Aurora Shooting Suspect Identified As Threat A Month Before Shootings

The psychiatrist that was treating Aurora, Colorado shooting suspect James Holmes identified him as a threat a month before he entered a theater and killed 12 people:

CENTENNIAL — Thirty-eight days before the attack on the Century Aurora 16 movie theater, the psychiatrist treating suspect James Holmes told a police officer that her patient had confessed homicidal thoughts and was a danger to the public, according to newly unsealed court documents in the murder case against Holmes.

The psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, also told the officer that Holmes had stopped seeing her and had been threatening her in text messages and e-mails, the documents state. The officer, Lynn Whitten, responded by deactivating Holmes’ key-card access to secure areas of University of Colorado medical campus buildings, according to search-warrant affidavits.

But the documents don’t reveal what — if anything — campus authorities did to investigate Holmes until 38 days later, when 12 people were dead in the July 20 movie-theater shootings, 58 more were injured by gunfire and Aurora police came to campus to ask questions.

“Dr. Fenton advised (Whitten) that through her contact with James Holmes she was reporting, per her requirement, his danger to the public due to homicidal statements he had made,” one search-warrant affidavit states.

Other than revoke Holmes’s Student ID, it’s unclear what university officials did, if anything. It sounds quite familiar to the what happened to Tucson shooter Jared Loughner, who was kicked out of the Community College he was attending after exhibiting what was deemed to be dangerous behavior. In Loughner’s case, there was no follow-up outside the university and it appears that the same thing happened with Holmes. And we can see what the consequences of that were.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Todd says:

    These type of situations are always tough in hindsight. On the one hand it’s perfectly reasonable to say to ourselves now: “well somebody should have done something to have prevented this”. However, on the flip side, would we really want to live in a society where people can be locked up merely for exhibiting “dangerous” behavior, or even thoughts?

  2. JWH says:

    I think there’s a pretty obvious fix here. If a psychiatrist deems a patient under treatment at an academic institution to be a danger, than the duty of notification includes not just campus police, but also the local police department.

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    Hindsight is 20-20, and this can be merely a case of confirmation bias. The question is, how many people were identified as a threat nationwide a month before the attack? And how many of those went on to commit a massacre?

    If mental health professionals across the country identified thousands of people across the country as a threat, as is likely in a country of 300 million plus people, but only one of those then went on to shoot up a movie theatre, then this tells us that merely identifying someone as a threat isn’t actually that predictive.

  4. Rafer Janders says:

    But the documents don’t reveal what — if anything — campus authorities did to investigate Holmes until 38 days later,

    What exactly would this investigation have consisted of? Up until Holmes committed the massacre, he hadn’t actually broken any laws. Because the good people of Colorado, through their legislators, don’t believe that amassing an arsenal of high-powered semi-automatic weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and body armor should be illegal. You can’t investigate if there’s no crime.

  5. Rafer Janders says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    To expand on my point, we usually remember our accurate predictions. When we say something is going to happen, and it does, we go “aha! I was right!”

    However, we conveniently forget all those times when we said something was going to happen, and it didn’t. We think our predictions are 100% accurate when it’s often more like 1%.

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Better safe than sorry is not merely a cliche. PC thinking always has been and always will be a recipe for disaster. And the ghastly irony is that the space cadet academics and administrative drones who run our nation’s colleges and universities not only would not be able to connect the obvious dots they would not be able to learn the obvious lessons, even if you spelled them out using a flow chart and a puppet show. C’est la vie.

  7. john personna says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    It’s easy to say “these people should be stopped,” and then to blame it on someone else.

    Can you step up and name specific conditions which would trigger an unstable person being taken into custody, for their rights to be revoked?

    If a psychiatrist says so, should a swat team break down your door and take your guns?

  8. john personna says:

    Question 2: if a psychiatrist could order your guns removed, would this provide a disincentive for gun owners to seek counseling?

  9. wr says:

    Yes, let’s blame the campus. Because if they had done “something” with that warning, then… well, according to the NRA, nothing could have been done. Because to keep him from purchasing an arsenal at that point would be the jackbooted move of the fascist government.

    So please spare us your moralizing.

  10. To review:

    May 22: Holmes buy his first Glock
    June 7: Holmes buys a S&W M&P15
    June 13: Shrink tells police about homicidal threats
    July 2: Holmes buys a “tactical assault vest.”
    July 6: He buys another Glock.
    July 20: He shoots 70 people, killing 12.

    April 4 the next year:

    “In Loughner’s case, there was no follow-up outside the university and it appears that the same thing happened with Holmes. And we can see what the consequences of that were.”

    Follow up would have been nice, true.

    But in the end, we really kind of needed to keep these weapons out of his hands. Follow up all you want…..but also don’t sell a gun to a guy planning a murder.

  11. john personna says:

    In the case of Aurora we’d have needed a process where the son’s psychiatrist could have ordered the mom’s guns removed!

  12. Unsympathetic says:

    Of course the information wasn’t followed up — that’s standard procedure in the police forces across the country, so you’d need to charge the people who write the SOP’s.. however, they’re consistent with “other” police forces, so even that person couldn’t get charged.

    The issue is a lack of knowledge and respect of mental health services in this country.

    @john personna:

    Yes – and psychiatrists should be writing those conditions for admission, not people who have no knowledge of the subjects in question or training in the field of mental health.

  13. john personna says:

    @Unsympathetic:

    The “problem” is that we have a system of rights, laws, and courts. For us to go down this path we’d need to restore the path to declaring someone “non compis mentis,” and a ward of the state, in law.

    We’d need some kind of public prosecutor who would file suit against someone, given a compelling(?) package from a psychiatrist.

  14. stonetools says:

    Doug doesn’t follow up by exploring what the psychiatrist could have done, because it yields an answer that he doesn’t want. Simply put, there is nothing effective that the psychiatrist could do because according to Colorado law at the time, its legal for a mentally ill person to acquire an arsenal of semi-automatic weapons, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and body armor, even if they send threatening messages. And Colorado law was that way because Doug’s friends the gun lobby worked hard for the laws to be that way.
    Hell, had Loughner and Holmes wanted to, they could have acquired CCW permits merely by attending a class, all with no questions asked about their mental state or what they wanted to with all those weapons. Thanks, gun lobby for enabling mass murderers.
    Had Doug gone on to ask the question, he would have logically concluded that maybe we should either pre-screen more carefully folks who want to acquire multiple semi-automatic weapons, or that that maybe such weapons shouldn’t be allowed to the mass public at all. But nope: logic isn’t what the gun lobby or “gun rights” advocates are about. What they are about are profits in the case of the former and idealogical purity in the case of the latter. So better not even to ask the question.

  15. stonetools says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    But in the end, we really kind of needed to keep these weapons out of his hands. Follow up all you want…..but also don’t sell a gun to a guy planning a murder

    Do you know who also wanted to keep guns out of the hands of potential mass murderers?

    Go back to Germany, Hitler lover.

    /snark.

  16. ernieyeball says:

    People kill people with guns in this country because they can.

  17. Rafer Janders says:

    In Loughner’s case, there was no follow-up outside the university and it appears that the same thing happened with Holmes. And we can see what the consequences of that were.

    Again, Doug, this follow-up would have consisted of…what, exactly?

  18. the psychiatrist treating suspect James Holmes told a police officer that her patient had confessed homicidal thoughts

    The problem is this, by itself, is completely useless in terms of predicting violent behavior. Most people have homicidal fantasies from time to time, very few ever act on them. In fact, schizophrenics who end up becoming violent are actually significantly LESS likely to admit having homicidal fantasies than the general population:

    http://www.lib.utexas.edu/etd/d/2005/duntleyj48072/duntleyj48072.pdf

  19. @Stormy Dragon:

    As the study above notes, in a survey of college undergrads, 91% of males and 76% of females admit having fantasized about killing someone (and frankly I suspect this just means that 9% of males and 24% of females lie when asked about this subject). If fantasies of homicide alone are enough to trigger an official response, you’re basically saying everyone ought to be kicked out of college.

  20. @Stormy Dragon: James Holmes did not have “homicidal fantasies.” He had homicidal plans.

    Here’s you have homicidal fantasies….you’re sitting in traffic, the guy in front of you is a dummy, so you fantasize about blowing up his car with a .50 caliber machine gun.

    Then you pass him, you go home, kiss your wife, and eat dinner with your family. By bedtime you forget you even ran into a dummy on the road, much less that you wanted to kill him.

    Homicidal plans….that’s when you go to the gun store.

  21. @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    Yes but the psychiatrists report doesn’t differentiate whether what Holmes reported to her was just fantasies or concrete actions. If he’d actually told her of concrete preparations for a massacre, it seems a bit odd to describe it as merely homicidal “thoughts”.

  22. Lit3Bolt says:

    In Doug Mataconis’ America, it’s harder for a crazy man to attend a school, drive a car, smoke marijuana, marry his boyfriend, get psychiatric help, apply for a credit card, rent an apartment, or rent a car than it is to buy a gun and thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition online.

    Buy a gun? No questions asked.

    Buy a car? Innumerable questions asked.

    But the slave-owning, genocidal apes called our “Founders” are sacred, holy creatures, and we must kneel and genuflect before their graven images five times daily lest our rights to murder other human beings at whim be taken from us. So it goes.

    Doug Mataconis has a vision for America, and it’s a “Handgun in Every Belt” by 2016.

    The funny thing is…he believes in gun rights so strongly…but he does it for free. He advocates for his fellow citizens to kill at will for free. Good boy, Doug. Sit. Heel. Advocate gun rights. Good boy.

  23. stonetools says:

    The psychiatrist and the school police officer did what was permitted by law.
    So “existing laws were enforced…”

    What, that did nothing to stop a mentally unbalanced person from committing mass murder with legally acquired semi-automatic weapons?

    Uh,lalalalalalalala….I can’t HEAR you….

    Also too, maybe the only thing that can stop a BAD guy with multiple semi-automatic weapons and body armor from massacring theater patrons is a GOOD guy with multiple semi-automatic weapons and body armor… so maybe we need a volunteer army of such people to stand guard at every theater in the US because sensible gun law reform=fascism.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Lit3Bolt: Mostly agree, except I wouldn’t be so hard on the founders. Garry Wills http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1995/sep/21/to-keep-and-bear-arms/?pagination=false strikes me as far more credible on the intent of the founders than Justices Alito or Scalia ever do. (I don’t know WTF “well regulated militia” meant, so fuggetaboutit.) Doug – your line of territory, any opinion on Wills’ argument?

  25. anjin-san says:

    @ Doug

    In Loughner’s case, there was no follow-up outside the university and it appears that the same thing happened with Holmes. And we can see what the consequences of that were.

    Lack of follow up seems quite consistent with your approach to government. What exactly are you complaining about?

  26. MM says:

    The issue is that the Overton Window on guns in this country has been shifted to be, in essence “Any barrier to possession is a step to confiscation”. Even in areas where I have seen the discussion that the mentally ill shouldn;t have guns, I have seen pushback. Often that form is arguing that most people who suffer from mental illness are non-violent, or only violent towards themselves, to the government needs to compensate the gun owner for their loss, to “we need due process”. Not that these are not valid questions. However, they reveal that there is little to no real interest in any sort of meaningful attempts to actually keep guns out of the hands of “bad people”.

    So long as the gun-rights lobby insists that the only reasonable option is “more guns”, there is zero way to ensure fewer guns get in the hands of Holmes, Loughner, or Lanza types. All three of them were technically “good guys with guns” until the day they shot someone.

  27. Rafer Janders says:

    @anjin-san:

    What exactly are you complaining about?

    Doug wants the Bear Patrol but he doesn’t want to pay for it. It’s as simple as that.

  28. @Stormy Dragon:

    If he’d actually told her of concrete preparations for a massacre, it seems a bit odd to describe it as merely homicidal “thoughts”.

    Does it? It would be even more odd for him to describe “concrete preparations for a massacre” rather than couch it in terms of “homicidal thoughts.”

    We found out on July 20 that those thoughts weren’t just fantasies. So this, “What, we’re gonna lock up everyone with homicidal fantasies now?” stuff is for the birds.

    We don’t have to lock anyone up. We just need to make it harder, if not impossible, to get these guns.

  29. mantis says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    And if we had proper recordkeeping of gun purchases, police could take the report from the psychiatrist and cross check it to learn that Holmes had purchased an enormous arsenal in a very short period of time at the same time as he was expressing homicidal thoughts to his psychiatrist.

    But if police are able to access evidence that disturbed psychopaths are preparing for a massacre, freedom dies, so we should all just strap on the kevlar and duck, because death is preferable to background checks and recordkeeping.

  30. @mantis:

    But if police are able to access evidence that disturbed psychopaths are preparing for a massacre, freedom dies

    Yep.

    I just wish these well-intentioned gun rights absolutists would also recognize that freedom also dies when you’re murdered at the movie theater.

  31. Mr. Replica says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    I just wish these well-intentioned gun rights absolutists would also recognize that freedom also dies when you’re murdered at the movie theater.

    That’s the price you pay for not carrying a loaded weapon with you at all times.
    Just remember. The next time you go to a school, a public event, a movie theater, or pretty much any place, including when you are in your own bathroom, you are never really safe. So be armed. That’s the way the founding fathers wanted it to be, and anyone that says otherwise is a commie pinko totalitarian.

  32. anjin-san says:

    @ Doug

    In Loughner’s case, there was no follow-up outside the university and it appears that the same thing happened with Holmes. And we can see what the consequences of that were.

    Lack of follow up seems quite consistent with your approach to government. What exactly are you complaining about?

    I’m asking again, what’s your complaint? This is the kind of government you advocate. How do you propose to make changes that reduce the potential danger to the public from people with serious mental illness? Are you ready to properly fund community mental health care? Demand 100% background checks and waiting periods for gun sales? What’s your plan beyond bitching that something should have been done?

    Seriously Doug – put up or shut up. You start the discussion, then vanish when you get a few tough questions.

  33. anjin-san says:

    The issue is a lack of knowledge and respect of mental health services in this country.

    Yes.
    Yes.
    Yes.

    You get the mental health care system you pay for. Most of the people in this country don’t want to pay. So we have failed at compassion, we have failed at adequate public health services, and we have failed at public safety.

    How many massacres will it take to change things?

  34. Rafer Janders says:

    @anjin-san:

    Seriously Doug – put up or shut up. You start the discussion, then vanish when you get a few tough questions.

    Um, are you new to this site?

  35. anjin-san says:

    @ Rafer Janders

    Doug is over on another thread taking on the big questions, like how much grease is palatable on fried chicken…

  36. matt says:

    @mantis: He didn’t purchase anything resembling an “enormous arsenal”….

  37. @matt:

    “He didn’t purchase anything resembling an “enormous arsenal”…. “

    You’re right. He purchased three guns, then used them to shoot 70 people, killing 12.

    So you point is what, then?

  38. @matt: D’oh! Forgot about the explosives with which he rigged his apartment.

    In addition to the propane tanks and other explosive items in his apartment, investigators found 50 containers of an unspecified liquid. Denver news station CALL7 notes that testimony at a January hearing “revealed many of the canisters contained layered combinations of improvised napalm, thermite and/or black powder.” But the number of containers, previously unreported, suggests he may have purchased ingredients in quantities that should have triggered alarms.

    They’re still renovating that building. It’s right down the street. You want to see pictures?

  39. Dave says:

    @Rafer Janders: Does that mean this is actually the immigrants fault?

  40. matt says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Bringing some reality to this discussion is my point. Your hyperbole needs to be reined in occasionally.

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb): Yeah but remember he only killed people because he had guns. He like never could of ever used those explosives to blow shit up because that has never happened right>??