Another Violent Tragedy Shakes Our Nation

Once again, a recent tragedy in Aurora, Colorado has shaken our nation. Who could have known that simply wanting to see a Batman movie could end in shootings, death and trauma? What does this tragedy tell us?

Looking beyond the surface 

Memorial to those who died at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado*

James Holmes was a young man who had been known as a peaceful, normal, neuroscience student. Yet, unobserved, he had been planning an execution in detail with a significant arsenal of weapons and ammunition—including arming his apartment with explosive devices that appeared wired to kill anyone who entered his space. He divulged this information as he was being captured. With only this information, the situation is quite perplexing to ascribe a cause. Why did this tragedy occur?

Steps to take in a trauma such as this

First, we as a nation should offer help, support, counseling and assistance to the families of those who lost their lives and to the wounded and their families. These families have experienced life-changing trauma with immeasurable loss that will have years of impact to their personal worlds. The consequences of tragedy are deep and lasting. Without the ability to process the event, the impact is worsened. Already, the Aurora community has been responding with several initiatives to begin the healing process. It is my hope that the community continues to respond with ongoing support. I admire the American spirit  that reaches out to support those in need and spread hope.

Empathy for the family of the perpetrator

We also struggle to know what to think of or say to the family of James Holmes. I have witnessed situations in which the offender’s family gets treated as if they were the offender. My experience tells that these families have a double-grief: one set of emotions over what happened to those who were victimized by their son, and secondly, the almost incomprehensible realization that one of your own family members committed such an act. 

Regardless of what is known about James, it is unlikely that anyone would have predicted that this young man would have planned or been capable of such an act.  His family’s pain must be immense, and it is my hope that others will be compassionate to this devastated family as they try to piece their lives back together.

How to quell the storm of violence and anger

This event is one of those situations in which discussion turns to speculation, with all kinds of ideas, opinions and thoughts as to why it happened and what to do to prevent it from occurring again. Because the perpetrator appeared to be relatively normal, the answers to the questions will emerge slowly. 

As the offender goes through trial and more information comes to light, I am sure clarity will also occur regarding what led up to his destructive act in a theatre of innocent people.  Wouldn’t it be advantageous if information would emerge to prevent a similar event in the future?

While I do not believe we should get too far ahead of the information that will be forthcoming, nor draw too many conclusions, I do believe we can agree on one salient point.  The U.S. is still a country extremely prone to violence. When we add violence in urban communities, incidences of alarming bullying in the lives of our children, what we know happens with domestic violence, the rate of violent crime convictions, and incidences of random violence, it is clear that we are a nation that has yet to quell the storm of anger and violence that continues to seethe within. 

Concurrently, we also are seeing increased incidences of mental illness and mental breaks in individuals that are revelatory of deeper issues going unaddressed. At a time when human services are being cut, restrained and terminated, more volatility can occur from those who are struggling in their personal lives.

A call to vigilance

These issues call us to a level of vigilance: how do we evaluate people and situations, whom can we touch with an intention to provide help and support  and who may be vulnerable to violence.  

Whether you are a professional, a caregiver of children or teenagers, an educator, a pastor, a parent, a friend, a co-worker or a fellow citizen, let us raise our awareness of those in need around us and attempt as best as we can to get them help before a breaking event occurs.  Often, it is the small and subtle things that we do to expresse care and support that may help someone overcome a deep-seated fear, a need for identity, a mental lapse or even some direction for those who have more difficult issues. 

There are an abundnce of issues that invade our private worlds that can cause unhealthy perceptions that lead to irrational, violent or desperate actions. As we witness devastation in Aurora, maybe we should consider it a wake-up call for all of us to take a look around and reach out to someone who may be struggling. It could be life-changing for those individuals and may prevent something like the Aurora tragedy.

Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network

*photo courtesy of


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