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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

James Holmes and the Madness in Aurora, Colorado


By Thom Nickels

Last week’s Spirit front page asking for prayers and thoughts for the victims in Aurora, Colorado, put me in the frame of mind to write about alleged killer James Holmes.

A person like James Holmes can come from any part of the country. Colorado has nothing in the water, or in its mountain air that taints the sanity of its inhabitants. I lived in Colorado when I was 23, and I can tell you that most of the people I befriended there were warm and honest. If anything, Colorado is super friendly. The personal reserve that is often encountered when you first meet people on the East Coast is not evident in Colorado. While I didn’t live in Aurora (Boulder was my hometown) I passed through the area many times.

Thinking about this tragedy naturally begs the question: what made this seemingly quiet science and math nerd to lose it and go on an evil bender? Nothing in Holmes’ background so far seems to indicate a reason for his rampage. Holmes was not bullied by fellow students, and what he did was not an act of retribution for a perceived transgression. He did not know the people he killed and injured.

Some pinpoint the killer’s academic failure, his flunking of an oral university examination as the catalyst that set him off. They theorize that Holmes snapped after this failure, causing him to lay the groundwork for the attack in Aurora.

This answer, however, seems too easy. A lot of people flunk exams, make major mistakes in their chosen profession, get fired from jobs or even get arrested, but life for them goes on. If someone goes on a killing spree because life throws them a major disappointment, you can be sure that “something” inside their heads prior to the disappointment was not right in the first place.

Smaller versions of the Colorado tragedy occur regularly in our own city. These are “passionless” crimes where killers kill as an adjunct to robbery. There’s no need to kill a robbery victim once you have taken his wallet, but more often than not this is what happens. The murder of Fishtown resident Michael Hagan at 4th and Lombard recently (an in-law of a goof friend of mine) is a case in point. Hagan was gunned down in the wee hours of the morning after a robbery. The thug who robbed Hagan already had his money; there was no reason to shoot him except for sport or fear that Hagan may identify him later.

Holmes, however, planned his spree for two months, so he had plenty of time to get over his academic blues. Instead he cultivated the idea of a massacre like a character in a Warner Brothers film. (Warner Brothers films, by the way, specialize in violence, psychologically disturbed characters and deranged criminals). Perhaps he wanted his fifteen minutes of fame and notoriety, unable to obtain it by working to be a famous scientist (he could not wait that long).

Holmes was obviously a paranoid schizophrenic. An article in Scientific American asserts that “Schizophrenia typically shows up in young adult men from 20 to 28 years.” The piece goes on to trace the development [of schizophrenia] to connections between the cells in the body. “Connections between cells are constantly broken and forged throughout our lives but there’s an amazingly large amount of so-called ‘pruning’ during adolescence…. While the defective gene may be there at birth, its effect does not show up until many years into one’s life, post adolescence in young adulthood.”

A Catholic priest, Father Dwight Longenecker, suggests that Holmes’ affliction might have been of a “psycho-spiritual” nature. “A malevolent, separate intelligence infests the mind and spirit of a person. It takes over the rational faculties and dominates the personality. The phenomenon is real, but anyone who has ever dealt with the problem realizes that the demonic realm is complex.”
Fr. Longenecker also comments on the relationship between role play games and a personality overcome by evil. In his blog he posted the following email comment sent to him from an alleged childhood friend of Holmes.’

“He played on ATL shard and had some weirdo character named Joka. Everyone who played with him including me knew he was weird and had this killing attitude about him. That was a long time ago (and many computers ago) so I guess Origins would have to pull up the chat records on their old server database to see what all his “Joka” character said back then. Anyhow, he was always obsessed with The Joker and Joka stereotypes. You know like clown killing psychopathic garbage….”
In the end, of course, I believe it is society’s job to construct some cautionary limits when it comes to private citizens purchasing military style magazines capable of shooting many rounds of ammunition. Society constructs limits in nearly every other area of life: security restrictions when we travel, laws against child pornography, laws penalizing sex with minors, the purchase of illegal drugs; laws that govern marriage, divorce and child support; laws that make it a challenge to visit countries like Cuba.

Restrictions and legal limits abound, sometimes to excess, but when it comes to guns our society has opted to sit on the sidelines and do nothing.
How long will we sit like the Buddha and wait for enlightenment?

A private citizen should not be permitted to own AK-47s or high-capacity magazines, or the type of gun that Holmes allegedly used, an AR-15 with a 100 round drum magazine. Military style weapons have no business in anybody’s home. For those who say that the Second Amendment of the Constitution permits American citizens to own any sort of weapon, I would ask: how far are we willing to take this right?
Why not the right to own biological weapons?

As a friend of mine said, “Let’s interpret the Constitution according to its spirit, but avoid the literal, strict fundamentalism."

Perhaps if there had been some gun control safeguards in place, Holmes would have just shot himself rather than do what he did.