James Holmes’s first hearing, arrests, threats in other ‘Dark Knight’ incidents, and the gun control debate

July 24, 2012

Three days after the mass shooting at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, alleged gunman James Holmes appeared in court for the first time on Monday.

Holmes, 24, is suspected of opening fire on a crowded theater of moviegoers at a midnight premiere of the highly-anticipated Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises.”

Holmes first hearing

As previously reported by the Post’s David A. Fahrenthold and Carol D. Leonnig:

CENTENNIAL, Colo. — James Holmes made his first public appearance as an alleged killer on Monday, shambling into a Colorado courtroom with a bearing more like that of a teenage delinquent than the comic-book supervillain he reportedly fancied himself to be.

Holmes, 24, did not speak during his brief appearance. A judge ordered him held without bond in the shooting rampage early Friday in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 and wounded 58.

But Monday provided a first look at the man who allegedly opened fire in a crowded movie theater while wearing body armor and a gas mask that hid his face. Holmes’s hair was dyed an uneven and amateurish red, darkest at the crown of his head and then fading to pink, orange, yellow and finally to the brown of his sideburns.

Holmes walked just a few feet into the courtroom, sitting next to a defense lawyer in a jury-box seat, as far as possible from the family members of victims who were sitting in the gallery. Five sheriff’s deputies stood in the aisle, in case they tried anything. Two deputies stood near Holmes, in case he did.

But Holmes barely moved.

Judge William B. Sylvester read through the boilerplate beginnings of a big trial: orders to stay away from the shooting victims, warnings about Holmes’s right to remain silent. The suspect looked straight ahead. He looked down. He let his eyelids sink, and his shoulders; more than anything, Holmes looked lethargic.

He has not yet been officially charged, and Monday’s appearance, called an advisement, precedes a formal arraignment at the Arapahoe County Justice Center. Holmes is refusing to cooperate with investigators trying to learn what motivated the attack.

“He’s not talking to us,” Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates told reporters. Holmes has been assigned two public defenders, who have not commented publicly.

At Monday’s hearing, Holmes gave “a bizarre performance,” said Joseph E. diGenova, a former U.S. attorney for the District. “His entire demeanor was bizarre. Is this guy acting, or is this real? Is he psychotic? Is he seriously ill?

“There is no doubt he is a very disturbed person,” diGenova said. “But whether he is technically mentally ill for insanity-defense purposes remains to be seen.”

Arrests, threats in other ‘Dark Knight’-related incidents

As previously reported by the Associated Press:

At least 3 men accused of making threats during or after watching the new Batman movie have been arrested in separate incidents, underscoring moviegoers’ anxieties and heightened security in the wake of a deadly mass shooting at a Colorado theater showing the film.

A Maine man was arrested when he told authorities that he was on his way to shoot a former employer a day after watching “The Dark Knight Rises,” Maine state police said Monday.

Timothy Courtois of Biddeford, Maine, had been stopped for speeding, and a police search of his car found an AK-47 assault weapon, four handguns, ammunition and news clippings about the mass shooting that left 12 people dead early Friday, authorities said.

Courtois said he had attended the Batman movie on Saturday, although police have not confirmed whether he actually saw the film.

“I guess we’re taking everything at face value,” State Police Lt. Kevin Donovan said. “It’s very scary.”

Police searched Courtois’ home later Sunday and found a machine gun, several other guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition.

“We don’t know what his true intentions were,” said Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. “Based on the arsenal that was confiscated, we brought in our counterparts from the FBI and ATF to assist with the investigation.”

Courtois was charged with speeding and possession of a concealed weapon.

In Southern California, a man at a Sunday afternoon showing of the film was arrested after witnesses said he made threats and alluded to the Aurora shooting when the movie didn’t start.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were called to a cinema complex in Norwalk after moviegoers said 52-year-old Clark Tabor shouted: “I should go off like in Colorado.” They said he then asked: “Does anybody have a gun?”

A security guard saw Tabor with a backpack on his knees in the second row, but deputies who searched the bag, the theater and its surrounding area did not find any weapon.

Separately, moviegoers in Sierra Visa, Ariz., panicked when a man who appeared intoxicated was confronted during a showing of the movie. The Cochise County Sheriff’s office said it caused “mass hysteria” and about 50 people fled the theater.

Off-duty Border Patrol agents tackled Michael William Borboa, 27, who had a backpack with him, according to The Arizona Daily Star. Authorities said it contained an empty alcohol container and a half-empty moonshine bottle.

Borboa was arrested on suspicion of disorderly conduct, and threatening and intimidating.

Gun Control and Beyond

As previously reported by the Associated Press:

In a nation that likes its quick-fixes and finger-pointing, do we blame the mental health industry, poor parenting, a 24-7 news cycle that brings instant “fame” to mass murderers and sometimes spawns copycats, a culture that glamorizes — and has become desensitized to — violence in its many myriad forms? (Consider the nonstop Internet “zombie” chatter after a Florida man this year had his face nearly chewed off in a bizarre attack.)

And placing blame aside, are there steps we can take to prevent yet another rampage?

Tom Mauser’s primary focus, since his son was killed in the 1999 Columbine shootings, has been to advocate for more gun control. The year after Columbine, he helped lead an initiative approved by Colorado voters to require background checks for all firearms buyers at state gun shows.

Still, that didn’t prevent accused Aurora shooter James Holmes from acquiring two pistols, a shotgun, an AR-15 rifle and thousands of bullets. Someone intent on killing will find a means. And so Mauser and those who have spent years studying mass murder know that any so-called solutions must go far beyond gun control.

Generally, they say the solution may have less to do with government intervention than individual action. People need to be more aware of troubled individuals who may act violently; they should talk with them, and if they remain alarmed they must reach out for help. And when they do, there must be someone to listen and act effectively.

“The question we have to ask constantly is: What more can we be doing? We may not be able to stop all of them, but I think we could stop more than we do,” said Peter Langman, a psychologist who has spent years studying the Columbine massacre and similar incidents at other schools and universities.

In many cases, Langman and others have found, the murderers either left clues as to what might be coming or behaved in a manner that left those around them feeling uneasy but, perhaps, unsure of what to do.

Langman understands the hesitation private citizens and institutions may have about acting on instincts. We’re not psychiatrists, after all. What if the person in question has broken no laws? Who am I to say something?

His response: “You can alert people. You can try talking to the person if it’s someone you know. Engage them in conversation. See if they’re in a state of crisis.”

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