In Response to the Aurora Theater Shooting Verdict – A Personal Essay

Today the world stood still in the town of Aurora, Colorado. It’s not the biggest city in the state. People who don’t live here may have never heard of it before 2012, but it’s my hometown and it holds some of my best memories. For many people, though, it holds some of their worst.

On July 20th, 2012, James Holmes walked into a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises and he set off tear gas grenades and opened fire just as the film began. Many patrons were unsure if it was a publicity stunt that was part of the show, or if they should be alarmed. James Holmes killed 12 people that night, and injured 70 others. News outlets covered the crime 24 hours a day for many days, questioning why and how someone could do this, and for the first few hours updating the death toll. No one could understand why he would do something like that. Holmes was dressed in tactical gear and had his hair colored as a homage to the Batman villain the Joker, who appeared in the previous film. He was arrested at the scene, and since then a debate has raged on as to whether or not he should pay for his crimes due to mental illness and insanity. 

Since Holmes’ crime, our nation has suffered through several more unwarranted mass shootings and the issue of mental illness has become a hot topic. It’s no secret that there are not always resources available to those who suffer from mental illness, and way too many people fall through the cracks and are left with no other options than to succumb to their illness. I am not here to argue the validity of an insanity plea in this case. My goal is not to sway opinions or cause an argument or debate. As the prosecution said in their closing arguments, what matters here is that James Holmes walked into that theater on July 20, 2012 intending to kill every person in there.

As I mentioned earlier, Aurora is my hometown. I went to high school maybe a few miles away from the Century 16 Movie Theater, and I saw countless movies there in my youth. I should also mention that I suffer from mental illness, and have for many years. It has brought me to some very dark places – drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, unhealthy relationships, self-harm, and even attempted suicide. It makes me feel incredibly vulnerable to share that with the world, but now finally feels like a good time to open up about my struggles. It took me many years to come to terms with my condition, I self-medicated with drugs and alcohol, convinced myself I was fine without meds for many years, and hit some very scary all time lows that lasted for years at a time before I finally accepted that I needed help. I am in control of my illness now, but the ongoing debates about whether or not people like me can be trusted, or held responsible for our actions when we do something wrong always hits very close to home for me. Yesterday, at 4:15 p.m. James Holmes was found guilty of murder in the first degree for all twelve deaths, as well as every count of attempted murder and I couldn’t be happier. Now let me explain to you why.

First of all, part of dealing with my illness as an adult is understanding that there are some things about myself I cannot help, but I have to try every day to overcome my demons. In turn, when I fail at defeating the monsters inside I alone am solely responsible for what I’ve done because as a human I have a choice everyday on how I handle myself. Yes, on many days it is harder for me to do the reasonable thing, but I am still the one in power – not my illness. Whether or not I’m on my meds, that will always be the cold hard truth.

Second, when James Holmes attacked the patrons of that theater – a bunch of excited movie and comic buffs eagerly awaiting their first glimpse of the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises – he attacked my peers. Not just my peers, my family. I am part of a close-knit group of, shall we say, geeks or nerds. We’re fanatic; we’re easily excitable about the things we love and the people in that theater were likely in a state of pure elation until Holmes took everything from them. I’ve gone to those midnight openings, my friends have gone to them and other than the fact that I had to work the next day there was no reason that my husband and I wouldn’t have been at that theater with all the other fans. Those victims are people I relate to; they’re people that I have shared experiences with. Seeing the midnight release of a film is a fun and exhilarating experience for fans. It used to be a sacred rite for the truly devoted, and on that night, James Holmes demolished that joy for a population and turned it into pain. He attacked my community – my friends, my family, my fellow Batman and movie fanatics, but it goes even deeper than that.

When James Holmes walked into that theater he attacked people, he attacked human kind. He tried to take innocence and bliss from well intentioned human beings that had done nothing to warrant such an unjustified act. He tried to instill fear and terror into the world, to remind us that there was no safe place and he succeeded. Movie theaters now run PSAs before films informing people of how to quickly and safely escape should another armed lunatic try to attack. James Holmes changed our community and he changed our world for the worst. Our children will grow up in a society where knowing that there is no safety from armed maniacs is just a part of life, and that is just too fucked up for me to wrap my head around.

For a long time, something inside of myself rejected learning Holmes’ name – I called him John Holmes (famed 70’s porn star who died of AIDS) for at least a year because I refused to give him the name recognition he so obviously craved. It was never on purpose; it just kind of happened. But I know his name now – he is a convicted murderer and domestic terrorist James Holmes. He took so much from us that we will never get back. He was found guilty almost exactly three years after that fateful night, but watching the coverage certainly doesn’t make it feel like any time has passed at all.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, I completely understand the tragedy of a person being found guilty because they were unable to get help in time. That being said, I am also someone who understands that when that kind of darkness starts to creep into your mind you have a choice – and James Holmes chose to let that darkness take him. When he gave in, he changed the world forever and he took something from all of us. He destroyed countless lives and families and he turned something that should have been so fun into something horrific. Aurora, Colorado is my home and I will never be the same after seeing how something so horrible could happen to my peers, in my community, in my own backyard. Justice was served today, James Holmes deserves to be punished for what he did. It will never give anyone back what they’ve lost, nothing can ever do that.  At least this way there will closure for a community that was forever changed.

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Keriann "Anna" McNamara-McCauliffe

Fire bad. Tree pretty.

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