Violence in Aurora: Untreated Mental Illness, Again?

July 24, 2012 Randye Kaye

We know what happened, but not why. We mourn the victims, hug our loved ones to us, and will think twice before walking into a movie theatre for awhile.

aurora griefThe Batman massacre in Aurora, Colorado. Unspeakable violence. Haunting pictures of a grieving father, a critically injured mother who cannot yet be told that her 6-year-old child is one of the victims - and a young, academically-gifted young man now sporting fire-engine-red hair and a (let's just say it) really creepy smile.

And again, the questions:

  • How could this have happened?
  • What could have led up to this horrible, terrifying, unspeakable act?
  • And - as we ask each time this happens - Could it have been prevented? Why did no one see the signs?

And, for me, the gratitude that my own son's mental illness is diagnosed, treated, and no longer defines all of his actions. While Ben does not have a violent nature (thank God) and therefore has only had delusions of writing a famous poem which will result in world peace, I am all too aware that without treatment he would most likely be wandering aimlessly, talking to himself, trying to be "friendly" to people who are avoiding him, and quite possibly in jail due to his confusion and strange actions.

Diagnosis and Treatment Can Help

There but for the grace of God... And the right treatment. And support, purpose, structure, patience, and love. We are so grateful, as Ben's family, for the education that helped us to become advocates for treatment in all its aspects.

As I write this, The Healthy Place Newsletter just arrived, with this article: "Why? The Colorado Shooter". In it, the scary probable truth: Maybe there were no warning signs.

James Holmes didn't show up on anyone's radar. His behavior didn't attract anyone's attention. Even the large cache of weapons, ammo and protective body gear were legally purchased.

So here's the scary thing, or maybe it's something we'll just get used to: "There's no way you can prevent it. There's absolutely no way," said Peter Ahearn, a former FBI agent. "It was random. It happened. There was nothing that could have prevented that unless someone saw him loading his car with guns."

However, we may be able to learn some lessons from this anyway.

Can Future Similar Tragedies be Prevented?

Dr. E Fuller Torrey, author of Surviving Schizophrenia and a great advocate for proper treatment, reminds us that:

Treatment should be the operant word for this discussion. There is no evidence whatsoever that people with severe mental illnesses who are receiving treatment are more violent than the general population. But it is a different story when people with severe mental illnesses are not receiving treatment...Why don’t we provide proper treatment? The main reason is that state governors and legislatures think they are saving money. They are not, of course, since these untreated people end up costing us money in jails and prisons or by causing tragedies such as the one we are witnessing.

The details about the Colorado shooter are still to surface. Does he have schizophrenia or some other major mental illness? Could detection and treatment have prevented this? We may have to wait and see how this particular case plays out, but one thing I know for sure, for our family: we are grateful for the treatment that allows Ben to live a life with community, purpose, love, and possibility.

It took lots of trial and error, grief and hope, loss and reconstruction

[caption id="attachment_1001" align="alignright" width="170" caption="Fractured, mended..."][/caption]

to find the right treatment (medical and emotional), and I hope there are more medical strides to improve future options too, but in the meantime we'll take what we've got: our fractured family, rebuilt - with the cracks showing, but still intact.

And as the details emerge about this latest tragedy, may it inspire us all to fight for earlier detection, more extensive education, funded research, better treatment, and the right to administer it, court-mandated if necessary, to those who need it most. Maybe, just maybe, we can save some lives in the future.

APA Reference
Kaye, R. (2012, July 24). Violence in Aurora: Untreated Mental Illness, Again?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 23 from

Author: Randye Kaye

Ernie Richards
July, 26 2012 at 10:43 am

From a Canadian viewpoint, excessive quantities of ammunition delivered to the same address SHOULD have raised flags. But apparently the second amendment to the USA Constitution, which was meant for the times of the late 1700's but never changed to reflect the changing times allows idiots to do what they wish with impunity. I regret to say that I do not wish to visit the USA because I may be shot by a believer in the 2nd amendment, even if I did no wrong.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Randye Kaye
July, 26 2012 at 1:39 pm

Hi Ernie - Of course this is a huge issue: gun control. "bowling for Columbine" explored that issue to a great extent, and thank you for sharing your views. Of course, on this forum, we focus on another hot issue, which is about proper treatment for mental illness. I do not know for sure if the shooter was denied proper treatment, but I suspect it from the details that are emerging. One thing for sure: We'd all like to do everything possible to prevent this from ever happening again.

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