Friday, July 20, 2012

Mass Killing in Colorado Theater (Updates)

The reaction is still unfolding, but reports are that a gunman opened fire in a crowded theater in Aurora, Colorado late last night, at a midnight showing of the new "Batman" film.  Current figures show that 12 people are dead and 59 wounded.  The gunman, identified as James E Holmes of San Diego, California, surrendered on the scene to police who responded to the shooting within less than two minutes, some of whom were already at the scene for crowd control. 

Student photo of James Holmes

Holmes was reported to be dressed in black with his hair dyed bright red, with protective armor including a helmet and throat, groin and leg protectors, wearing a gas mask, and used an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun, and a .40-calibre Glock handgun.  A second identical handgun was available.  He started his attack by tossing what was apparently tear gas, or military CS, cannisters at the audience.  While the police (as I write) have traced the weapons to various dealers in the area, I am curious about where he obtained the cannisters. 

Holmes told police upon his arrest that his apartment nearby was booby-trapped.  Police and firefighters who responded there confirm that there are trip-wires connected to 2-liter soda bottles, containing an unknown liquid, though some police call it a "flammable or explosive material".  They are proceeding to process that scene with all necessary precaution.  There are unconfirmed reports that he told the police that his red hair is a reference to a fictional Batman character named the Joker. 

More details are forthcoming and I will leave that to other reports, but there are a few items that strike me off the bat.  I was immediately curious about how he was able to enter the theater with so much gear and weapons, but there is indication that he entered the scene through a rear exit door.  That would be locked to the outside, which tells me that he disabled the lock on that particular door in advance, which speaks more to premeditation, just as setting booby traps in his apartment.  'Experts' will often speak of perpetrators like this as having snapped, but this is rarely the case.  Mental instability of this sort is a behavioral disorder, and these examples speak to someone who knows exactly what he or she is doing.  They are fully in touch with the consequences to others.

There are also reports that his parents (who understandably request some space for the time it will take to process this tragedy), when told by phone that their son was in custody for this mass-killing, responded that the police probably had the right man.  This would also indicate a known background of mental instability, though of course it is practically impossible to predict conduct of this sort.  (I deal with mentally unstable criminals in my current vocation.) 

The press yielded to their stereotypes when they initially inquired about whether Holmes was a veteran.  He is not.  He was, however, a medical student at the University of Colorado Medical School, and holds a Masters Degree in Neuroscience.  Perhaps in the future, the press will include medical students in their list of likely suspects for killings.  There are reports, however, that two sailors and one airman, presumably from nearby Buckley AFB, were wounded in the attack, and one sailor is still missing.  Witnesses attest to at least one service member trying to assist with the wounded.  Perhaps the press will include this information in their reports once their knees stop jerking.

There is another report from ABC News, with George Stepanopoulos eagerly introducing Brian Ross with the news that Holmes could be a member of a local branch of the Tea Party.  That is also untrue, and has been repudiated in no uncertain terms by a spokesman for the Tea Party, with a subsequent apology by Brian Ross. 

Expect, as we have frustatingly seen before in these circumstances, further attempts to try to attach this to the Right and conservatives in general.

On the political scene, both President Obama and Governor Romney suspended campaign events and gave brief comments about the tragedy, with Obama saying "such evil is senseless" and how it is important how we treat each other, and Romney calling it an "unspeakable tragedy" and a "hateful act", quoting from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 about the comfort of God and how we should comfort others,and how a wounded community lives in goodness and compassion, and is "lifted up in prayer by people in every part of our great nation". 

I hope such sentiment on both sides continues, but experience tells me that it will be short lived.  I pray that I'm proven wrong.  Likewise the opportunities for tightened gun control, as if the gun is at fault (and passing by questions about why nobody shot back), while dropping statements about how we have to "understand" the compulsion of the killer.  Also, there are already reports of shutting down the Batman movie in places, which is probably as effective as pulling "Helter Skelter" from the Beatles' White Album after the Manson Family killings.

Expect to hear declarations, and soon, about how this event should spur further laws in favor of gun control, as if that device or tool has a soul or some capability in the decision process.  Yet these same critics will likely say nothing (unless it is in favor) of the large mass of people living amongst the community at large, who are seriously unstable and capable of such acts of violence.  We previously were able to be more active about securing such potential threats to others and themselves, but that has fallen by the wayside because of concern for their 'rights', as opposed to the rights of the community.  The present system sees such threats (and I have dealt with them) being commited to community health centers in hospitals for observation and stabilization, only to be turned out as soon as possible to make way for another of the horde that needs the same.  It is a revolving door process that just delays the inevitable.

Update:  And so it begins ....  Also, he could be a Democrat, or not.  Or maybe he listens to Rush Limbaugh.  (H/T to Donald Sensing at Sense of Events.)

For what should be the humiliating attempt by ABC to implicate the Tea Party, Rick Moran of PJ Media explains it well.
And what made Ross make a beeline straight for the Tea Party website in the first place?  Did he also check the Occupy Denver page?  Somehow, I doubt whether it even crossed his mind. 
There used to be a time when journalists had a rough integrity about what they said over the air and took pride in striving for accuracy.  Who could ever forget ABC’s Frank Reynolds, ABC News anchorman, who, after receiving and announcing word that James Brady had been killed in the Reagan assassination attempt only to discover the press secretary was still alive, got visibly angry and to no one in particular barked on air, “Let’s get this right.  Let’s nail this down.”
Today, Stephanopoulos thanked Brian Ross for smearing the Tea Party by reporting a lie.  Ross should be suspended or lose his job for this attempt to inject politics into a national tragedy.
And we can add CNN's Piers Morgan, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to the list of those who never let a crisis go to waste.

Update:  The explosives at Holmes’ apartment have finally been disarmed.  I was concerned about how long it has been taking.  I’m not an explosives expert per se, certainly not at the EOD level, but I have dealt with them in the military.  My guess (dealing with so little information from the scene) was that a military EOD team would have done it more quickly, but I’m sure there were many other considerations.  Now comes news that the set-up in the apartment was stupendously complex, and it took this long to investigate all the trip wires and circuits.  The police, I’m sure, were determined to get at the solution without having to destroy the building. 

One item that keeps making me wince is the number of times I have heard from reporters that the chemicals involved inside the apartment are likely to be ‘hyperbolic’.  I have made reference before to Michael Crichton’s Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, which helps to explain why the public is so gullible about the press, and here we see an excellent example.  The actual term is ‘hypergolic’, with a ‘g’, which refers to any combination of chemicals (typically two) which when combined, spontaneously ignite.  This is normally seen when speaking of rocket propellants, but other more typical combinations exist.  The most common one that comes to mind is potassium permanganate and glycerin.


  1. Such a horrible news story. I hate to see it become a political issue.

  2. In Macbeth, the witches summon three apparitions, I know what they say but what do their looks symbolize in the play? Thanks!

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