Witnesses said he appeared at the front of the Aurora, Colo., theater, a silhouette in front of a movie screen, firing and firing at people, armed with an assault-type rifle, a shotgun and pistols. By the time 24-year-old James Holmes was captured, he had killed a dozen people and wounded 59 others in one of the worst rampages in American history.
In 1999, Colorado was the site of the Columbine school shooting, when 12 students and a teacher were killed by two students who then killed themselves. A shooter on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007 claimed 32 victims. In 2009, an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people and wounded many others at Fort Hood, Texas,
Every time an outburst of this nature happens, and yes, they happen too often in a society that rightly prizes individual freedom and one in which people cherish the ability to do as they wish and go where they please, we pause and reflect. We ask many of the same questions, including whether relatively easy access to firearms might have been a contributing factor. It is known that Holmes, who legally purchased his weapons, stockpiled ammunition through apparently unregulated online sales.
It will be days or weeks before the accused killers whole story is known. His first court appearance, with orange-dyed hair, was disquieting. Although his apartment, full of incendiary devices, told a dark tale, he was reckoned to have been a brilliant student, if somewhat reclusive, and his parents had normal occupations in a relatively affluent San Diego neighborhood.
We seek an explanation for these acts, and will for some time. But nothing is satisfactory, and nothing would calm nerves or offer comfort to family and friends who lost loved ones. These were people just out for a lark, a midnight showing of the new Batman movie. What possible solace could there be? None.
Even as Holmes story comes out, many of the agonizing questions that follow will linger: What awful twist of fate brought these people to the theater that night? And those who intended to go but for some reason did not will always wonder, for the rest of their lives, about their stroke of fortune.
As for the long term, the night of horror in Colorado will stay with those close to the victims forever. No explanation of a young mans motives will suffice. James Holmes ruined many more lives than the ones he took early Friday morning.
There were in that theater, as there always are in moments of great tragedy, feats of individual heroism. Some who died did so while throwing themselves instinctively in front of others and being struck by a random bullet. Still others tried to lead people to safety.
And yes, highly trained police officers responded to calls for help in less than two minutes. Its impossible to know how many lives they saved.
The tragedy in that movie theater reminds us not to take law enforcement for granted. Or friends. Or life itself. Were warning signs overlooked? That painful possibility will be addressed with one person, the owner of a shooting range, saying he rejected Holmes membership application because of a bizarre ... freakish voice mail greeting.
For those horrified by the incident, and thats all of us, fear is now an enemy, and understandably so. But we must continue, even as theaters nationwide are more mindful of security, even as we perhaps take more care looking at our surroundings in public places, to try to live our lives without being shadowed by a sense of danger. We must, while mourning these innocent souls, try to carry on.