Millions of words will now be written about James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora shooter, in an effort to understand why he did what he did. I’ve talked to a couple of experts in mass shootings and one of Holmes high school classmates and what comes across is a portrait of a quiet loner who was unable to form intimate bonds with anyone in society. What his emotional bonds are with his family remain to be seen but no one has come forward to say they were close to Holmes and there are probably hundreds, maybe thousands, of reporters, producers and journalists working the story.
Mass shooting experts say the motive for these crimes (which by the way is an exclusive male preserve) is always clear — notoriety.
And that makes sense when you consider that most of these mass shooters are alienated from their own lives. Holmes is an extreme example — a classmate of his I spoke to who went to middle and high school with Holmes — says he cannot recall anytime that the two did something outside a school setting, and he doesn’t remember anyone who did. I believe this type of extreme societal isolation is extremely rare.
It’s tempting to call Holmes a psychopath or sociopath or to blame mental illness but I don’t believe any of those labels apply. In fact, those who work with the mentally ill are insulted by people grouping Holmes with them. They point out that the vast majority of mentally ill people are not violent. We like to think people who commit these types of act just snap but experts say there is no ‘snap’ involved; rather, shooters like Holmes plan over months, sometimes years and there is evidence to suggest that is exactly what he did.
The finale they plan always involves a high profile target. Holmes chose the Batman premiere and the midnight showing. The Norwegian shooter chose the island full of teenagers. The Virginia Tech killer chose his classmates.
But back to Holmes high school classmate– what did he think of his one-time school chum? “He was standardly normal, almost forgettable,” said Sumit Shah of San Diego.
He said that, in high school, Holmes was pretty much like everyone else. He carried on conversations, got good grades, joked with his classmates. Hell, he even knew how to play the piano. He wasn’t the class valedictorian or prom king but few of us are. Its only in retrospect now that Shah realized that neither he nor other classmates he spoke to knew anyone who could be described as Holmes best friend. He didn’t have any. No one went to his house after school and there were no girlfriends in his life.
It appears the same description applies post high school. He coasted through life with few people noticing he was even there. He wasn’t the Joker. He was a ghost. He got absolutely no attention which probably explains why he chose a high-profile target to shock our sensibilities. He finally got people to notice him, that’s for sure.