A Dark (K)Night
One moment you’re sitting comfortably beside your twenty-something son in a large, crowded movie theater, popcorn and soda in hand, while the two of you peer wondrously at the silver screen as it showcases Hollywood actors portraying comic book versions of heroes and villains. The next, smoke begins to fill the darkened room. Is that a man wearing a gas mask I see? You strain your eyes. Is he somehow part of the show? What’s that in his hands?….At once the top of your head is blown away by a shell fired from an assault rifle held by someone else’s twenty-something son, who, clad in a costume eerily similar to those seen on that same screen, is portraying his vision of a real villain in the real world. Your brain demolished by the trauma, you pitch forward to the floor as the sound of bewildered screams mixes with the echo of gunfire, filling the theater with chaos and terror while bodies fall around your lifeless form. One of them is your son, who, just before fading into darkness, has sufficient time for a final thought: “Why the fuck did this happen?”
Lone-wolf shooters are often particularly smart and come from middle to upper-middle-class backgrounds, yet they’re known to be disconnected from their families in one way or another, suffer from depression/low self-esteem, lack social skills and therefore have few, if any, friends or romantic partners. These factors tend to attract them to extreme ideologies, frequently those of a political or religious nature, which serve as coping/venting mechanisms for their overwhelming frustrations. This transforms into an obsession, which leads to a growing hatred of society feeding their desire for personal revenge. Ultimately, everything culminates with an extraordinarily violent, murderous act of contempt. One only need look at the personal histories of some of the more popular spree killers, such as Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, and Seung-Hui Cho, of the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, to see that they fit the aforementioned criteria to a tee. Now, from what I’ve read about the movie theater shooter, James Holmes, he’s a highly intelligent, quiet, introverted, socially withdrawn individual who, after failing to find a job in California, relocated to Colorado for the purpose of obtaining his doctorate. For whatever reason, that didn’t work out (he had withdrawn from the doctoral program), so it’s safe to say he wasn’t happy with who he was and where his life was headed. I’m willing to bet that a radical manifesto of his will eventually bubble to the surface, as is usually the case. Experts will undoubtedly make an attempt to dissect it, and thereby him, but in the end I think tragedies such as this can be more effectively understood by taking a good, hard look at the driving forces behind the thoughts and actions of the perpetrators: loneliness, isolation, depression, fear, disillusionment, hopelessness, and the resulting fury, are more than enough to send some people off the deep end – and, tragically, many others with them. Sometimes the answer is right before your eyes.