Friday, July 20, 2012

Mass Murder in Colorado

It does not appear to political terrorism--and the man arrested for this crime was described by his mother this way:

 San Diego woman identifying herself as James Holmes's mother spoke briefly with ABC News this morning.
She had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.
"You have the right person," she said.
"I need to call the police," she added. "I need to fly out to Colorado."
He's 24.  He engaged in an apparently irrational mass murder against strangers using carefully thought out methods.  His mother thinks he is "the right person."  What do you think the chances are that he is mentally ill, and that this has been apparent for some time, but because we don't do anything about this.

Cafe Racer in Seattle.  Now this.  I keep trying to get someone to pay attention to this with a book like My Brother Ron and yet nothing happens. Are we just not sufficiently concerned as a society?

UPDATE: CBS News reports:
Holmes was a student at the University of Colorado's medical school but withdrew last month, according to the school.
This fits the pattern: smart young man--something went terribly wrong.  Likely, schizophrenic breakdown.


  1. Very impressed by your book. I had no idea that psychology had become so ideological.

    Explains the treatment of my own mother who attempted suicide and has been virtually ignored by the mental health authorities. Once they prescribed meds, the assumption is that everything MUST be ok, she's on meds.

    This news story reads like a chapter.

  2. Lots of these schizophrenic breakdowns seem to happen shortly after some big academic failure. How does the causality tend to run there? Guy's in a program a little too tough for him, fails out, and the emotional impact of that is what triggers the breakdown; or schizophrenia symptoms start to build up, making it harder to perform in school leading to dropout then to total breakdown? Or some combination?

    One thing I do worry about is that the symptoms of impending schizophrenic breakdown aren't strong or reliable enough beforehand to justify restricting someone's rights far enough in advance to prevent episodes like last night's, especially where the person owned guns long before the schizophrenia symptoms started to manifest.

  3. Reports I've been seeing suggest that he not only dressed up as the Joker to commit his crime, but also made comments where he seemed to identify himself with the Joker, though it was unclear from what I read whether he believed he was the Joker, or simply wanted to emulate the Joker. If those reports are accurate, it would also fit the pattern of a mental breakdown.

  4. Anyone who has had a relative or friend with severe mental illness has to be asking these questions. Somehow, things just fell through the cracks.

    I haven't had time to get to your book, but I'm familiar with the social trends that led to de-institutionalization, the inability to forcefully institutionalize most psychotics, and the general neglect.

  5. Anthony: I really don't know which causes what. Does stress cause collapse? Or does the decline in mental health make it hard to stay with the academic program?

    I am not proposing that rights be taken away without pretty good reasons, but we have gone too far the other direction now.

  6. I just bought the Kindle version of your book and recommended it to some friends. Hope that we start to wake up to this problem as a society. Good luck and best wishes.

  7. Clayton - part of my question is whether there is enough time from when a person's deterioration is obvious (or discoverable) enough to when there's a high risk of a psychotic episode to meaningfully do anything to prevent this sort of crime.

    Holmes had been falling apart obviously enough that his parents knew it was him, but how long ago was that obvious to them? Even if we had a good mental-health system, how long before monday night would they have been able to say that Holmes was mentally ill enough to not be allowed to buy guns? (Or to turn over any he might have owned.)

    Some of this has to do with the progression of schizophrenia - how rapidly do the symptoms progress, and how long does it take for the symptoms to be clearly distinguishable from other causes.

    On the other hand, there are how many new cases of schizophrenia (and other mental illnesses which can trigger incidents like this one) every year, yet mass murders happen less than once a year.

  8. No, mass murders happen several times a month. Sometimes they get big coverage, sometimes they are largely ignored. The Cafe Racer murders in Seattle in late May were given very little attention, for example.

    For a while, each such event was given enormous press (if it involved guns); then the mainstream media figured out that the outsized coverage was causing copycat crimes, so they no longer pay attention to the "small" mass murders.

  9. Just saw on CNN that the police are VERY CAREFULLY clearing the guy's apartment with the help of bomb disposal teams -- apparently he left his apartment booby trapped, hoping to kill police officers who showed up to search it. (Fortunately, they've been successful so far in disarming the traps he set, and as far as I've heard so far, no police or other first responders have been hurt by the traps).

    Yet more evidence for the "he believed he was, and/or wanted to emulate, the Joker" theory.

  10. rmunn: I've read more than that from a neighbor in the complex, apparently he put his stereo on a timer to play music loudly and left his door unlocked. Which was of course booby trapped. She's very glad she didn't invite herself in after her knocking got no answer....

  11. Demon possession, i.e. Satan ... much more likely.