The horrific incident that occurred in Aurora, Colorado is only the latest of a long series of actions that occur from time to time committed on the general population. Our first response, beyond revulsion, is to search out why something so horrific could happen. As we come to grips with the reality of the incident, we question if there was anything displayed by the perpetrator that would be an indication of the perpetrator’s future action/s. This is much different than our understanding of routine violent action perpetrated in the commission of a crime. What makes that difference?
Violent acts that occur during the commission of crimes are what are called goal directed behavior/s. The perpetrator/s has specific goals in the commission of these acts. Armed robbery, assault, homicide, breaking and entering, etc; all are acts that follow some sort of common logic, even though the act itself appears to be illogical. Ferreting out the intent, the history of the individual, etc. usually provides us a fairly good idea why this particular individual committed this particular act. Just like someone who commits armed robbery and then kills the victim; it is logical that he doesn’t want to be identified as the perpetrator of the armed robbery, thus, killing the victim. We can usually take preventative action/s to prevent ourselves from becoming victims by altering our behaviors such as not travelling in high-crime areas late at night. Our ability to take command and control of our possible victimization is empowering and some take it even a step farther by arming themselves against such aggression. However, with the perpetrator who commits random acts of unanticipated violence, our system of risk probability is inadequate and we find ourselves completely vulnerable.
What makes the single individual “lone wolf” so dangerous is that there may or may not be any preceding behavior that is recognized, resulting in such an incident. James Holmes, the Aurora shooter, is a prime example. From what we know now; he grew up living in an affluent area, in a stabile family, he was bright and high achieving academically and seemed to be a pretty stabile individual. But, from the surfacing reports; his recent behavior had taken some unexpected changes. What happened to this kid?
You have to understand that I am now only speculating, but the possibility is that latent schizophrenia began to manifest itself. He is in the right age group and right gender for onset of the condition. Jared Loughner, the Tucson shooter, also met this profile. Schizophrenia for this group usually manifests sometime during middle adolescence to young adulthood, from age 15 through 25, and it also affects some females as well. Another fact about schizophrenia is that it only affects between 0.3 to 0.7 percent of the population. Therefore, it is extremely rare and can only be identified and diagnosed through observation and self-reports, making early diagnosis very difficult. With many who begin manifesting the symptoms after gaining majority independence, their family and associates may not even be aware of the changes that have occurred. More likely, the average person will come into contact with other types of psychosis rather than schizophrenia. Chronic depression, bi-polar disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, etc. are much more common, making contact with such a disorder more likely. However, these disorders have not been associated with the “lone wolf” behavior. I guess in one sense we should feel lucky that violent schizophrenia is so rare. One report I read indicated that the type of incident like Aurora, on average, only occurs about four times a year.
Although the risk to public safety from a lone wolf is there, the probability of it occurring is so small, to overly express concern is not warranted. What presents the greatest danger to the general population is the drunk driver, the overly confident teen driver, distracted drivers, etc. This is where our attention should be focused.
What should be taken away from this piece, is to go and enjoy your movie and leave your firearm in the car.