We are incredulous at man’s inhumanity to man.
Invisible demons prey on people’s minds and lead them to do evil all around us. And we don’t see it until it’s too late. Or in some cases we see and suspect and keep silent.
Whether or not these are demons created by mental illness, something in the mind fertilizes seeds of aberrant behavior behind masks of normalcy. Some people with whom we work and play every day may hide the very problems that trigger such abhorrent actions.
Now the microscope is on 24-year-old John Holmes and what may have set off the explosion of rage that sent him to murder 12 and injure dozens in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a midnight premier of “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20.
“In all likelihood, the Colorado killer was depressed and socially isolated, having no place to turn when he got into trouble,” writes Jack Levin, professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.
Levin, writing for the New York Daily News, says most mass killers seek revenge against someone they see as responsible for some catastrophic loss in their lives and are selective in targeting specific individuals. By contrast, he says, “After leaving a Ph.D. program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado in June, (Holmes) opened fire in a crowded cinema rather than on campus where he might have taken the lives of the professors on his graduate committee.”
Levin suspects Holmes’ indiscriminate massacre is a sign that mental illness played a role, possibly schizophrenia.
On the other hand, according to an article by Reuters, experts in forensic psychiatry trying to figure out Holmes think his was a “generalized paranoia and rage against the world rather than a specific grudge” that spurs most mass murderers.
A scholar who has studied mass killers since the 1970s told Reuters, “People want to believe that someone who does something like this must be floridly psychotic. They think, ‘Ah, he’s mentally ill; now I understand.’ It makes people feel they and people they know would never behave this way,” said Louis Schlesinger, professor of forensic psychology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.
“Schizophrenic or not, there is really little that can be done to deter a mass killer once he has murderous intentions,” writes Levin. “But we should attempt to intervene in the life of a troubled individual long before he becomes troublesome. The Virginia Tech mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho had been bullied and humiliated throughout middle and high school, but nobody bothered to help him. It was only during his college days that an instructor who felt threatened by Cho’s behavior in class attempted to get him into counseling. At that point, it was simply too late …
“The lesson is clear. We should set aside our own difficulties to help individuals who are suffering not because we are scared, but simply because it is the right thing to do. In the process, we might actually prevent a mass murder.”