The fallout from the horror of the mass shooting at the Aurora, Colo., movie theater continues as victims are laid to rest and survivors deal with their injuries – physical, mental and emotional.
All the while, the law and the investigation grind on as lawyers prepare their cases – prosecution and defense. In this case, the accused, James Holmes, also is subject to medical examinations because in a crime such as this, people automatically assume that anyone who does such a thing has to be crazy.
Like it or not, that isn’t a valid assumption. There really are evil people who decide to commit horrors and know exactly what they’re doing and that’s what the investigation is all about.
Police are also looking into whether Holmes left any clues that he was planning the attack and was aware of the ramifications if he carried it out.
Simultaneous with the police investigation, the effect of this attack on innocents is ongoing and will never end. The survivors won’t forget, but neither will their families and friends. Nor will the police and firemen who responded nor the medical personnel who dealt with the immediate and long term injuries, nor will the 9-1-1 dispatchers, nor will the witnesses to the event, nor will the rest of us who learned about the attack through the media and followed the emotional aftermath of funerals and memorials.
Events like this – just as Columbine or Fort Hood or Virginia Tech or Tucson or any of the other mass attacks on innocent victims – make a major impression on the public that often becomes a permanent memory.
For people who have a sense of right and wrong and want justice for the victims, the investigation and the legal procedures frequently are infuriating. Often, it appears there are too many concessions for the accused. Often it appears deals are made to avoid the ultimate penalty of execution and the accused is given life imprisonment without parole.
Regardless of the pro and con arguments concerning the death penalty, when someone who commits mass murder doesn’t get that ultimate punishment, the public believes the law is weak, there are too many excuses available to lessen the penalty and, in essence, the person gets away with murder – in these cases, mass murder.
It leaves you to wonder about the lawyers and judges involved in such situations and how they can live with their actions and decisions.
But there are other people involved about whom we can ask the same question.
Just as the investigation into the Penn State child molestation scandal revealed there were many individuals in responsible positions who knew what was going on and who, for a variety of self-serving reasons, looked the other way and did or said nothing.
Their inaction allowed the criminal activity to continue.
What about the Colorado shooting? Did anyone know Holmes’ state of mind? Did anyone have an inkling of what he might be planning? Moreover, if anyone knew or had a suspicion, did they do anything to intervene or stop it?
Initially, it appeared the answer to those questions was no. However, that may be changing. His mother was apparently not surprised when her son was implicated in the crime. It makes you wonder what she knew and when, or at least what were her suspicions as to her son’s state of mind.
But the more damning questions are raised about a psychiatrist who was treating Holmes. Holmes’ attorneys revealed it in a court motion. There were media reports that Holmes had sent the psychiatrist a package containing a notebook with descriptions of such an attack.
The motion said Holmes was a psychiatric patient of Dr. Lynne Fenton.
It was then reported by a Denver TV station that Fenton became alarmed about Holmes and, more than a month before the shootings, reported her concerns to the threat assessment team at the University of Colorado, where Holmes was a Ph.D. student.
The media reports continued that the school did nothing to follow up on Fenton’s concerns, nor were police notified, because Holmes was taking steps to drop out of school.
It would appear it was felt the school was not responsible for following up on Dr. Fenton’s concerns because Holmes was no longer a student. Part of what the threat assessment team does is consult with legal advisers, police and mental health personnel to protect the school from potential student violence.
It seems that wasn’t done here, even though Chancellor Don Elliman said the school did all it could. What he specifically meant by that hasn’t been clarified.
Nor is it clear why Dr. Fenton didn’t pursue her concerns more actively when she saw that the school wasn’t following through on her initial report.
Ironically, Fenton was one of the founders of the university’s behavioral evaluation and threat assessment team, which in this case did nothing.
Unfortunately, this smacks exactly of what happened at Penn State. People with titles, authority and responsibility simply looked away and ignored facts.
While the University of Colorado has hired an attorney to investigate its actions (or inaction) in the case, it seems like too little too late.
Will it be held legally negligent – legally responsible for enabling the slaughter? Probably not, but in my view, it should be.
Just as the law, public opinion and the NCAA made an example of Penn State and its failings, the same fate should face the University of Colorado and Dr. Lynne Fenton.
Imagine how the victims’ families must feel knowing that the rampage might have been prevented if only someone had done the right thing.
Let’s see how the law handles this.