The recent shootings in a movie theatre in Aurora, Colarado, which killed 12 people and wounded another 59, has shocked the world. Fortunately, mass killings like this are not common occurrences. That does, however, mean that there is little known about the thought process behind such events, because experts have very few examples of cases on which to work. However, according to an NBC News article, mass murderers are generally not mentally ill; they simply blame others for their problems, often irrationally, and are therefore seeking revenge.
As James Alan Fox, a criminologist who has written prolifically on mass killings, explains in the article, mass killings take a great deal of time and energy to organise. Everything needs to go according to plan if it is to work properly and it takes someone who is very level-headed and pays attention to detail to be able to put such a plan into practice. He goes on to explain that although people tend to presume mass murderers suddenly snap and react impulsively, this is rarely true.
James Holmes, who has been arrested for the murders, is a highly intelligent man and, until recently, was doing a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Colarado. He had no police record and did not really do anything that singled him out from anyone else. He was said to be a loner at university and was very quiet; to the extent that people barely noticed him. When he dropped out of his PhD programme in June, he gave no reason for doing so.
One sign that Holmes had planned the murders in advance is that he booby-trapped his home with explosives, presumably with the intention of killing the police officers whom he knew would be breaking into his flat after the shooting. However, although he probably spent a great deal of time planning the murders, he wasn’t looking for particular victims; that part of the incident was almost certainly random.
Fox was also quick to point out that those who knew Holmes shouldn’t blame themselves for not realising that he was going to do something as drastic as he did. As he clarifies, mass murderers kill for different reasons and it just isn’t possible to pinpoint exactly why they behave as they do.
As the shootings took place during the latest Batman film, ‘The Dark Night Rises,’ there has been some speculation over the link between violent behaviour and violence in movies. However, another expert, Dr Victor Schwartz, points out that there has never been any significant proof that violent films and computer games lead to violence in real life; there have been studies which have shown it may do, but there are also studies that suggest that it doesn’t. Moreover, as Fox reminds people, the film had only just opened – the shootings took place during the first showing of the film – so it is not likely that Holmes had even seen the film.
There is much to take away from the Colarado shootings, not least the way that the police and emergency services deal with such events. Unfortunately though, it is not likely to add much to experts’ knowledge of why mass killers murder in order to prevent such an atrocity from happening again.