For the second time in little more than a decade, metro Denver has been convulsed by a mass murder of calculated and methodical viciousness, an act so pointless and incomprehensible that it leaves us all shaken and bewildered.
As was the case in 1999 with Columbine, our hearts and thoughts go out to the families of the dead victims at the Aurora theater shootings — many of whom, tragically, were young — as well as to those who survived but who remain in local hospitals.
It is too early to read lessons into Friday morning’s brutal attack. We don’t know enough yet about the apparent perpetrator — his mental state, his motives and purpose — to say whether he had dropped signs along the way and might have been thwarted. But as recent history has shown, killers willing to forfeit their own lives — or at least their freedom — are extremely hard to stop unless they make a clumsy mistake in the run-up to the crime.
It is probably safe to say this much about the killer, though: He obviously planned the massacre in such a way as to evoke the maximum amount of publicity. His theatrical final entrance to “The Dark Knight Rises,” as well as the phony, flashy machismo involved — indeed, the entire life-imitating-art scenario that the shooter choreographed — all point to someone shouting for the public’s attention. If it weren’t part of our job as journalists, we’d hesitate even to mention his name and thereby ratify his intentions.
But we have no choice. Plus, the suspect is still alive, and eventually no doubt will be tried in open court.
Some people are probably going to wonder whether Colorado is especially prone to incubate murderous madmen — for lack of a better description — who seek out innocent targets in public venues given the array of incidents in recent years.
Since 2006 alone, we’ve seen a 53-year-old drifter take six female students hostage at Platte Canyon High School, killing one before he killed himself; a troubled 24-year-old shoot two parishioners at New Life Church in Colorado Springs after having killed two other people the night before at a training center for Christian missionaries in Arvada; and a 32-year-old open fire on students at Dear Creek middle school in Jefferson County before seventh-grade math teacher David Benke tackled and subdued him.
We suspect these incidents say more about modern reality, however, than they do about Colorado. Sick, cruel or desperate people nursing grievances have taken to seeking some sort of bizarre fulfillment in public acts of terror, scripting their final acts for maximum impact.
Have they been desensitized to violence by modern popular culture? Are the social networks that traditionally might have offered support or steered them in another direction frayed or absent?
These and many other questions must be addressed in the coming days and weeks. In the present moment, however, Colorado and the nation are focused mainly on grieving over yet another mass shooting that has torn so many hopes and dreams apart.
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