The terrorist next door: James Holmes and the false media profile of mass murderers

OPINION - In less than 36 hours, we’ve learned a lot about James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Aurora, Colorado...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

In less than 36 hours, we’ve learned a lot about James Holmes, the alleged shooter in Aurora, Colorado.  The desire to learn about his background, to understand him, speaks to the destructive ways that we talk about violence within our culture. It speaks to our collective discomfort whenever we see, confront, and face violence that is “not supposed to happen.”

Described as “nice,” “easy-going,” “smart” and “quiet,” the media discourse has gone to great lengths to humanize Holmes, describing him in sympathetic terms. Whether identified as churchgoing, or as someone who worked with underprivileged kids, the media has gone to great lengths to depict him as a good person gone awry.

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The Los Angeles Times, quoting Anthony Mai (a family friend), described Holmes in the following way: “I saw him as a normal guy, an everyday guy, doing everyday things.” He was a “very shy, well-mannered young man who was heavily involved in their local Presbyterian church.” Similarly, an AP Report included the assessment of Jackie Mitchell, who lived in the same neighborhood as Holmes and reportedly had a beer with him the  week of the shootings. “We just talked about football. He had a backpack and geeky glasses and seemed like a real intelligent guy,” Mitchell said. “And I figured he was one of the college students.” Noting that he had “swagger,” Mitchell’s “insight,” albeit based on a single encounter, purportedly authenticates a narrative of Holmes as a “normal” All-American kid.  He drinks beer and talks football like  many other 24-year olds. Other reports depict Holmes as “reserved” and “respectful;” as a “loner” and as a “kid,” despite being 24-years old.

According to neighbors in San Diego, who shared apple cider with his family just last year, Holmes was not unlike many of his peers.  While he rarely socialized with other kids and never had a girlfriend, he was a “nice guy.” Tom Mai agreed with his daughter, noting, “James was nice and quiet. He was studious, he cut the grass, and cleaned the car. He was very bright.”  Likewise, in “From Quiet Kid to Accused Mass Killer,” Nick Martin illustrates the trajectory and scope of the emerging Holmes narrative:

Growing up in San Diego, James Eagan Holmes was seen by his neighbors as an “everyday guy,” a smart kid who was otherwise unremarkable. But by Friday, the young man was being described by Colorado’s governor as a “very deranged mind” and was the sole suspect in a horrific massacre that left 12 people dead and 59 wounded at a movie theater in the Denver suburbs.