Trying to Make Sense of Senseless Sheridan and Germanwings Tragedies

John Sheridan. Andreas Lubitz. They seemed so ordinary. What does that say about us?


He was 72 years old, a collector of antiques, the well-respected Cooper University Health System CEO, the father of four sons, married 47 years to the same woman. He was “mild-mannered.” He “made a living with his head, not his hands.” He had “a really strong relationship” with his family. That John Sheridan would kill his wife and then himself in their suburban New Jersey bedroom was so unthinkable that those sons hired their own forensic pathologist and staved off a declaration of their father’s cause of death for six long months, sure there had to be another explanation. An antiques dealer who knew Sheridan called the notion that he’d killed himself “ridiculous.” “If you’re going to tell me John did it, it was murder-suicide, then tell me why,” the wife’s brother challenged the Inquirer, in a story published hours before the Somerset County prosecutor’s office finally ruled the tragedy just that.

He was 27 and lived in a middle-class third-floor apartment in Düsseldorf, Germany. A neighbor said he was “very shy.” People who saw him recently “said he didn’t appear to be burdened.” Those who knew him said he was “quiet, pleasant and responsible,” according to the Wall Street Journal — right up until Andreas Lubitz locked his captain out of the cockpit of the Germanwings plane they were flying and plowed it into a mountainside.

Last week was a helluva week for the meek and mild.

Someone like Adam Lanza, the young man who shot up an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut … well, there were signs there. Same with James Eagan Holmes, the troubled man who opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. What’s unsettling about Sheridan and Lubitz is that no one seems to have noticed a thing before all hell broke loose. Reports say discussions between Lubitz and the pilot were “normal” and routine for the half hour they were in flight before the crash came. A fellow member of Lubitz’s flight club told the New York Times he was a “cheerful” man who “gave off a good feeling.” At the Sheridans’ memorial service, Governor Chris Christie eulogized the couple: “It is impossible to think of a world in New Jersey without John and Joyce Sheridan.”

Perhaps, in time, more information will come to light about Sheridan’s physical and mental health, and about the mysterious medical issue Lubitz had, to judge by the doctor’s note authorities found at his apartment — the one that would have excused him from work on the day he died. Then again, we may never know more. And even if we do, we still won’t understand what made the two men drag others with them into the valley of death. What they did was ridiculous. Absurd.

His wife of almost half a century. The mother of his children.

One hundred and forty-nine strangers, including a vibrant young Drexel grad.

Two reminders that we can never truly know our fellow human beings, and of the forlorn solitude so many of us carry inside.

Follow @SandyHingston on Twitter.

For confidential support if you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Learn about the warning signs of suicide at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.