a quarter-century: refusal to provide a urine sample.

Huff is dead and Moore is deprived of his freedom, but in our revelatory culture, the fact their crimes remain unexplained and undissected is almost like getting away with it.

As much as we desire a measure of predictability and certainty in our lives, the unexpected happens with depressing regularity, as your morning newspaper will attest. Absent insight, let alone wisdom, we cope by appending bits of rationalization to bad circumstances.

Any proximity to abused substances, bad neighborhoods, weapons, desperate poor people or bored rich people, dicey weather, fractured families, high speeds, tobacco, arrogance, intolerance and too little or too much government is glommed onto to start a sentence, "Well, of course ... ."

Even those mindless workplace killers who go postal on their co-workers have a connection to a universal font of frustration recognized by those repelled by the violence.

Huff and Moore make all those who learn of their murderous deeds absolutely vulnerable. Utterly random violence lurks in dark recesses. And the victims, survivors and loved ones do not have the thinnest reed of explanation to steady themselves.

A Washington State Patrol forensics report released Tuesday concluded it was highly probable a note found in April in a trash bin was authored by Huff. And still he will be hard to fathom through his sketchy suicide note. But we've all watched enough Oprah, Dr. Phil and CSI to try. His scrawled lament about a sex-drenched society sounds like a hungry soul staring in a bakery window, or a wounded heart, deeply scarred by a very bad experience at a very young age.

Sadly, no one can possibly know all that drove a young man to mass murder, on Capitol Hill or in Salem.

Twenty-five years from now, memories of Kyle Huff will still upset those who recall a horrific crime whose mystery made it all the more disturbing.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is ldickie@seattletimes.com

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