Author, Teacher, Psychologist and Speaker

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Posted by on Jul 23, 2012 in Blog, Monday Musing | 4 comments

Once again a nation collectively mourns death at the hands of a young man who looks like the “boy next door.”

Growing up, James “Jimmy” Holmes was a popular kid who “got along with everybody”. He was athletic – often chosen first by his classmates because of his speed. He was friendly. He loved music. He was, as one friend said, a “normal dude”. Another childhood friend said that he was a nice, quiet kid who played and got along well with all the other kids. He was not a loner back then.

He was already proficient in computer programming at the age of eleven, setting up a class website. An honor student, he was competitive academically – often challenging his friends to get better grades. Holmes was raised upper middle-class in suburban San Diego and played Junior Varsity Soccer in middle school and Varsity Soccer in high school, where he also ran cross country. He had been a camp counselor.

As he grew a little older, according to one of his teachers, he was quiet and shy. He grew up in the Presbyterian Church. His pastor said that he never initiated conversation, that he was extremely introverted. Some people began to notice he kept to himself more, but he was still excelling in his studies, especially in the sciences.

He graduated with honors from the University of California-Riverside with a Bachelor of Science degree in Neuroscience. Holmes was a member of several honors societies, including Phi Beta Kappa and Golden Key. He was an intern at the Salk Institute, where he designed a computer program to illustrate brain injuries. He was a doctoral student at the University of Colorado.

His Colorado neighbors described Holmes as a recluse and a loner, who always kept curtains closed and lights off at night. He was isolated, by now, with very few friends. He had no web presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace or Twitter.

When did that “good” kid go “bad”? Why does a shy boy, an honor student, an athlete, a budding scientist become a young man we will fear, even hate? Where is the turning point? There are many influences on behavior. Probably no one thing would cause a person to incite this complete chaos. But could the comic book itself, which has a scene with this type of violence, be a contributing factor.

When apprehended, Holmes told law enforcement “I am the Joker”. He had painted his hair red, like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight. According to some sources, there is new evidence suggesting that he was inspired by the Batman series of comic books and/or movies.

Some have cited the 1986 comic by Frank Miller. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns contains a scene in which a lunatic kills people in a movie theater. A similar scene occurs in The Dark Knight Rises where a violent gang, led by a masked villain, blasts into a packed football stadium, and fires guns and throws explosives on the innocent crowd.  In Frank Miller’s comic book series, The Dark Knight Returns, the Joker murders an audience by deploying “smile gas.” Holmes began his massacre by setting off a smoke bomb in the theater.

I have no idea why James resorted to this unspeakable act. There are numerous reasons/causes for aggressive, violent, and/or deadly behavior. Some of which are:

  • Previous aggressive or violent behavior
  • Being the victim of physical abuse and/or sexual abuse
  • Exposure to violence in the home and/or community
  • Genetic (family heredity) factors
  • Exposure to violence in media (TV, movies, etc.)
  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Presence of firearms in home
  • Combination of stressful family socioeconomic factors (poverty, severe deprivation, marital breakup, single parenting, unemployment, loss of support from extended family)
  • Brain damage from head injury

Some warning signs might be:

  • Intense anger
  • Frequent loss of temper or blow-ups
  • Extreme irritability
  • Extreme impulsiveness
  • Becoming easily frustrated

Do you think that the prevalence of media violence – video games, television, movies, music – contributes to the kind of deadly force that James Holmes enacted upon the patrons in that Aurora, CO movie theater?

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