Post-Columbine Study On Teen Killers Could Give Clues On James Holmes

James HolmesJames Holmes during his first court appearance

Photo: Getty Images News

In the aftermath of Friday’s tragedy in Aurora, Colo., the public will likely rush to come up with a reason why James Holmes allegedly opened fire on a crowd of innocents.But most conjectures about Holmes’ motivations are probably wrong because we still know so little about him, Dave Cullen, the author of the book “Columbine,” wrote in a telling piece in The New York Times over the weekend.

Cullen pointed to a landmark study the Secret Service conducted after the Columbine High School mass shooting that could give us insight into certain aspects of Holmes’ character.

The study focused on 41 perpetrators of extreme violence in high schools, and it could shed light on Holmes, who’s just 24 and recently dropped out of a doctoral program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado.

Here are some key findings from the 2002 study:

  • While most of the attackers hadn’t received formal mental health treatment, 78 per cent had attempted or contemplated suicide before their attacks, and 61 per cent had been depressed or desperate.
  • Most of the attackers had trouble coping with losses before they attacked their peers.
  • The young attackers frequently felt bullied, persecuted, or injured before their attacks.
  • Nearly two-thirds had never or rarely been disciplined in school.
  • The attacks were rarely impulsive, and were usually planned in advance.

While we have little information about Holmes himself, here’s what we do know about him:

  • He was part of a very prestigious neuroscience Ph.D. program for which he received a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
  • Holmes had a profile identifying himself as a non-smoking agnostic.
  • He and his girlfriend broke up just before the shooting, and he was close to being evicted from his apartment, the Daily Mail reported.
  • A pastor at the church Holmes’ family attended described him as shy and academically motivated, according to the AP.

Based on findings in the Secret Service report, Holmes may have also been depressed  – a condition characterised by self-hatred.

As Cullen wrote in The Times, “Psychologists describe depression as anger turned inward. When that anger is somehow turned around, and projected outward, watch out.” 

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