Guest Post by Ash Congiliando
This past Friday, July 20th, I awoke and checked the news, first learning of the tragedy that occurred in Aurora, Colorado. I’m sure there is barely a soul in this country who hasn’t heard what happened, but for the sake of this article, I’ll give a synopsis of the events. Note, I’m not a journalist of any kind. I’m presenting this information with the highest degree of accuracy I can give based upon professional news sources.
A 24-year-old man, James Eagan Holmes, attended a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises, the final chapter in director Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy on Friday, July 20th. He purchased a ticket and entered the theater. He then exited the theater through the emergency exit and propped it open behind him. Just outside the exit sat Holmes’ car. He went to it and retrieved a gas mask, tear gas canisters, a set of full body ballistics armor, a Smith & Wesson AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100 round drum magazine, a Remington Model 870 shotgun, and a .40 Smith & Wesson Glock handgun. A second Glock of the same type was left in his car. About 30 minutes into the film, Holmes walked back into the theater through the emergency exit. He ignited and threw the gas canister into the crowd. As the gas spread, for the first few seconds, people in the crowd thought it was a publicity stunt or prank because other people came in costumes. Then, Holmes began to shoot. He killed 12 and wounded 58. He then exited back through the emergency exit and removed his gas mask. His hair was dyed red. The police apprehended Holmes next to his car without any resistance. He refered to himself as, “the Joker.” He told the authorities that his apartment was rigged with explosives. Later, it was found that there were IEDs in Holmes’ apartment and that they were each of the victim triggered type, meaning booby traps. They were all set to go off upon someone interacting with the bomb in some way, none of them had timers. The devices were found to have been constructed with extreme precision and that they had been customized with chemicals and black powder to enhance their thermal and anit-personnel damage should they detonate. Holmes is in solitary confinement and on suicide watch.
This shooting is unique among similar crimes in recent history. Most mass shooters end up dead, be it through being killed by police or committing suicide. Holmes gave up without a fight. Most shooters put a fair amount of planning into their crimes. Holmes used an amount of expertise in his plans and explosives so extreme that specialists from all over the country had to be flown in to ensure his apartment could be searched safely. And finally this man identified himself as the Joker.
Why call yourself that? It isn’t coincidental. You don’t call yourself the Joker at the premier of a new Batman movie after doing something that horrific and not expect people to do the math. As of now, there doesn’t seem to be any motive for the crime. Was this man really trying to become the Joker?
He was in the PhD program for neuroscience at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus; one of only six students there to receive National Institutes of Health grant money. Then he began to let his grades fall. He was actually in the process of withdrawing from the program when he committed his crime. Why walk away from that? What happened? If he thought of himself as the Joker, he certainly shadowed the character in eerie ways. Beyond the obvious hair color and name reference, going into a theater and shooting is a random, chaotic thing. The kind of thing the Joker would do. The booby traps in his apartment echo the type of bombs set by Heath Ledger in his famous portrayal of the Joker in Nolan’s 2008 film, The Dark Knight. Holmes had also left music blasting in his apartment when he left for the theater. Neighbors who were investigating the noise noted that they thought Holmes’ door was unlocked, but didn’t open it. Had Holmes wanted someone to open that door to complain about the noise only to be killed? A similar scene occurred in The Dark Knight where the Joker was in one part of the city while across town a bomb he had planted detonated. Was this what Holmes had in mind? And, finally, just like the Joker, Holmes allowed himself to be caught. But, why do that? He had a getaway car ready to go. It was right behind the theater. He chose to be taken in. The police would have most certainly set off Holmes’ apartment bombs. Why did he tell the police about them if he just showed such disregard for life with the shooting? Why stop them from setting them off? Maybe he changed his mind. Maybe he wanted to stop then so all the details of his planning could come out? Who knows? I did find some things of note. It appears that the fact that Holmes referred to himself as the Joker was not supposed to be released to the general public. Also, his court case is going to be sealed. What that exactly means, no one can yet say.
It really doesn’t matter why Holmes did what he did; be it to become the Joker, to get revenge, to become famous, whatever, it was done. The dark shadow that already hung over Nolan’s trilogy with the death of Heath Ledger has now grown, all the more tragically. Time will tell how people will react to the shooting, Holmes, the film, and the character of the Joker. Will comic book writers treat him differently now? Will he be toned back out of respect of the victims? Who can say? One thing I can say. I don’t know why James Eagan Holmes did what he did. But, life will always imitate art and vice versa. That’s the key thing though: imitate. Not become. Holmes isn’t the Joker, and there isn’t a Batman to save us from people like him; but, there was the same heroism of the Batman in that theater. There are numerous stories of people throwing themselves down on their loved ones to shield them. At least one that I know of was fatal. I think if we have to live in a world where horrors like this can appear from nowhere, it’s comforting to know that level of amazing selflessness does as well. My deepest sympathies to the victims in Aurora.
Unfortunately there will always be more questions than answers when something so unexpected, unprecedented, and seemingly unmotivated happens. This tragedy has struck in particular a real blow to the moral of comics and movie fans; not because it happened during the premier of some comic book movie, but because everyone inside were true fans. They might not have been our immediate friends and neighbors, but they shared a similar mindset as probably anyone currently reading this blog. One can usually disassociate movie violence from that of real life; however for what was already a brutal film, James Holmes has now forever intertwined those for The Dark Knight Rises. George Takei always has a concise an eloquent take on current events:
Many victims of today’s tragedy were fans of science fiction/fantasy. They stood in line to be the first to see, to be inspired, and to escape. As a community of dreamers, we mourn this terrible tragedy and this senseless taking of innocent life. ~George Takei
All we can do is offer our support; and try to help in whatever way you can or see fit. Pure Nerd Nip encourages you to donate blood as stores are always low; and if you are moved and able to do so make a donation to Colorado Crime Victims.