James Holmes has added his name to a very repulsive list: Jared Loughner: Nidal Malik Hasan; Jiverly Antares Wong: Seung-Hui Cho: Michael McLendon: Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold; Stephen Ressa, — American killers, all. Unlike serial killers, these men might be categorized as “spree killers” or “rampage killers.”
We don’t know all that much yet about James Holmes.
In 2011, Jared Loughner had abused drugs and alcohol. His schoolmates and employers had noticed he had undergone personality changes at some point. He had frequently expressed personal hatred for George W. Bush and his intended victim, former U.S. Congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords.
Less than two years earlier, Jiverly Antares Wong murdered 13 people, mostly immigrants, at an American Civic Immigration center in Binghamton, NY.
You can Google the rest.
In order to make sense of the most recent tragedy, mental health professionals, social psychologists, sociologists and media pundits are looking for similarities between the killers or patterns.
Were they all loners? Were they mentally ill? Were there similarities in their family of origin? (The only obvious link, aside from the fact that they acted on their murderous thoughts, is that they were men.)
What triggered these men? Fantasies? Movies? Books? Internet Conspiracy Theories? Religion? Racism? Politics?
What fueled them? Drugs? Alcohol? Mental Illness? Rage? Hatred? Fear?
How do we classify the killings? Terrorism? Hate-crimes? The desire for infamy?
Who failed to protect the innocents? Mental health professionals? Schools and teachers? Employers? The killers’ families? Friends? The police?
In recent years, criminal justice research, forensic psychology and criminal profiling have become sophisticated and more effective than ever before. One of the missing pieces of all of our analysis and conjecture is: many crimes, including mass murder, and especially terrorism, are actually prevented or stopped before anyone gets hurt. Because they are generally so un-sensational (aside from underwear and shoe bombers and the like), we tend to forget about them, if we learn of them at all.
It’s easy to lay blame on “the system,” society, or our culture (certainly, they’re flawed). Ditto for Hollywood (movies), musicians and music, and entertainers. Also, weapons including guns, planes, cars, matches. Religion and politics, too. But we must remember, people have always justified and rationalized even their most horrible actions and beliefs in all sorts of ways. If you want to find a reason to hate and kill, you can latch onto anything.
I (C.R.) was speaking to a friend from New Mexico who was visiting Denver the day of the recent tragedy. We were talking about how some in the media was blaming the violence on the violent American society. Well, neither of us could argue that there is terrible violence in movies, video games, and music. But then again, if you check out Wikipedia (all right, I know its not a definitive source, but it is a good general starting point) you can find lists of these massacres all over the world, from the Phillipines, Egypt, China, Israel, Germany, Sweden, Norway, the U.K., Yemen, Japan, France, India and so on.
In fact, a cursory glance at the statistics shows that incidents of mass murder are (sadly) about what you would expect relative to population numbers.
Meanwhile, our prayers are with the victims and the families of the victims and the people of Denver. And, as Jordan Ghawi, brother of victim Jessica Ghawi reminds us, let’s focus on the lives (and names) of the victims:
Jessica Ghawi, 24
Alex Sullivan, 27
Micayla Medek, 23
Navy Petty Officer John Larimer, 27
Rebecca Wingo, 32
Matthew McQuinn, 27
Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6
Air Force Staff Sgt. Jesse Childress, 29
Alexander Boik, 17
Alexander Teves, 24
Jonathan Blunk, 26
Gordon Cowdon, 51