Budding Lunacy - The Adolescence of James Holmes


Before being one of the most recognizable and sensationalized mass murderers in the annals of history's abhorrent variety, James Homes was just a regular kid. For the first ten years or so of his life he was looked upon in high regard. Seen as an advanced, yet normal child who just seemed to keep to himself a bit more than most. 

This was not just a lens looked through by his own family (who undoubtedly would hold a more emotional bias toward the situation), it was the view of many neighbors, peers and teachers. His fifth grade teacher Paul Karrer was even quoted as saying that students like Holmes "made teaching rewarding" and that "he was a wonderful kid when he was ten."

He was referred to as "Jimmy" back then, he played sports such as basketball and ran track with regularity. Although he was never a great athlete he tried hard and was consistent, a character trait which was seen admirably by those around him. His parents have countless fond memories from these times and so did James. He recalled the kids in his neighborhood running about with his sister and him in their backyard playing capture the flag amongst other games we all tend to look back on with a begrudging fondness. If only we could turn the clock back and spend our days playing dodge and kick ball again instead of rotting away in cubicles. James probably has a similar thought lingering, being bombarded by isolation every instant. 

I believe once we pass the age of 30 we've had ample time to digest our childhoods. Countless times in the shower for unknown reasons vivid or sometimes abstract memories exercise themselves in our minds. We remind ourselves of embarrassing mistakes or proud accomplishments and sometimes we relive our traumas. Through common conversation and casual encounters we have these recalls, that to my experience, are usually sparked by a trigger. Sometimes it's a word, smell or noise that just causes something in our brains to unlock an otherwise inaccessible flash and for that moment in time you can't focus on anything else. 

Before you know it you've been thinking about or discussing the time you dropped an ice cream cone when you were three and wouldn't stop crying. What a silly thing, if you dropped the ice cream today you'd probably laugh and just buy another one. These memories make up our personalities, each person has an individual chemical identity along with a set of life circumstances that have molded them into their current state. This topic always at some point will beg the age old question on the impact of nature vs nurture. 

My opinion on this matter has evolved over time to another question: why does it have to be viewed as a competition rather than a cooperative effort? I'm of the strong belief that some of these cases involve a downward spiral caused from a lack of moral foundation, family support and structure. Alternatively, you have examples of people who were dealt a poor genetic hand, suffering through incurable chemical imbalances their whole lives. Then in a third unique example, you have cases where the two paths join in a romance leaving the individual with a nearly impossible uphill trek to normalcy. 

I had a close friend from years ago whose life path was far from rosy. He was the son of a disturbed, drug addicted mother, who even at one point during a narcotic fueled rampage tried to kill him. He easily fell into selling drugs encompassed by his oppressive and impregnable ghetto surroundings. That is just "what they did to survive". Eventually he would be attacked by the police during an encounter and viciously beaten, shattering one of his front teeth. 

Eventually he headed out of state to escape his mother and live with his brothers and father. His father, while not a bad man, did not set a useful example. He was a kind but lazy pothead and would often fish from the local shores to find food for them. Not an ambitious man by any means. So again, my friend was thrust into a position where he would need to be the breadwinner in his household and, of course, the funds were derived in an illegal manner because that was all he knew. Through all of the imbalance, struggle and ugliness he never became an evil person. 

Now that is not to say this was a man you wanted to test, he certainly could be dangerous. His grizzled experience had granted him a familiarity with life and death situations. He was entirely capable of being violent and cold-hearted but he chose not to be, contrary to what his development would have suggested.

James's circumstances are profoundly different than my friends. Despite Holmes being shy and seemingly programed in a reserved capacity, he had everything around him one could want to have a successful life. The major traumatic event to him would be far a different variety from those which I've just described for you. 

In the interviews described in William H. Reid's (a psychiatrist who interviewed James after his crimes) book A Dark Night In Aurora James indicates  his family uprooting and moving back to San Diego at the tail end of the year 2000 as a major turning point. A neighbor who thought he was a wonderful kid described the tears running from his eyes as she watched them drive away in their minivan. 

While this may appear to be a just trivial moment of growing and dealing with change to us, remember, this is an immensely socially awkward individual. Having to rebuild friendships from scratch is an exhausting effort when you consider James's future behavior. 

This would be when the trouble truly started. After the move he spoke sparingly to his family and had trouble erecting friendships, even with his mother advocating for him. She would go to neighbors' houses in an attempt to get other boys to befriend James, she didn't have much luck. 

The first thoughts of a darker nature that Holmes had were of "atomic bombs" going off and "nuclear winters." He didn't understand them at first, he'd have to wait until later to comprehend the foreshadowing. He would get them only when he had down time. If he was playing video games or doing school work, he was keeping himself busy and in turn, subduing these macabre visions. 

They'd tend to only appear right before bed during according to his interviews. His symptoms shining through while idle, "NO work NO play makes James a dull boy" would have been a tweaked but applicable slogan for him. What started with nuclear explosions had morphed into vision of a person being shredded with a saw. Before long James found out it was actually he who was the one doing the sawing in these trances, amongst other disturbing ideas. 

We've all had dark thoughts (some serious some not), the extent varying by person. I think if we were honest with ourselves we could all agree that at some point we've all thought about what it would be like to kill someone, if not consciously then subconsciously. Maybe you've had a dream where you were involved in a murder and scrambling to escape the repercussions, or maybe you see a news article about a child being killed and wonder what you might do if that was your offspring. Would you seek revenge?

I think the thought from a mild hypothetical standpoint has crossed all of our minds but what drives people to take that leap is something that we as mortals will be fascinated by until the end of time. 


A.K. Burnsregard