Friday, July 20, 2012
There is a special thrill for people who go to a mid-night premiere of a new movie, they expect something special, they expect to be thrilled, they are recalled by the innocence any new fun experience brings, they do not expect chaos and death. Early this morning in the city of Aurora, Colorado at a movie theatre in a nice area of this town nestled within the metro Denver area a man in a gas mask and bullet proof vest, armed with a rifle and handgun tossed a smoke bomb or tear gas canister into a crowded theatre and began shooting. What was it like? Twenty-two year old Jennifer Seeger was the first person the shooter (James Holmes) saw, she survived; this is some of her account:
“He came in and he threw in the gas can and then I knew it was real," Seeger told NBC News. "Then he shot the ceiling. Right after he shot the ceiling he pointed the gun right at me. At that point I drove into the aisle and I got lucky because he didn't shoot me.
Then he started to shoot people behind me and the bullets were falling on my head. It was burning my head it was so fresh. I could smell gunpowder. At that point he went up the stairs.”
Hot shells, ejected, burning, pelting her head. The smell of cordite so strong she could easily distinguish it from the thick smoke filling the theatre from the thrown canister. How was she able to act so quickly to save her life? Thank God she did.
Another witness to this horror said:
"I'm with coworkers and we're on the floor praying to God we don't get shot, and the gunshots continue on and on, and when the sound finally stopped, we started to get up and people were just bleeding."
No matter how much cartoon violence we see on screens large and small, no matter how gory a movie gets, the sight of true blood whether yours or someone else’s is startling, unique to be in the presence of this intimate fluid that should remain internal, unseen, sustaining life. So many reports on the radio of people shot, of friends helping wounded and bleeding friends from the theatre. One of the wounded was a 3 month old child (who takes a baby to a midnight showing of a PG13-rated movie?), fortunately this child was treated and released, unclaimed by the reaper in its midst.
James Holmes, the “suspect” in custody, is reported to be Caucasian and educated – he was a former grad student of Neuroscience. His mother lives in San Diego, and when police there went to her, she was apparently unsurprised by her son’s actions.
She had awoken unaware of the news of the shooting and had not been contacted by authorities. She immediately expressed concern that her son may have been involved.
"You have the right person," she said.
"I need to call the police," she added. "I need to fly out to Colorado."
Upon arrest, Holmes told police something about explosives or bomb making supplies at his apartment. Police, Fire Department, bomb squads, FBI, and ATF converged on the building and evacuated it. From a perch atop a Fire Department ladder truck, an agent sited through the third floor window explosive substances and booby traps set to prevent entry. Who is this man? What motivates him? What internal time bomb makes him a mass murderer, killer of men, women, and children? What makes him a monster?
They are questions with no answers. In the coming days, weeks, months, and years these questions and others will be posed, probed in an attempt to fit the jagged, irregular pieces of this puzzle together. It is a puzzle without a box to provide clues as to the order of pieces, it is a puzzle without smooth borders to define edges, it is a puzzle that may form a picture that sane minds will be unable to process. No one knows.
Ultimately in the wake of senseless death and terror is unreasoning fear. As I drove to work, glued to my radio listening to 850 KOA out of Denver, I worried for my friend Ben and his family who went to a midnight showing of the movie, praying that they were alright, even though Ben lives more than half a continent away from the massacre. No sane reason for me to fear, but that was one of my first thoughts. Shaking this thought, I recalled that less than three months ago, our eldest daughter and our grandson were living in Denver, what if they had been involved? Thoughts and worries cascaded, our son is only a week away from moving back from South Carolina to his house in Denver, what if he had been there? We have many friends in the Denver area, are they safe? My heart races, my head pounds, my eyes moisten and my fingers strain to work on this as these thoughts renew, replay.
I do not know what is going on with the world. I have always known it to be violent and polarized, but this kind of horror is a gut punch that leaves me breathless and gasping on my knees. The killing did not come from a known enemy who might have been caught through webs of intelligence, murmured hints at some evil to strike. This was an act of mass random violence, unpredictable, one that could approach us out of the corner of our eye at any time in any place and for no reason. It is the kind of act that leaves us feeling insecure and unprotected.
We will follow the investigation intently, as we did with Columbine. We will hang on each word and speculation. We will incorporate what they learn from this crime into our shields, and we will lie to ourselves that we are now safer for the experience so that we may sleep easier believing the world is a sane place. I know that prayers will flood to the victims and the dead as naturally as the rising of the moon, and all I can do for those I know and love is hope they are safe.