Readers reacted strongly to the four photos (some described them as Andy Warhol-esque) of James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado movie theater massacre, which appeared on the front page of The Post on July 24.
Most readers were upset that The Post was giving Holmes the attention he might crave; psychologists, readers pointed out, say that a common characteristic among those who carry out such acts is a desire for immortality and recognition.
Family members of shooting victims also had urged the media to not play up photographs of the alleged shooter or publicize his name.
“I feel that one photograph of the accused Aurora killer would have been plenty, thank you very much,” wrote one reader. “A Warholian montage of four is totally unnecessary. Remember that this person committed his crimes to garner attention and fame. Let us deny it to him.”
Other readers were concerned about the potential for copycats. Susan Goewey of Vienna wrote this: “Studies and interviews indicate that many mass shootings are carried out because the perpetrator wants to be famous. I highly recommend that the Post editors read the book ‘The Copycat Effect’ by Loren Coleman.
“If they do, they will stop putting photographs of these disturbed killers on the front page of the paper. By using this . . .image, you are giving James Holmes exactly what he wants, and are perhaps stimulating copycat fantasies in other sick minds.”
The readers may be right that publicity could inspire copycats or give the alleged shooter the notoriety he may have been seeking. But it’s just as likely the photographs will have no effect.
We don’t know anything yet about the Holmes’s alleged motivations. His appearance in the Colorado courthouse was his first since the shootings. It is part of a lengthy, legal and public process of an accused who under our laws has to face his accusers in open court. The accusers include the state of Colorado but also the victims’ families, who also were in the courthouse. The public has just as much right to see the accused killer as the families do.
The photos were the first authorized and verifiable of Holmes other than the student identification photo the University of Colorado released the day after the shooting. That alone makes them newsworthy.
Furthermore, the point of the story was that Holmes’s conduct in the courtroom was odd by virtually every account of people who were there. The four photographs gave some sense of that conduct.
It may be that Holmes is a cold-blooded killer, a troubled or insane young man hell-bent on notoriety. But he is also a human being, a man of flesh and blood like the rest of us, and the public has a right and duty to see him for who he is.