Friday morning, the country woke up to the horrific news about a 24-year-old man named James Holmes, who entered a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. with tear gas, an assault rifle, shotgun and handgun.
He shot up the place, killing a dozen and injuring dozens more. His victims ranged from 3 months to 51 years.
It’s still unclear what the reasons for his actions were. The closest thing to an explanation police officials have at the moment is that the movie shown was “The Dark Knight Rises” — the final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy — and Holmes was dressed similarly to the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character from the second installment, “The Dark Knight.“
Other than that, no one knows.
There’s this saying we have in journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.”
One of the first lessons we learn in J-school is bad news tends to take priority over good. I get it. When a crime happens, it’s important for the public to know about it so they can protect themselves as well as be on the lookout for suspects if that is the case.
The Colorado theater shooting is probably one of the worst examples of this saying we have come across in a while and my heart and condolences go out to all of those who lost loved ones. I’m sure there are no words to describe what they are going through and no words to bring them comfort at this point.
As bad as all this news is, one unfortunate byproduct I have noticed from such stories is how people will lump suspects’ families and those close to them with the suspects themselves. These friends and family members will find themselves on the end of a lot of blame. Accusations and speculation will fly about whether they “saw this coming” and if they could have stopped it.
This being said, one of the first things Holmes’ mother said when news reporters contacted her in San Diego about the shooting was, “You have the right person.”
From this, it can be easy to infer that Holmes’ mother indeed “saw this coming” and this worries me for the reason I mentioned earlier. Even if his mother had a feeling something like this would happen doesn’t mean she knew for sure and doesn’t mean she could have stopped it for two reasons:
- First, they live in two different states and it’s hard to know what’s going on with someone when you’re not in contact with them on a regular basis. And even if you talk to a person on the phone, text or email on a regular basis, there are a lot of things that can be hidden or lost in translation when you’re not face to face.
- And second, Holmes is 24. He’s an adult and in control of his own actions. True, parents are charged with raising their children to be responsible and productive members of society, but there is only so much they can do as everyone is their own person.
Now, if the family or friends were helping the suspect, that would be completely different, such as the 2009 shooting of the four Lakewood police officers. The killer’s families were accomplices and deserved all the blame laid on them.
But as of now, it looks as though all the blame should stay on Holmes until further discovery. Photos have been released and they show a clean-cut, nice-looking and happy young man. In interviews, former neighbors in San Diego said he was a nice kid and the only “record” he had was a speeding ticket. You would never suspect he would go on a shooting rampage or that he would booby trap his apartment with explosives, making it difficult for police to or anyone to enter without getting blown up.
It’s still too early to speculate on the whys of Holmes’s actions but I’m sure things will become clearer in time.