Like many people, I woke up this morning to the horrific news than a man had shot and killed 12 people (and injured many more) at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. The news hit me especially hard, probably because of my proximity to the tragedy. If it had taken place across the country, the news still would have been terrible, but it would not have touched me so personally. The movie theatre is just a few miles from where I live. I know people who were in the theatre during the shooting. I have friends who I know went to see the movie at midnight, but I don't know which theatre they went to and I haven't heard from them yet.
And, as a forensic psychologist, my mind immediately turns to the perpetrator. We know very little about him at this point--his name, his age, a few statements he has given to the police. It is easy to think this was just a random act of violence. In the coming months, however, we will learn more about James Holmes, and I am virtually certain he will undergo psychological evaluations. It is rare that the shooter survives during rampages like this--they usually end with the perpetrator killing himself or the perpetrator being killed by the police--and it is my sincere hope that we are able to learn the reasons and motivations behind the shooter's actions.
I do not want to find an excuse for what he did. He does not deserve a free pass. Rather, I want to learn from this event so that we can avoid such awful tragedies in the future. Every person in that movie theatre is a victim, whether he/she was hit by a bullet or not. This reverberations of this event will echo through their lives from this day forward. My heart aches for each of them, and it is my hope that we can honor them by fully understanding what happened and how to avoid it in the future. This was not just a random act of violence, and we are doing a disservice to society if we treat it as such.
Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.