Is a mass murderer like James Holmes, the suspect in the shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded 59 others, mentally ill or simply seeking revenge for perceived wrongs? Experts who study the motivation of mass murderers disagree on the answer.
According to James Alan Fox, a criminal justice professor at Northeastern University in Boston, most mass murderers are not mentally ill. Fox, who has written several books on mass murder and school violence, told MSNBC:
“It takes a certain degree of clear-headedness to plan and execute a crime like this.”
As Fox further stated in a phone interview, mass murderers like Holmes “often times feel that they are right and everybody else is wrong….They really tend to externalize blame, to see other people as responsible for their problems.”
Rather than mentally ill individuals, Fox believes that most mass murderers simply want revenge:
“They basically want revenge. Contrary to the common misperception that these guys suddenly snap and go berserk, these are well-planned executions.”
One notable exception is Jared Loughner, the man who shot and killed six people in Arizona in 2011 including then-member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Other experts, however, disagree about the nature of mass murderers. Dave Cullen, who writes for The New York Times, covered the shooting in Columbine in 1999. Cullen initially believed that mass murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were outcast loners who exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying. Cullen now believes that Klebold was deeply depressed and turned his anger outward.
Many experts also believe that mass murderer Seung-Hui Cho, the troubled young man who killed 32 people and wounded 25 others at Virginia Tech in April 2007, was also mentally ill.
Nevertheless, the controversy about the motives behind mass murderers still exists. According to Roger L. Depue who oversaw the F.B.I.’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime and who wrote Between Good and Evil: A Master Profiler’s Hunt for Society’s Most Violent Predators, mass murderers like Cho act “out of a distorted sense of unfairness and disappointment stemming from their own actual inadequacies and unsatisfied needs for attention, adulation, power and control.” That is, many mass murderers act out of revenge.
The question remains: Is James Holmes mentally ill, or was the mass murderer acting out of revenge?
The only fact that anyone, both experts and the general public, will ever know for sure is that mass murderers have an “amazing ability to shut off knowledge of the consequences of their actions and of the difference between right and wrong.”
As the Sky Valley Chronicle aptly repeats, Stanton Samenow, a forensic psychologist and author of the 2004 book Inside the Criminal Mind, famously said:
“They [Mass murderers] seem to have an unfathomable ability to shut off knowledge of the consequences, of the difference between right and wrong. It’s critical for us to try to understand that worldview and mental makeup.
They just can shut it off. No thoughts about right or wrong or the consequences.
It is simply the eternal moment for them: no past, no future only the right now and there is nothing wrong (in their mind) with what they are doing ‘right now’.”
Do you think that a mass murderer like James Holmes is mentally ill or simply seeking revenge?