Mental illness and high-powered weapons (or weapons generally) are a lethal combination. Because in the US there is a wide availability of such weapons, it has resulted in a steady stream of horrific mass killings, particularly over the last couple of years. If you search "recent mass killings/mental illness" you will see a study finding 79% of recent mass shootings (2011-2013) are attributable to a history of mental illness. I'm not about to enter the debate concerning better screening procedures for those who buy weapons, or the advisability of being able to so easily obtain these weapons. I've written on this subject elsewhere and talked of the stats from my country, Australia, after the banning of high-performance weapons, following our worst-ever mass shooting back in 1996. Since that time there have been NO other mass shootings recorded.
No, I'm going to focus on the perpetrator of one high-profile case; the appalling mass shooting in the Aurora Movie Complex in 2012 by James Holmes. The Holmes' case is particularly controversial, because of his recent contact with at least three mental health professionals from the student mental health service, just prior to the commission of the crime. I also believe, that any other behavioral or personal issues put forward as part of his defence of insanity; should not mitigate the full force of the law being applied. Twelve innocent lives were lost and 58 others were injured, in what was (until Lanza's shooting), the worst-ever such case. In addition I need to make it clear, that a 'Life Cycles' forensic examination of Holmes is not to suggest that other perpetrators can be easily compared, or that they committed their crimes in their 'Life Cycles' 'significant years'. No, it's the transition from the outwardly-seeming, successful PhD neuroscience student, to the 'The Joker' look-alike, diabolical mastermind of this horrific crime, in the first six months of Holmes' age 24 "Year Of Revolution", that I'll be looking at.
James Egan Homles was born Dec. 13th, 1987 and so turned 24 in Dec. 2011. Richie Duong, who had known Holmes for over a decade, told the Los Angeles Times, that they had shared a dinner and a movie together in Dec. 2011 and that "everything seemed fine." So, Holmes looked like the left-side photo. From this, you could never have said he was a potential mass murderer, whether or not everything was fine on the inside with him. However, that can be the way it is with mental illness, before the onset of symptoms. Makes the task of trying to keep mentally deranged people away from weapons that much harder.
Let's skip now till June, 2012 and by this time he had just failed a key oral exam and dropped out of his course. He was starting to appear like the right-side photo. Such a dramatic change even had some conspiracy theorists believing they are two different people. (It should be noted, that though I have read widely on the conspiracy literature of this case, regarding an accomplice/s, it currently remains as supposition.) Holmes had previously referred himself to the student mental health service a while back and was currently seeing Dr. Lynne Fenton, who headed up the unit. His medical records show his name was brought to the attention of the university's Behavior Evaluation and Threat Assessment team, or BETA for short. University of Colorado campus police were contacted for a background check, but what happened next is not clear.
Dr. Richard Martinez, a director of forensic psychiatry with Denver Health Medical Center, said:- "At the moment you determine that there is a credible threat here, a credible possibility, the duty to warn is triggered if you will." What was going on behind the closed door of Holmes' off-campus apartment also did not become clear until it was too late. His cache of weaponry and booby-trapping of the whole place. Dr. Lynne Fenton is subpoenaed to appear in court and at issue is a package mailed by Holmes to her and recovered in the campus mail room three days after the shootings. It depicts stick-figure drawings of a shooting. We are left with the inescapable feeling in this whole sorry mess of :- "If only...."
Now there is no question, that Holmes became mentally deranged during the very period, that 'Life Cycles' would say is a life-changing year in so many of the cases studied. Of course, the evidence is that things are usually overwhelmingly positive and that any setbacks and controversies are short-lived. With appropriate action this may have become a case of a threat averted and a very dark-side example of a bizarre, but otherwise limited, controversy, ie. if police were properly informed of the imminent danger he posed. In this case the legal "duty of care" will be a telling and intricate matter at all levels. Right from the psychiatrist's actions, to the mental health service (who dropped Holmes as a patient because he was no longer a student), to the Campus Police, and thence to the University itself and ultimately to the management of the Aurora Cinema complex, for not ensuring patrons' safety. No, this is an almighty mess, that is bound to tie up the courts for years to come.
Also, it should be noted that the legal definition of insanity is different from the medical definition and relies on independent expert reports and testimony of Holmes' mental state, immediately before and during the commission of the crime. It has been reported, for instance, that he had scoped out the theatre in a calculated and cold-blooded way, just days beforehand. But, leaving this aside, nothing will ameliorate the loss suffered by the families and friends of the victims. My sympathies in this case are wholeheartedly with them and I hope they get to see justice done. Till next month :- "may the cycles always bring you good fortune."