James Holmes: An All-American Mass Murderer
I have something I want to say about James Holmes, the young grad school drop out who opened fired on innocent victims watching the premier of the new Batman movie in a theatre in Aurora, Colorado, taking the lives of twelve people, some of whom were children, and injuring at least 58 more. People are shocked and angry, feeling helpless, and understandably so.
But as we look at the news coverage, the images of a dazed Ronald MacDonald look alike with his shock orange hair, as we look at this man who fails to grasp the immensity and darkness of his deeds, let us not lose sight of one thing: he is a human being. He was until a few months ago the kind of young man we wanted our kids to emulate: a smart young man, an achiever, a scholarship recipient, someone we expected to succeed.
Before the pictures of the new orange hair I had emblazoned in my mind a picture the Times ran, of him perhaps at the start of grad school, with a dimpled, somewhat awkward smile and intelligent eyes. I see him as young, and vulnerable. I see him as a victim, too.
Maybe it’s because I have seen this before, up close and personal, someone seemingly at the top of their game going off the deep end.
All this summer I’ve been wearing the expensive and incredibly stylish summer wardrobe my sister purchased for herself in the height of a drawn out manic episode that had been heretofore unprecedented. After three weeks in the psyche ward where she hardly ate and lost pounds she didn’t need to lose from her already fit frame, she hadn’t lost sight of the fact that how she looked was important to her. She was a beautiful woman with a delicate, almost elfin face and straw colored hair. She was a businesswoman by day, and by night she was tragically hip, rocking a ghi on the Aikido matt, or stylin’ in some Free People threads in a pan-Asian restaurant.
Up until the bitter end, she hadn’t let go of her need to be beautiful. She would show the world that she wouldn’t be reduced to that flimsy hospital gurney with its soul-less print and the awkward gaping slit up the back.
This is the thing: long before she committed that final act, flying swanlike (in my mind) over the “hapless heads of the people walking below” (as she had portended in a facebook note at least a week before she did just that) my sister cried out for help, and no one helped her.
When she flew the paper airplane into her boss’s office during an important meeting (an airplane made of the chart he had requested), she was crying out for help.
When she wrote about the incident on facebook she was crying out for help.
Her firm had protocols in place for handling this sort of thing, protocols involving the offering of help, the availing of therapeutic services, recognizing that a job like hers could be extremely stressful, and that, given the circumstances and the lousy economy and the rounds of layoffs and the need for secrecy in the form of “I know my friend, who’s worked here far longer than me, is about to get the axe, but my lips are sealed” played over and over and over again like a scratched record, could get to anyone. ANYONE!
They kicked her to the curb. They had her arrested. All the protocols went out the window. And a few weeks later she was dead.
Why did James Holmes’ circle of family, colleagues, professors and friends fail to help him?
I’m dismayed when I read news reports that people think Holmes is faking his insanity. I’m so dismayed. We are so quick to turn him into a monster. It seems easier for us to demonize him than to see his suffering…to think that maybe there were signs that we might have picked up on… that everyone could have played a role…in saving him, in saving the community…instead of turning our backs…instead of running from something that makes us uncomfortable. So we end up further alienating the alienated. So we end up with bodies broken. We end up with death and devastation. Because we feared the recluse, the strange and unpredictable behavior. And we tried to make it go away by ignoring it.
I wish the media, instead of selling out our rage, would help us find a way to look in the mirror from time to time, and see ourselves in that young man, and perhaps become better equipped to help the next James Holmes.
But isn’t it easier to just turn on the DVD player and slip in another Batman movie and believe that our troubles are slipping away? Isn't it easier to believe that he's not our problem? That he doesn't belong to us, and never did? He does though. He is someone's son, someone's nephew, someone's grandson. People that knew him probably called him "Jamie." They are asking themselves, "What ever happened to our Jamie?"