Colorado Is Burning, But Not in a Way Anyone Could Predict

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Colorado is still burning, but not in a way anyone would have dared to predict a couple of weeks ago. An eye-watering panorama of flames that recently scorched the earth and destroyed hundreds of homes has morphed into a massive wall of tears as everyone in our state, and the nation for that matter, feels the bitter sting of pain associated with innocent lives taken.

Like many others, I spent days after the Aurora shootings trying to figure out why. How could a person become so disenfranchised and detached from all the beauty in life that he would commit such an unspeakable crime? For me, the answer is both too difficult to fully define and too simple to ignore.

First the hard part. The complexities in this horrific situation are daunting, and involve a multitude of issues including gun control, mental illness, technology, and the misapplication of free will; turning the protective cloak of rights our country was founded under inside-out. Every entity is a sum of its parts, yet solving the mathematical equation that led to the death of twelve innocent people and injury of fifty-eight more is almost impossible. There’s no way to recreate and dissect the combination of variables, representative pieces, and tipping point that led to such an unimaginable outcome unless James Holmes decides to throw light into the cellar of his damaged mind and let us in. Right now he’s not talking.

But with precarious factors resting on an active fault line and an outcome that doesn’t make any sense, there’s another option to consider. The simple answer to such a difficult problem would be to say that James Holmes is crazy. Issue identified, problem solved, and all in just enough time to move forward with life and get back to your regularly scheduled programming.

The paradox within this solution, however, is that crazy doesn’t happen overnight. Even though it’s a slow-growing virus that squares itself and multiplies in seclusion, it isn’t nocturnal. Crazy shines in the light, and like gazing at the sun, instinct tells you to look away because too much exposure could be harmful to your heath.

As much as James Holmes has failed humanity, we, as a society, must have somehow failed him. Nobody seems to know who he is, so in trying to connect the dots of a cratered mind that has collapsed and fallen in on itself, is it possible to figure out who he once was? Could he have been that 5th grade boy bullied in the back of the bus while the other kids around him looked away in fear and shame? Was he the awkward new kid at school, a volatile teenager trying to fit in, who somehow said the wrong thing at the worst possible time while his peers shrugged their shoulders and kept their distance? Was he that grad student who lived down the hall, the one you ran into occasionally doing laundry but avoided making eye contact with because he never really had anything to say? Is he that guy who operated on some type of spectrum no one else tried to understand? Quiet? Thoughtful? Brilliant? Nuts?

James Holmes is the latest poster child for everything wrong with our society. There were others before him, and if we continue, as a human race, to ignore what we don’t want to see, there will be more who follow. Somehow, he slipped through the conscience of our collective societal cracks, and fell so far down that, armed with a critically damaged psyche and a bunker’s worth of ammunition, he actually thought it was O.K. to walk into a movie theater, play out his demented version of natural selection, and commit one of the most atrocious mass murders in the history of our nation.

It wasn’t O.K. The victims aren’t O.K. Their families aren’t O.K. Their friends aren’t O.K. If you know someone, like James Holmes, who isn’t O.K.? Help him.

62 responses »

  1. I haven’t been able to sleep well since that tragedy, and quite frankly, cannot begin to process what transpired. The lives of 70 families are forever changed – 71, actually, including James Holmes’ – and more if you count collateral victims like us. It is quite the cop-out to say that he was sick and crazy – and that now we as taxpayers have to pay $90K a year to support him in prison while he goes through judicial proceedings. But yes, he was an innocent child once and something, many things must have happened in his life to make him justified in his thinking that he can summarily take out the lives of others. Very very sad… Hopefully, we can help others who aren’t quite on that end yet.

    • It looks like we keep the same hours, Stella. Yet one more thing to discuss when we have that cocktail. My sleep has been totally irregular since the shootings, in part because like you, I’m having a hard time turning my brain off. You make a good point about James Holmes’ family…guilty by association. I always love your comments, so thanks for stopping by. I’ll text you to figure out what we’re doing and when. =/

  2. Well said, Stacie. I think there are a lot of variables that converge to produce someone like James Holmes, or the Columbine kids, or the guy at Virginia Tech, or any of the other people who commit such unspeakable horrors. There *are* people who are just psychopaths, but I don’t get the feeling he’s one of them. Was he born with a predilection towards doing evil things? I have no idea, but you’re right, this didn’t happen overnight. Something snapped, and there were probably several points before then where people could/should have intervened. His own mother knew he was the guy who committed this crime—there were signs before this, obviously. What happened?

    I can’t pity him, because he consciously made a terrible one. But I pity the kid he once was and the man he might have become if circumstances had been different.

    • I just said as much to Wendy above and I agree with you 100%. I have no pity for a man who, through free will, decided to murder and injure as many people as he possibly could. The fact that he didn’t kill himself proves that what he did was a calculated attack, and not an ill-conceived suicide mission. One of the comments that stays with me is the same one you reference above, when his mother summarily said, “You’ve got the right guy,” as if she has known all along what he’s capable of. I’m sure I’ll find myself shaking my head for a long time, saying WTF and hoping the next James Holmes gets some help.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You know I love the way your brain works. =/

    • Yes Mme. Weebles! I wondered too about intervention at an earlier age. I wondered about Harris and Klebold and what kinds of issues they might have had early on that could have been helped. — But what do I know!?

  3. Very well stated Stacie and I agree with you 100%. I write characters who do things like James Holmes did and they aren’t 100% to blame for their actions. They are sick. They don’t see things the way that we do and yes, it’s probably been happening for a long time and either went unnoticed or ignored by others. They need help and we can’t keep ignoring them or hoping that someone else will do it.

    • There was this guy I went to high school with who was mercilessly tormented by a few boys in my class. I’ve often wondered what happened to him. He has no internet presence that I’ve found, and honestly, I hope he’s still alive. I never did anything to help him back then, and now, as an adult with children, I wish I’d spoken up. I really regret my inaction. I think some damaged people take their own lives and others choose an outlet like James Holmes did. Neither is a remotely acceptable option. I can’t say that I sympathize with James Holmes as a man, because what he did is inexcusable. But there was a time when he was innocent, and that’s the person I feel for. Thanks for your thoughts, Wendy, and for your twitter shout-out this weekend. I’ll be back ‘atcha in the next day or two. =/

  4. No words can describe this tragedy, since there is no rational reason for it. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all. Particularly heartbreaking is the story of blogger Jessica Ghawi (a.k.a. Jessica Redfield) who survived a June 2nd shopping mall shooting in Toronto, Canada, only to find herself in the audience at the Batman premiere in Aurora. She died at the scene. R.i.p. Jessica.

    • Someone forwarded me a blog she wrote about a month ago. It was about death and how she was prepared for whatever comes next. It’s chilling to think about, really, almost like a fulfilled prophesy in the most horrendous way. Thanks for coming by on a day when I’m not laughing. I always appreciate your thoughts. =/

  5. Very evocative piece of writing. Not many would look at a person like James Holmes and find a person who could have been helped. I agree with you on most counts. As an unwritten code, we as a society owe each other respect, empathy and tolerance. Maybe I am being cynical, but, beyond a certain point there’s sadly nothing much we can do. We need to help people feel accommodated and safe around us, but what if people do not want to be helped? What if their scale of normal is warped?
    I think the ‘James Holmes’ of the country can be helped —only at a very early stage; probably by giving a healthy, non-resentful childhood—something that can be effectively provided only if the child was born out of free-will. This is just a borrowed thought from the studies linking legalization of abortion and reduction in crime, but makes sense even today. I believe that this realisation along with tight psychological support in the formative years could go a long way in preventing the James Homes from slipping down the cracks!

    • You are right, there’s no doubt that James Holmes is no longer innocent. As a mother of three, I can’t help but wonder where everything started to go wrong and if something could have been done to stop him from becoming the monster he is today. The sad thing is, no one will ever know, and many innocent lives were forever changed in asking the question.
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment…always nice to hear your opinion.

  6. I had never known true vulnerability until I became a parent. A couple nights ago, I was up until 1:00am overwhelmed with anxiety because my brain could not locate any logic or reasoning for such a horrific event. Ironically, the greatest insight came from my 7 year-old when I was forced to explain what happened since her friend had told her unbeknownst to me. Bella told me “This is why we all need to choose good, and most people choose that.” She is right. While I continue to grieve for what was, I continue to remind myself that there are billions of people on this planet. The number of people extending goodwill and kindness to others in unfathomable forms, far outweighs those who are not. Stacie- you choose “good” everyday by sharing your gift of wisdom and humor. I maintain that we are on a precipice of remarkable change as a society and I think our children are catching on. Sending love to everyone. XO

  7. Really fantastic, Stacie. Your use of language, metaphor, and allusion is wonderful. This piece is equally insightful regarding the perpetrator of the crime, the crime itself, and the culture that has facilitated–and even inadvertently encouraged–the actual crime. Blaming the perpetrator only goes so far and then it’s time to turn the critical gaze inward, on both personal and community levels. Well said.

  8. Nicely written. I’ve always believed that for a sane person to commit a horrible act, his self-esteem needs to take a real beating. It’s only when one has a terrible impression of oneself that one can rationalize doing evil to others. Every grad student has made jokes about the Ph.D. program inspiring homicidal thoughts. And this guy is obviously smart. Something has happened that’s made him go off the deep end. I don’t know how much sense we can make of this situation.
    You’re right, it’s possible that he was the awkward weird kid who was bullied, but it’s also true that most bullied kids go on to lead normal lives. People, whether on a playground or in a corporation, arrange themselves on a hierarchy of coolness. Those who fall on the lower rungs are mocked, ridiculed, and sometimes worse, ostracized. As a tiny fraction of these people actually take lives, I don’t think it’s fair to blame society for the actions of a few outliers.
    I think this is one of those things that we can’t explain.

    • Thanks for the well-thought, intelligent comment, Bharat. I always enjoy hearing what you have to say.

      I agree, to blame society for one person’s actions seems like a cop-out. We’re all the product of free will, and his decision in that arena is one that there aren’t any excuses for. I think the hard part, especially as a parent, is trying to figure out what went wrong with him, and what I can do as a mother to make sure that the misfires of damaged wiring don’t impact my children, either in a role as the agressor or the victim.

      There was this guy i went to high school with (I talked about him in an earlier comment), who was mercilessly bullied and made fun of by three or four other guys at school. He was on the the lower rung of coolness that you reference above. Although I always felt sorry for him, I never did anything to help him, and I don’t have any idea where or what he is today (like James Holmes, he doesn’t have a internet footprint, I’ve checked). Now that I’m a little (OK a lot) older, I buy more into the “It takes a village” concept of raising children to be happy, responsible adults, and to intervene when something goes wrong…whether it’s my child, a neighbor’s, etc…kind of a moral responsibility that grows with offspring.

      It’s entirely possible that James Holmes was just off. Not bullied, not abused, not ridiculed, just a genetic misfire. If that’s the case, he still could have used help at some point, and with a mom who felt confident that they “had the right guy” when contacted by authorities, it seems like whatever issue caused him to gear up and go to whatever war was going on in his head was longstanding. If he was my kid, I’d sell everything I owned to help him.

  9. The palindrome for it is “evil live s”. And in truly dark places, it flourishes. No one knows why, which only makes it more evil.

    I don’t know if you remember Ted Bundy, but he used to publicly state whenever possible that he had normal parents and a perfectly normal upbringing, despite his own penchant for raping and killing brunettes with long straight hair. (I believe that was his type.) There’s never a full explanation for sociopathic behavior.

    • Too true. I have to believe that an errant (grossly so) gene is at least partially responsible for people like Ted Bundy and James Holmes, the rest being so complicated that it’s almost impossible to figure out. Hopefully, before our children move too far along, some brilliant scientist will figure it all out, and humanity will be the better for it.
      Thanks for the visit and comment. =/

      • I do see it now. Thanks. I get confused, especially when multiple windows are open.

        It’s wild how you think you know other people, but then something like this happens, and you realize you never truly know someone else’s internal landscape. Sometimes I’m not even sure we know our own.

    • Meziac,
      Thanks for such a sweet comment. On another note, my husband would love to sometime hear me say “I’ve nothing to add that hasn’t already been said.” I’m going to borrow that phrase from you if you don’t mind, and use it the next time I’m better off keeping my big mouth shut.
      =/

  10. My Sweet Friend –

    I enjoy reading your blogs, yet this one leaves me troubled. I offer the following caution that a law school professor once shared with me – resist the urge to use the superlative.

    On the one hand, I couldn’t agree more with your broader message that if you know someone who is deeply troubled, please try to help him or her.

    On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that you really meant to say that “we, as a society, “MUST” have failed James Holmes”, that he was “ignored” and that he “is the poster child for ALL that is wrong with society.”

    He volunteered at kids camps, went to church, was academically accomplished, a supervisor at the neurology lab tried to reach out to him and his close friends and family all thought his actions were inconsistent with the person they knew. To my knowledge, he never sought any help.

    As “simple” and presumptive as it might be to say he is crazy, it is equally “simple” and presumptive to suggest (in so many words) that society is likely to blame. Simply put, there is the possibility that HE failed society and the blame need not be shifted.

    K

  11. Hubs and I were talking about this today. As a first responder he gets especially agitated over tragedies like this when he wasn’t there to help. We were discussing the societal implications of violence like this; why our society is more violent than many others. I don’t think the answer is as easy as gun control. I wish it were. I would give up my unpurchased bra holster in a heartbeat. I think it is a complicated problem and says a lot of not so nice things about our need for attention, disconnection from each other, lack of empathy, misplaced values, obsession with violence…and what all else I don’t know. It troubles me, because complicated problems aren’t easy to solve.
    Your ideas are beautifully written, by the way. Difficult subject matter but eloquent use of language.

    • Agreed. I do think his ready access to firearms was a catalyst to his ability to carry out such a horrific crime, but the cause of his actions is much deeper, murkier, and more convoluted issue altogether. I don’t know that we’ll ever know the answer to his issues, but as a parent (I know you feel the same way), it’s a haunting, troubling issue that you want to solve.

      Thanks for the comment and compliment, FF. I’m looking forward to getting back to lighter subject matter. =/

  12. As always, Stacie, your writing helps to make clearer what is truly a muddled mess. I don’t know that there are answers to many of these questions. The next James Holmes is out there somewhere, but how do we know where or when he’ll strike? We can’t arrest every person we think might be dangerous, nor can we alleviate the torment of everyone who’s been bullied, alienated, or neglected in some way — as much as we’d like to. My reflex response is to say we need to get rid of guns, but people intent on murder and destruction will always find a way, even if they have to invent and manufacture it themselves. The Oklahoma City bombing was accomplished with a truckload of chemical fertilizer. You can’t see that coming until it’s too late.

    I wish I had a better answer.

    • I wish I had a better one too, and I appreciate your thoughtful comment, Charles. Compassion comes in various shades and colors. Some of us are animal lovers, others are the glue that ties families together. I’m particularly sensitive to damaged people. I feel not for the person James Holmes is today, but who he once was, and wish I understood how he got so far off-course.

  13. Stacie, you’ve written a very fine thing here. I appreciate that you show more introspection and less of a base knee-jerk reaction than seems to be the norm when tragedies of this sort occur.

    You and I are parents of still fairly young people, and we have the responsibility of doing all that we can to make sure our children put forth all the love and respect and kindness and compassion that they have in them, only partly so that they don’t slip to the other extreme of becoming disturbed killers. It’s easy to think that parents of such people must not have nurtured them enough or paid attention to them at all – but, as you said so very well, it probably isn’t that simple.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Sid. I enjoy hearing what you have to say, and agree that as parents we have to do the best that we can and hope that it’s enough. It’s a huge responsibility, as you mention above, and while most of the time I think I’m doing OK, I sometimes worry that with the best of intentions, I’m somehow damaging the little people I’d do anything to protect.

  14. Thanks for the lovely words. I’m glad you took a little time to process this before you posted.

    So far, everything I’m seeing is that everyone thought he was really smart and quiet. Sadly, it’s always the quiet ones. I know there had to be some kind of sign other than “quiet,” that people were either not paying enough attention to what was going on or deliberately turning a blind eye (Penn State, anyone?). I’m waiting for the massive finger pointing at popular culture to begin, because that always happens in these situations. Someone, somewhere, is going to say Batman made him do it. They will be wrong, of course, but they won’t care. Just like no one cared that this guy spent months gearing up for this. Just like no one cared when he started showing whatever signs of mental deterioration he manifested. Because while he might be legally sane, there is no way on Earth that this guy is anything but crazy. Sane people, however unhappy they might be, do not do what he did.

    Yeah. I think I’m still a little angry. And a lot sad for everyone involved, even Holmes.

    • Mary,

      I’m sitting in the kitchen drinking a cup of tea, and today is the first day that I feel…better. I think about the victims who died as well as those who lived and all of their ongoing physical and mental struggles due to this horrific tragedy and I feel guilty, but I think….good. Whatever I’m feeling is a tiny fraction of what the friends and family of the deceased and injured must feel, and I hope that someone my pain can impact theirs in a positive way. That sounds kind of weird, but it gets back to the society angle of what I was trying to express…maybe by showing our pain, it can help alleviate the hardship of those directly impacted by this tragedy.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
      Stacie

  15. Brilliant post as always, Bestie! I’m not surprised to see that you have adopted the view that Society may have failed James Holmes. As the optimistic person that you are, you’ve again taken the proactive role of one who is NOT a victim. Yes, there are many victims as a result of this shooting – the deceased, the injured, the witnesses, the friends and families of everyone impacted by this tragic event; however, Stacie is asking the questions that need to be asked. What could we have done to avoid this? More stringent gun and ammunition control? Sure. Less stigma attached to mental illness? Definitely. Fewer violent video games? Maybe. More concern for the people around us? Absolutely.

    Every single one of us can probably think of at least one person we’ve known in our lifetime who deep down, we think could be capable of a heinous crime like the Aurora Theater Shooting. I know I can. In fact, I once witnessed an attempted murder/suicide right outside the door to my dorm. It was the first time I realized that guns make a popping sound when shot instead of a “bang.” It was the first time I saw a dead person lying in a pool of blood. It’s not an image I will ever forget.

    Until we, as a society, can find a way to prevent these kinds of tragic events from unfolding, we will have failed. We have to take responsibility for this because the solution isn’t simply putting James Holmes behind bars or putting him to death. The solution involves examining how someone like James Holmes came to be. Some people don’t want to hear his name said aloud. Some don’t give a rat’s ass about his motives. I disagree. If we don’t try to understand why he committed this crime and what in his broken psyche drove him to methodically plan and carry through this atrocity, how can we avoid this from occurring again in the future? How many more Columbines do we need before we stand up and get involved in making changes that protects us all?

    • Dear BB/CC,

      I can’t imagine witnessing a murder/suicide. That image, which I’m sure is seared into your brain, has to be horrific. It makes me wonder about all of the ongoing mental help the victims who lived through the shootings will need. Years and years for some, maybe forever for others.

      Your words give me goosebumps. You have the uncanny ability to make me laugh my ass off when I’m reading your posts, and alternatively sit back with a cup of tea and think about life when I’m reading your comments. Amazing.

      Thank you for such incredible, insightful thoughts and support.

  16. This posting and the comments it inspired are eloquent, thought provoking and for me heart wrenching. My hurt hearts for all the victims of this horrific tragedy.

    Your ability to ask the difficult questions, to try to make sense of the senseless and to see things from the many sides this tragedy warrants is one of the many things I love about you.

    My family has witnessed the struggles of the mentally ill. Through this I have learned that it is easy to decide how we would handle a mentally ill child or adult. In reality those decisions are far more difficult and complicated than they appear on the surface. We have yet to find solutions to the challenges faced by the mentally ill. Until we do I pray that we suffer no more senseless tragedies at the hands of the mentally ill, that there are no more victims. If the senseless occurs again I pray we have the grace to grieve without judgement.

    • It warms my heart just a little more to read a comment from someone who is a friend, although, you’re actually posting under “someone” and I don’t know who you are. I’ve been around mental illness some myself, so I imagine that’s where my compassion comes from. It doesn’t in any way dilute the immense sorrow I feel for the victims of the shooting, their family, and their friends, but James Holmes had to become the empty person who committed that crime. He didn’t start out that way. Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

  17. Bravo. Its nice to see someone who recognizes the true tragedy behind these shooters actions. The tragedy ahead is obvious, and terrible, but our society ignores the SOULs of its young people in favor of imposing rules and conformity. There’s a reason people like him do horrible things, sometimes madness, and sometimes just life.

    • Thanks, Anastasia. I appreciate you taking the time to come by and share your thoughts.

      BTW I know I was following you, but then realized I wasn’t, so I just signed up again. Maybe now I’ll be twice as important which would be awesome.

      Hope you’re well,
      Stacie

      • Hi Stacie.. I noticed that you just followed me, which was weird, because I thought you already had. Did you UNfollow because I was an absentee blogger? 😥

        Our “employer” has taken to only paying us when he wants to. We’re an entire month behind now, and I just went 3 weeks with no internet. DOZENS, nay, a hundred posts to catch up on. And writers block. sigh.

        Your posts are fantastic, of course you will remain twice as important! 🙂

        Keep writing!
        A

      • I had an issue with WP about a month ago when it spontaneously unfollowed a bunch of blogs. I’m back now, so I hope to see something new from you soon. That sucks about your job. Is there anything you can do?

      • Search…search relentlessly for a more ethical and less toxic one. That’s all. Bummer about WP blitzing you! I’ve been having problems with the app and website on my iphone for months. Cannot view notifications on either, and the website at work is so slow it *literally* takes 30 minutes to scroll through one post. That’s why I couldn’t keep up at work. Anyway, I’ve missed your posts and am glad for the chance to catch up! 🙂 As for me… working on it. Having a bit of inspiration doubt.

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