As life gets back to normal for the rest of the world, there are a few people who cannot stop reliving the early morning assault at the Century 16 movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado. As a professor at the University of Denver, I knew one of the victims well. He was a smart, caring individual. He stood out among his gifted peers as a compassionate therapist. Everyone who met him wanted to be his friend.
I also know his fellow students, some of whom were in the theatre with him. They too are victims of this terrible event, and they are among those who are reliving the shooting. I see the pain in their faces, and I worry about their recovery. I know the research--the risk of substance abuse, the anger, the broken relationships. It terrifies me to think that good people may have experienced a negative life-altering event at such a young age. At the same time, I have hope for these students--they are all trained to help others, and it is my hope that they can support each other and help themselves.
My connection to the shooting is distant at best, but it has still affected me. Given my line of work, I meet with criminals and alleged criminals all the time. Some are drug abusers, some are child molesters, some are murderers. It is easy to run the risk of detaching myself too much from these crimes, thus forgetting the lifelong effects these actions have on the victims, the victims' families, the friends, the teachers, the neighbors, and so on. Like a stone dropped in a calm pond, the ripples radiate far and wide.
The horrible tragedy in Aurora has reminded me in a raw, tangible way that every crime (however big or small) has an effect on a large number of people. I must also remember that every criminal has a story to tell, and there are times when a mental illness or a horrible childhood must be taken into account when explaining the criminal's actions. But, those factors will never completely excuse an individual's actions and they will never take away the pain of those affected by heinous crimes.
I want my life and my work to get back to normal. And it will, soon. But, I do not want to forget my experience over the last few days. I think it will help me to be a better psychologist and be of better service to my clients, victims' families, and the court system.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.