The Man behind the Gas Mask: An insight into the Perpetrator of the Colorado Shootings

Barack Obama visiting victims of Aurora shootings (C) Pete Souza

By Devon-Jane Airey

News of the Colorado shootings at the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ screening in Denver have dominated the press over the weekend and, although the nature of such tragedies always have an element of the disturbing, this case (taken place in a state already haunted by the memories of Columbine – all but 14 years earlier) seemed to be particularly so. ‘When he was arrested, he told officers he was the Batman villain the Joker’ said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who spoke with Aurora police about the incident. It’s not uncommon to suppose the perpetrators of such crimes have some form of mental impairment. But all this made me wonder, as I can imagine anyone would, who exactly this man was, what his mentality seems to suggest and, what’s more, why (even after the global shock at the events of Columbine) such tragedies are still occurring.

The young man, who graduated college with honours in neuroscience, grew up with maths and science. His mother, Arlene, has been licensed as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. His father, Robert, is a mathematician who develops statistical models for financial services, specifically looking at fraud. William Parkman, 19, knew Holmes because he attended Westview High School with Holmes’ younger sister. ‘He seemed to have a good demeanour,’ Parkman said. ‘The news reports you hear about him, it’s as if people are talking about one person in San Diego and one in Colorado. Who he is now is not who he was in San Diego.’

Authorities are still piecing together how the young man from San Diego went from the study of human genes to suspected mass murderer. He was in the process of dropping out of the neuroscience department, according to the University of Colorado, where he enrolled last June as a graduate student. ‘He was in some of the research towers,’ said Dan Meyers, communications director for the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Holmes was not in the medical school but worked in research facilities on the campus. Meyers would not say whether any particular event led to Holmes’ withdrawal. He said Holmes ‘voluntarily left that program in June 2012. He was in the process of completing withdrawal.’

And yet, although his mentality and methods may still remain foundered on uncertainties, there are some very interesting certainties that are worth looking in to. It is believed Holmes acted alone in what is understood and termed by police as a ‘Lone-Wolf Terrorist’. A subject matter that Todd McGhee, a former Massachusetts state trooper who is now managing partner of Protecting the Homeland Innovations, has some interesting comments on: ‘Lone-wolf terrorists are extremely intelligent and often come from very good socio-economic backgrounds, but they become despondent. They become isolated from family members. Then they grab on to an ideology. Some people find religion. Some people find anti-government. He had a level of comfort to walk in to the theater. He had been there before. He knew the layout.’ Indeed, he planned his attack well enough to create what is called ‘a fatal funnel.’ When people hunker down to avoid bullets, he throws the tear gas to flush them out and shoots them when they do. But, he said, Holmes took his attack one step further. ‘His mission wasn’t to end it right there at the movie theater,’ McGhee says. ‘There was a part B to this attack.’ Part B was the booby-trapped apartment. ‘He can see what he was a part of,’ McGhee said. ‘He can view the response. This is what his claim to fame would be.’

And it is perhaps this calculated behaviour and dramatic transformation of a man previously thought to be of a ‘good demeanour’ that seems a sort of puzzling certainty. We know the attack was planned meticulously and that he had descended into a mentality of anarchy, but there is little logic behind his actions. With no considerable victimisation of society or isolation from an early age, one is left wondering why one man felt so much hatred for a society that seemingly showed him little adversity.

But maybe that’s something one will never understand. And for each tragic case it is difficult to find any definitive conclusion. But, it would seem, commentators have suggested that the answer to achieving a prevention of similar events is through tighter gun legislation. Of course, from an Englishman’s observation, this is clearly easier said than done. With the purchase and permitting of guns embedded within their constitution (‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ 2nd Amendment of the American Constitution) it is difficult, if not impossible, to ban guns outright. In that case, perhaps emphasis should not be on the banning of guns, but on making the process of obtaining them much harder. Indeed, Holmes was clearly mentally disturbed and able to, with relative ease, purchase his weapons online and have them delivered to his doorstep – as well as ordering enough ammunition to suit a small brigade in all but a 14 day period. This must, clearly, show a fundamental flaw within the system that needs to be addressed. But one cannot help wonder what it will take or, indeed, how many tragedies the country may have to endure before any substantial legislative change is made.

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