Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Mass killers (Part 1)                   

In this article, I am going to explain to you as to what makes a mass killer want to murder innocent people. But first, I should point out to you that I studied abnormal psychology at the University of Toronto as part of a four-year program on criminology. I also did group counselling with mentally ill prisoners for a year. One of my papers on the effects of alcohol on the human mind is required reading at McMaster university’s Anthropology program. This didn’t make me an expert in psychology but it did give me some understanding of the human mind.

What motivates a person to kill wholesale in what appears as a meaningless senseless way to achieve an end?

Most mass killers are young males who act alone after they have carefully planned their murders. They often have a longstanding fascination with weapons and generally have a collection of them. These shootings usually occur in a public place and during the daytime. There are individual case studies involving psychological autopsy and a careful analysis of the often copious communications that has been left behind suggesting that these killers have common psychological problems.

For example, some mass murderers spend a great deal of time feeling resentful about real or imagined rejections and reflect on past humiliations. Such people are thin-skinned or hypersensitive to perceived slights. They have a paranoid worldview with chronic feelings of social persecution, envy and grudge holding. They are tormented by beliefs that other people are enjoying life's all-you-can-eat buffet, while they must peer through the window, considering themselves as an outside loner always looking in.

Usually mass killers are angry, dissatisfied people who have poor social skills and/or few friends and then there is a trigger that sets them off. What was a stew of explosive material explodes and kills innocent people.

Mass murderers long for power and revenge and do that so that they can permanently remove what they cannot have. Since satisfaction to them is unobtainable lawfully and realistically, the mass murderers are reduced to violent fantasies and a desire for pseudo-power. They create and enact an odious screenplay of grandiose and public retribution. Like the child who upends the checkerboard when he does not like the way the game is going, they seek to destroy others for their own failures and they refuse to recognize their own problems and meet their own needs. Fury, deep despair, and callous selfishness eventually crystallizes into fantasies of violent revenge on a scale that will intentionally draw attention to themselves. Many mass murderers typically expect to die and frequently do in what amounts to mass homicide-personal suicides. They may kill themselves or put them in a position where they likely will be killed by the police however that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes they will flee the scene and in some cases, are in hiding for years.

Mass murderers share traits that give insight into possible motives for the crimes committed by an individual who decided to execute a senseless massacre of innocent victims. A writer (Miakouna) explained the motives quite well.

Revenge They target a group of individuals who have a connection to the murderer’s life. This could be a common admiration for a particular event, place, or person. With James Holmes, he went to the Batman movie in 2010 with a group of camp counselors while volunteering during the summer to monitor ten children.

Power They have total control gives the murder a sense of power that was not achieved in life such as empowerment of innocent victims who are at the mercy of the murderer and powerless. James Holmes shot anyone who tried to leave the theater. Victims were terrorized by Holmes and left in terror, unaware of whether they would live or die. Holmes had the power to kill or not to kill.

Use of high powered weapons  When a mass murder occurs, high-powered weapons are used to control a large group of victims. James Holmes was armed with assault rifles that had a large capacity for ammunition magazines, and thousands of bullets to load his weapons. He had additional weapons that included a 40 caliber Glock handgun, Reminington 870 shotgun, and an AR-15, and smoke emitting bombs. He was prepared to kill a large group of victims.

Planned event   Executing a mass murder requires planning for the event. In James Holmes case, he planned for the event for many months. He read the Norway’s mass murderer’s manifesto and created a plan from the guide. He ordered much of his equipment online, over several months. He wore armor that protected all parts of his body and used the manifesto as his lesson.

Mental illness  Anyone planning a mass murder is most likely mentally unstable. James Holmes claimed to be the ‘Joker’, the villain of Batman, when he was arrested the night of the killings. He dyed his hair red and got into character for the mass killings of movie-goers. He distanced himself from reality by creating a fantasy world where he was a character and not James Holmes.

Social Ineptness Mass murderers usually have few or no friends, minimal contact with individuals, and keep to themselves. James Holmes spent a great deal of time alone throughout his life, spending most of his time online gaming. He was described by individuals that knew him as shy and a person of a few words. Even though he smiled a lot, he seemed socially awkward and a little creepy.

Often suicidal  A mass murder is planned, the murderer usually plans every part of the massacre except the exit strategy. Usually there are no plans of exit, only suicide as the option. It is unknown whether James Holmes was planning suicide, but he did not have an exit strategy when he was arrested. He did not resist and directed law enforcement to additional bombs in his apartment and warned them that his apartment was booby-trapped.

People who murder others are almost always psychologically disturbed in one way or another. The frequency of mental disorders in mass murderers is controversial because it is not clear where to draw the line between 'bad' and 'mad.' The paranoia exists on a spectrum of severity. Some clearly do not meet criteria for any mental disorder and often may justify their acts on political or religious grounds. Others have psychotic delusions brought on by schizophrenia or paranoia (two forms of mental disease) Many perpetrators are in the middle, gray zone but where psychiatrists will disagree is about the relative contributions of moral failure versus mental affliction.

The deliberate rampage to kill strangers is the act of a very deviant consciousness of some kind. But we don't know whether the accused killer's mind may have been driven by acute symptoms of a psychiatric disorder that impairs thought and perception of reality, or alternatively by a personality misshaped through a troubled past, or by something else entirely. 

Based on the best available scientific evidence on the link between violence and mental illness in the general population, most murderous acts are not caused by a major psychiatric condition like schizophrenia, paranoia, bipolar disorder (manic or depression) or depression alone.  Psychiatric disorder accounts for only about 4% of violent behavior that runs across the spectrum from minor to serious assaultive acts. And the vast majority of people with serious mental illnesses do not behave violently. Obviously there are exceptions of course.

Generally no single experience causes murderous behavior. Even when serious psychopathology plays a role, it is almost never a sufficient explanation. Other variables such as personal background characteristics, life experiences, variations of the social environment and/or substance abuse may interact to make violent acts statistically more likely especially if there is a combination of these variables.

Can we forecast a mass killer’s plan to commit mass murder?  It would be almost impossible to foresee such an occurrence however there is an event that took place recently in which the authorities could have foreseen a mass killing of innocent persons. I am referring to the downing of a German plane in March 2015 by the co-pilot resulting in the loss of 149 people along with him. The mass murderer was Andrea Lubitz in which this co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525 appears to have previously researched suicide methods. The co-pilot also informed himself about types and ways of going about committing a suicide. He also researched cockpit door security so that he could keep his captain from re-entering the cockpit after he had a bathroom break in the days before he crashed the plane into the French Alps, killing everyone aboard. Unfortunately, this information was only discovered on his tablet days after the crash and not before the crash.

However, many years ago, I submitted a paper to a highly respected psychiatric institution about how mass murder might be forecasted. The head of the institution appeared interested. My presentation was as follows:

A volunteer patient who had murderous thoughts would be hypnotized (by the use of drugs if necessary) and once he was in a subconscious state, a scenario would be created in his mind in which he would have the opportunity to kill those people who had repeatedly antagonized him before he was arrested and sent to the institution. In his mind while in the subconscious state he chose not to jump at the opportunity to kill all of his tormentors, them the risk to others was probably unlikely. If on the other hand, he envisioned the joy of killing all his tormentors, then he would thereby be considered a risk. Unfortunately, the head of the institution died before the experiment could be commenced.

There's a celebrity psychiatrist who says that it is a failure of empathy (feelings for others) that is likely rooted in the mind of a mass killer which may have stemmed from early life psychological pain. There is no doubt in my mind that a lack of empathy plays an important role in the mind of a psychopath. Another psychiatrist thinks that people who commit crimes like this are unquestionably unable to form satisfying sexual attachments and as a result, their masculinity essentially gets replaced with their fascination for destruction. We should however keep in mind that people who have suffered from early life psychological pain and those unfortunate people who can’t form satisfactory sexual relationships are not all prone to committing mass murder. We're left with a profile that fits tens of thousands of troubled young men who would never actually do such a senseless act.

The precise knowledge of what makes these people tick is harder to come by than in a case of a serial killer who is studied very carefully by psychologists on the defense and prosecution. That is because a great many of them die during the rampage. As many as 96.5 percent of mass murderers are male and the majority of them are misfits who aren’t necessarily clinically psychotic. They are not mad (insane), they are simply bad. To put it crudely, they simply don’t give a rat’s ass about anyone. Those that are mentally disturbed suffer from paranoia and often have acute behavioral or personality disorders. They’re callous, manipulative, and often unfeeling. That isn’t psychosis. It is simply rotten behavior.

In some cases, like that of mass murderer James Huberty, who in 1984 shot dead 21 people and wounded 19 others at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro, California.  The perpetrator harbored a severe grudge against a health clinic that refused to set up an appointment to see him. Similarly, in 1990, Julio Gonzalez dumped gasoline in the entrance hall of New York’s Happy Land Social Club, setting it afire and killing 87 people as an act of revenge against his ex-girlfriend, who worked there at the time.

Of course there are other reasons why people will kill others en masse.  In 1955, John Gilbert Graham, heavily in debt, took out life insurance on his mother and put a bomb in her suitcase before she boarded a plane. “We all have to die sometime,” he responded after being asked how he felt about killing 52 other people on board. And now I will tell you about another mass killer in greater detail.

James Eagan Holmes

James Eagan Holmes was born on December 13, 1987 in San Diego, California. His father is a mathematician and scientist with degrees from Stanford University, UCLA and UC Berkeley and his mother is a registered nurse. He has one sister. Holmes was raised in Castroville, California, where he attended elementary school, and when they moved to San Diego, he went to Westview High School and graduated in 2006.

In 2006, Holmes worked as an intern at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies where he was assigned to write computer code for an experiment. Holmes, who was described by his supervisor as being stubborn, uncommunicative and socially inept, presented his project to the other interns at the end of the internship, but never actually completed it.

Holmes attended the University of California at Riverside and in 2010, he received his undergraduate degree in neuroscience with highest honors. He was described as “a very effective group leader’’ and a person who "takes an active role in his education, and brings a great amount of intellectual and emotional maturity into the classroom.”

In June 2011, Holmes enrolled as a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.[37] He received a $21,600 grant from the National Institutes of Health, according to agency records, which was disbursed in installments from July 2011 to June 2012. Holmes also received a $5,000 stipend from the University of Colorado, Denver. Though Holmes received a letter of acceptance to UIUC, where he was offered a $22,600 stipend and free tuition, he declined their offer without specifying a reason.

There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind—this young man was extremely bright. If it wasn’t for him having screwed up personality problems, he could have ended up as a highly respected scientist. 

In 2012, Holmes' academic performance declined, and he scored poorly on the comprehensive exam in the spring. The university was not planning to expel him; however, Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the university. Three days after failing a key oral exam at the university in early June 2012, Holmes dropped out of his studies without giving any explanation. At the time of his arrest, he gave his occupation as "laborer.

What was going on in his brain that caused an otherwise bright student to tumble so far from what looked like a very bright future?  It couldn’t have been his genes because both of his parents were also very bright. Was this young man mentally ill? He obviously suffered from some form of mental disorder but what would make him want to kill people?

The surgeon general of the United States has said that there's very little risk of violence or harm from a stranger who has a mental disorder and added that not all bad behavior comes from mental illness. Sometimes it can simply be bad behavior. In other words, someone who doesn’t suffer from a clinical mental illness can simply be a rotten individual who hates other human beings. It would appear that Homes may fit into that category. That is strange because when he was at school, people said he was so nice.  Something happened to him that triggered a change in his personality.

Holmes struggled throughout his later life socially, never fitting in and always being an outcast in society. Was it because he was so high in the intellectual scale above others that he looked down on them and they resented him for his snobbishness? His internal struggle with his own personal inadequate social skills began to distance him from society, leading him from reality and taking him into a fantasy world where he felt more comfortable.

Anyone planning a mass murder is most likely mentally unstable to some degree. Holmes claimed to be the ‘Joker’, the villain of Batman, when he was arrested the night of the killings. He had previously dyed his hair red and got into the character of the Joker for the mass killings of movie-goers. When he entered the movie theater, he wasn’t James Holmes anymore. He was the Joker. Why did he choose to emulate that comic book character?  He did it because the Joker in the Batman comics appeared to him as being the most evil, deranged and flat out psychotic killer of all comic book villains. He wanted everyone to see him as he was—someone to fear. He got his wish. He became someone to fear.

On June 25, less than a month before the shooting, Holmes emailed an application to join a gun club in Byers, Colorado. The owner, Glenn Rotkovich, called him several times throughout the following days to invite him to a mandatory orientation, but could only reach his answering machine. Due to the nature of Holmes' voice mail, which he described as “bizarre and freaky” in which Holme’s voice on the machine was a deep voice that was incoherent and rambling", Rotkovich instructed his staff to inform him if Holmes showed up, though Holmes neither appeared at the gun range nor called back. Rotkovich said, "In hindsight, looking back and if I'd seen the movies, maybe I'd say it was like the Joker.  It was like somebody was trying to be as weird as possible.”

After the massacre in the movie theater, the police seized Holme’s computer but couldn’t determine how long Holmes had been planning the attack and making preparations of the massacre.

The shooting in the theater

The shooting occurred in Aurora, Colorado at the Aurora Town Center in Theater 9 in the Century 16 multiplex Theatres (operated by Cinemark). Holmes bought a ticket, then entered the theater and sat in the front row. About 20 minutes into the film, he left the building through an emergency exit  door which he propped open with a plastic tablecloth holder. He then went to his car, which was parked near the exit door, changed into protective clothing, and retrieved his guns. About 30 minutes into the film, at around 12:30 am, he re-entered the theater through the exit door. He was dressed in black and wore a gas mask, a load-bearing vest  (not to be confused with a bulletproof vest), a ballistic helmet,  bullet-resistant leggings, a bullet-resistant throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. His hair was already a bright orange.

To those who saw him, he appeared to be wearing a costume like other audience members who had dressed up for the screening. Some believed that the gunman was playing a prank, while others thought that he was part of a special effects installation set up for the film's premiere as a publicity stunt by the studio or theater management. 

He threw two canisters emitting smoke, partially obscuring the audience members' vision, making their throats and skin itch, and causing eye irritation.  He then fired a 12-gauge  Remington 870 Express Tactical shotgun, first at the ceiling and then at the audience. He also fired a Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum magazine, which malfunctioned after reportedly firing a few rounds. Finally, he fired a Glock 22 40-caliber handgun. He shot first to the back of the room, and then toward people in the aisles. A bullet passed through the wall and hit three people in the adjacent theater 8, which was screening the same film. Witnesses said the multiplex's fire alarm system began sounding soon after the attack (probably from the smoke) and staff told the people in theater 8 to evacuate.

The first phone calls to emergency services via 9-1-1 were made at 12:39 am. The police arrived within 90 seconds and found at least three .40-caliber handgun magazines, a shotgun and a large drum magazine on the floor of the theater. Some people reported the shooting via tweets or text messaging rather than calling the police. Sgt. Stephen Redfearn, one of the first police officers on the scene, decided not to wait for ambulances and sent victims to area hospitals in squad cars.

About 12:45 am, police apprehended Holmes behind the cinema, standing next to his car. He offered no resistance. The officers found several firearms in the theater and inside the car, including another Glock 22 handgun. He was initially mistaken for another police officer because of the tactical clothing he was wearing. According to two federal officials, he called himself "the Joker".

One is forced to ask, “Why didn’t he flee from the scene?  The 24-year-old James Holmes had dressed himself like the Batman arch-villian “The Joker” when he opened fire at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, killed 12 moviegoers.  He obviously wanted to establish a grandiose vision of himself. Perhaps it was always his intention to give himself up after he killed people in the theatre so he could be displayed to the world that he was a very bad man, wreaking vengeance on those who ignored him.
He chose not to fight it out with the police because he wasn’t pre[pared to die.

A total of seventy casualties from the shooting were reported. Fifty-eight of these casualties suffered gunshot wounds.  That massacre in the theatre was the deadliest shooting in Colorado since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999 and was also the deadliest in the United States at that particular time.  Four people's eyes were irritated by the tear gas grenades, while eight others injured themselves while fleeing the theater. Twelve people were killed in the shooting. Ten died at the scene and two more in local hospitals. The youngest was six and the oldest was fifty-one. Eight were males and four were females.

Following his arrest, he was initially jailed at Arapahoe County Detention Center, under suicide watch. The police interviewed more than 200 witnesses. Investigators say that Holmes acted alone and was not part of a larger group or terrorist organization.

Holmes told the police that he had booby-trapped his apartment with explosive devices before heading to the movie theater. Police then evacuated five buildings surrounding his Aurora residence. One day after the shooting, officials disarmed an explosive device wired to the apartment's front entrance. Aerial shells had been cannibalized, reconstructed and set up in the living room, where a stream of wires connected them to a control box in the apartment’s kitchen. The box was disabled by bomb technicians from outside the kitchen window using robotic devices and a controlled detonating device. There would have been a greater loss of life if he had bought those homemade grenades with him to the theatre. Two days later, residents were allowed to return to the four surrounding buildings, and six days later, residents were allowed to move back into the formerly booby-trapped building. Where would he get aerial shells from?

Prosecutors alleged on August 24, 2012, that Holmes previously told a classmate that he wanted to kill people four months before the shooting. If that threat really happened, then shame should be on the classmate who didn’t speak to the authorities about that threat. If had done this, the police would have searched his apartment and car and seized all his weapons and got a judge to order a ban on him that would prevent him from purchasing any more guns.

On July 30, Colorado prosecutors filed formal charges against Holmes that included 24 counts of first degree murder and 116 counts of attempted murder. Two charges were filed for each victim to expand the opportunities for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

Quite frankly, I don’t see how that would help the prosecution. For example, if the first batch of charges were dismissed on a technicality, I don’t see how they could expect a court to give the prosecution a second chance at the bat. It is like giving a baseball player six chances to hit the ball and if he gets strikes in the first batch, he gets to try again for the next three.

On August 9, Holmes' attorneys said he is mentally ill and they needed more time to assess the nature of his illness. The disclosure was made at a court hearing in Centennial, Colorado, where news media organizations asked a judge to unseal court documents in the case.

A judge ruled on August 30 that a notebook written by Holmes, in which he allegedly described a violent attack, was covered by physician–patient privilege, as he had discussed it with his psychiatrist. This made it inadmissible as evidence unless Holmes' mental health became an issue in the case. Prosecutors eventually dropped their request to gain access to the notebook on September 20, 2012. Due to suicide attempts made by Holmes, Judge Sylvester agreed to postpone proceedings until December 2012. Meanwhile, his hair is no longer orange.

On January 2, 2013, prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case returned to court in advance of the crucial preliminary hearing that was the first officially sanctioned look at the evidence, due to the gag order. The hearing was scheduled to begin on January 7th. At the hearing, prosecutors told the judge that they were ready to proceed with their case but the defence lawyers argued that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Sylvester decided there was enough relevant, admissible evidence to proceed to with the trial.

A judge ruled on August 30 that a notebook written by Holmes, in which he allegedly described a violent attack, was covered by physician–patient privilege, as he had discussed it with his psychiatrist. This made it inadmissible as evidence unless Holmes' mental health became an issue in the case. Prosecutors eventually dropped their request to gain access to the notebook on September 20, 2012.

On March 27, Holmes' lawyers offered a guilty plea in exchange for prosecutors not seeking the death penalty. On April 1, the prosecution announced it had declined the offer. Arapahoe County district attorney George Brauchler said “It's my determination and my intention that in this case for James Eagan Holmes, justice is death.”

Under Colorado law, defendants are not legally liable for their acts if their minds are so diseased that they cannot distinguish right from wrong. On May 7, 2013, Holmes's attorneys filed their intent for him to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He made this change in his plea on May 31.The issue before the court is whether Holmes had a mental defect that impacted his judgment to the extent that he could not tell right from wrong. It is the prosecutors' burden to prove that this killer was sane beyond a reasonable doubt. To succeed, he has to convince the jury that Holmes knew what he was doing and knew that it was either legally wrong or morally wrong or both. The one piece of evidence that may be proof that he didn’t think he did anything wrong is that after the shooting, he made no effort to escape and was actually waiting for the police to arrive and arrest him. A sane man who did something wrong and knew it was wrong would not wait for the police to come and arrest him. His attorneys had been expected to enter a plea of  diminished capacity (which differs from an insanity plea) allows the defendant to try to prove that, because of a mental impairment, he lacked the required intent to commit the crime. 

The trial, initially scheduled for October 2014, was delayed to December 8. Jury selection eventually started on January 20, 2015 after a request by Holmes' lawyers for yet another continuance (delay) was denied.

It has been estimated that the trial will last as long as 8 months. So far, $2 million dollars has been expended in the investigation and trial.

Quite frankly, I hope the jury finds this mass killer guilty as charged on all counts and the jury later sentences him to death.

When I learn what the verdict and sentence is, I will UPDATE this article. 

No comments: