Does James Holmes fit the profile of a mass killer?
Published Monday, July 23, 2012 8:40AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, July 23, 2012 2:02PM EDT
Efforts to make sense of the senseless are underway in Colorado as investigators try to understand what compelled a shooter to gun down scores of moviegoers at a midnight screening of the latest Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Attention is fixed on 24-year-old suspect James Holmes, who has been accused of opening fire at a theatre in the Denver suburb of Aurora, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
Assumptions have been thick on the ground about various facets of Holmes’ life, including his mental state, upbringing and social life. But, even with all that’s come to light, criminal profiling experts can’t agree on whether Holmes matches the typical portrait of a mass killer.
Jack Levin, co-author of Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder, notes that Holmes relatively young age sets him apart from most mass murderers.
“Most of these mass killers, with the exception of the school shooters, are in their 30s or 40s or 50s -- they’re middle-aged guys who were doing poorly at the very time they think they should be reaching the pinnacle of success,” Levin told CTV’s Canada AM on Monday.
Holmes, on the other hand, displayed many hallmarks of personal success.
He graduated with highest honours in spring 2010 with a bachelor degree in neuroscience from the University of California, Riverside. A university chancellor has described him as being at “the top of the top” in academic success, while others note his standing as an honours student.
Still, it has emerged that Holmes had difficulty finding a job after graduation. He went on to enrol in a neuroscience PhD program at the University of Colorado-Denver, but was in the process of withdrawing.
“Apparently he was not able to get his PhD, he struggled. And that’s true of most of these mass killers,” said Levin, who is also a criminology and sociology professor at Northeastern University.
“They may not be in a graduate program, but they’re in the process of getting a nasty separation or divorce, they’ve lost their job or they’re deeply in debt. There’s some catastrophic loss and he shares that characteristic,” he said.
'There’s just something more going on’
Another dimension of Holmes’ story came to light over the weekend when the owner of a Colorado gun club said he rejected an application from Holmes after an answering machine message from him that was “bizarre -- guttural, freakish at best.”
Investigators have also pointed out contradictory behaviour by Holmes, who police allege rigged his apartment with trip wires and explosive devices but then tipped authorities off.
Former FBI behavioural profiler Brad Garrett suspects Holmes has mental health issues.
“His behaviour change is just so erratic that there’s just something more going on, other than just anger and rage. I think paranoia, some delusion playing into this,” Garrett told Canada AM.
It’s a sentiment that Levin echoes, speculating that Holmes suffers from schizophrenia. He compared Holmes to others such as Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski, who had paranoid schizophrenia, and convicted killer Sylvia Seegrist who was diagnosed with the same disorder.
‘This kind of crime reflects a criminal mind’
Whatever the case, Garrett notes any possible symptoms were too subtle to detect.
“There are signs, perhaps mental health signs, perhaps bizarre behaviour signs, but not explicit signs to the extent that law enforcement could do much about it,” he said.
Garrett noted that although Holmes reportedly received several deliveries months ago related to body armour and ammunition, the items were acquired legally, and therefore would not be enough to prompt authorities to take some sort of action.
Speculation that Holmes perhaps suffers from a psychological illness reached a fever pitch on Monday when the suspect appeared for his first court hearing with a shock of orange and red hair. His unkempt, wavy hair was reminiscent of Batman’s nemesis the Joker, who is known for wreaking havoc in the fictional American city of Gotham.
Though it’s unclear what might motivate someone to barge into a packed theatre and open fire, clinical psychologist Paul Wong notes that the act required a great deal of planning.
“It’s not a crime of passion or a crime motivated by politics, so this kind of crime reflects a criminal mind,” Wong told CTV News Channel on Monday afternoon.
“People who possess a criminal mind are often called a psychopath,” he explained. “A psychopath, usually, can be very intelligent. The main problem with them is that they have no empathy…also they tend to live in a dream world, an unrealistic world.”
With files from The Associated Press