With Aurora Massacre, Memories of Columbine Stir

ABC News
With Aurora Massacre, Memories of Columbine Stir
.

View photo

With Aurora Massacre, Memories of Columbine Stir (ABC News)

There was a sense of inevitability about comparisons to the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School that circulated as news spread Friday morning of the shooting that left at least 12 dead and 59 injured at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

As thousands have noted on social media outlets in the hours since the shooting made national headlines, Littleton, Colo. — where two teenagers murdered 12 of their classmates and a teacher before taking their own lives at Columbine High School — is less than 20 miles away from Aurora's Century 16 cinema, the site of Thursday night's bloodshed.

The Aurora massacre, in which James Holmes, 24, is accused of barging into a midnight screening of the much-anticipated Batman sequel in riot gear before opening fire on audience members, is Colorado's worst since the Columbine school shooting.

Even as dozens of patients were still being treated for injuries at local hospitals Friday, the memory of Columbine was invoked in countless tweets and Facebook posts, many wondering if Colorado had been cursed.

Superstition of that kind can be damaging for those affected by the Columbine tragedy, said Frank Ochberg, a Michigan State University psychiatrist who served as a consultant for Columbine High School as it sought to manage the impact of the shooting on the school community.

Ochberg said the reawakening of the traumatic events of April 20, 1999 — the day Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold's fatal rampage struck fear into the hearts of parents with school-age children nationwide — can undermine recovery from traumatic stress injury made by survivors and victims' relatives.

"They sometimes think, 'I'm back to square one,'" he said.

The Columbine legacy, which has faded but decidedly not disappeared from the suburban Denver area, may have enticed Holmes as an opportunity for greater notoriety, said David Cullen, the author of the best-selling book "Columbine."

Aurora police say when they apprehended Holmes near his car in the theater's parking lot, he sported red-painted hair and claimed to be the Joker, the Batman movie's mass-murdering villain. The high-profile nature of the movie premiere may have provided Holmes with an additional platform for publicity, Cullen said.

"It could have been a twofer — he had the Batman legacy and the Columbine legacy," he said.

The psychology of mass murderers is complex, said Kenneth Lanning, a former FBI behavioral scientist, but it usually boils down to one of two basic motives: a desire for revenge against a perceived enemy or the notoriety gained through press coverage.

Columbine was by far the worst in a series of school shootings in the 1990s. In its wake, schools nationwide improved security measures and provided local police departments with floor plans to use in case SWAT teams needed to pursue an active shooter inside. Meanwhile, the intensity of the shooting's media coverage provoked widespread worry that troubled children at other schools might be encouraged to turn to violence.

While there is no evidence that the frequency of school shootings rose as a result of Columbine, the same concerns remain relevant as the story of the Aurora massacre explodes on national media outlets.

"The media has a real dilemma that I don't know the answer to," Lanning said. "I'm not going to suggest they don't cover it, but this will be all over the place, and that fuels the problem of this happening again. It guarantees that one guy with problems will say that's what I want."

Columbine also sparked renewed fears about the exposure of children to violence in video games, television and films — not unlike the speculation now percolating through the Internet about whether the bullets in Aurora, which fired on moviegoers just as a shootout broke out on screen, could have been in part caused by fictional portrayals of violence. Then as now, violence rekindled the debate over gun control laws.

The question of what effects such exposure might have on children remains controversial, said Ochberg, a former associate director of the National Institute for Mental Health, but it is clear that acts of violence such as the Columbine and Aurora shootings have their roots in mental disturbance. On-screen violence probably has its greatest effect on what method killers choose, he said.

As details about Holmes begin to emerge, Cullen said it is important not to rush to judgment about his motives, as he said was widely done in Columbine's aftermath. Assumptions that the teenagers were driven to murder by bullying have been largely discredited, in part because of Cullen's book.

It would be a mistake, Lanning said, to look for a "reason" for the Columbine or Aurora tragedies.

"As if there could be a reason you go to a movie theater and shoot 60 people," he said.

View Comments (19)

Recommended for You

  • 'The Bachelor' Recap: Shocking Eliminations in the Bahamas

    Monday night's episode of "The Bachelor" picked up where last week's episode left off: with Ben Higgins having a private chat with Olivia after he received several complaints about her from the other women. Olivia played the victim, saying she has a target on her back and that her fellow…

    Good Morning America24 mins ago
  • Teresa Giudice Reveals Why She Doesn't Blame Her Husband for Her Prison Term

    In her first live TV interview since being released from prison, Teresa Giudice said she does not blame her husband, Joe Giudice, for the couple’s legal troubles. “No, I don’t,” Giudice, 42, said today on “Good Morning America” when asked if she held Joe responsible. The “Real Housewives of New…

    Good Morning America27 mins ago
  • Zika Virus Outbreak: Consumer Reports Shares Best Zika-Fighting Repellents

    With concern surrounding the Zika virus at an all-time high, Consumer Reports has re-released its exclusive ratings of mosquito repellents that best protect against the mosquitoes that spread the virus. Officials Monday announced that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency…

    Good Morning America46 mins ago
  • Marco Rubio Believes He Must Be ‘Doing Something Right’

    Sen. Marco Rubio today brushed off recent attacks by his GOP rivals, saying he must be "doing something right," and expressing confidence despite what he called the "unusual set up" in today’s New Hampshire primary. Despite Christie's attacks, Rubio believes he had "a very strong debate," and…

    Good Morning America
  • John Kasich’s New Hampshire Primary Day Prediction: ‘We’re Going to Finish Very Strong’

    Ohio Gov. John Kasich, whose campaign has maintained a laser-like focus on performing well in today’s New Hampshire primary, declined to predict exactly how he would place once all the votes are counted here, but sounded a note of confidence in an interview today on "Good Morning America.""We’re…

    Good Morning America
  • Jeb Bush's Fall (or Maybe Rise)

    On the eve of today’s New Hampshire presidential primary, Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush finished his day at the Frank Jones Center on the seacoast, the same locale where another unlikely GOP contender, John McCain, once hosted his final town hall in a state that he ultimately won eight…

    Good Morning America
  • Hong Kong 'Fish Ball Revolution' Erupts in Violent Crackdown

    Violent clashes erupted overnight in Hong Kong after protesters defended unlicensed food vendors, set up for Chinese New Year celebrations, from being shut down by police. The group said on its official Facebook page that its candidate for local council, Edward Leung Tin-kei, had been arrested.

    Good Morning America
  • Oscars Countdown: Stars Gather at Nominees Luncheon

    In “The Danish Girl,” Alicia Vikander’s character brims with tenderness and understanding. In “The Hateful Eight,” Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character Daisy is no fragile flower. Both actresses are Oscar nominees in the supporting actress category. At Monday’s Nominees Luncheon in Beverly Hills, the…

    Good Morning America
  • 2 Trains Collide in Germany, 8 Dead, at Least 100 Injured

    Two morning commuter trains have collided in Bad Aibling in southern Germany, killing eight people and injuring more than 100 others, police said.The train manufacturer, Meridian, released a statement in German, saying two trains collided just after 7 a.m. today local time.In a news conference,…

    Good Morning America
  • Dixville Notch Casts First Votes in New Hampshire Primary

    The nine voters of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, became some of the first in the state -- and consequently, first in the nation -- to cast their ballots in the presidential primary in the early hours of Tuesday. New Hampshire has held the "First in the Nation" presidential primary since 1920, and…

    Good Morning America
  • Father of 13-Year-Old Murder Victim 'Bet She Fought Like a Wildcat'

    The father of a 13-year-old girl allegedly murdered by a Virginia Tech student said he "bet she fought like a wildcat," according to a new interview. David Lovell, the father of Nicole Lovell, made the comments to Dr. Phil McGraw in an interview set to air Wednesday. “I bet she fought like a…

    Good Morning America
  • Good Morning America
  • Bernie Sanders and the Expectations Game in New Hampshire

    Sen. Bernie Sanders might be the underdog nationwide, but he has been leading in the polls in New Hampshire for months. Another from UMass-Lowell, also out Monday, had Sanders at 56 percent and Clinton at 40 percent. While the numbers would be exciting for any campaign, they have also set the…

    Good Morning America
  • DA in Cornell Sex Assault Case Condemns Underage Drinking Culture on Campuses

    The district attorney prosecuting a Cornell University fraternity president accused of attempted rape and sexual abuse blamed schools in general for "turning a blind eye" to the subject of underage drinking in connection with sexual assault on college campuses. Wolfgang Ballinger, 21, a member of…

    Good Morning America
  • Zika Virus Outbreak Prompts CDC to Activate Highest Emergency Ops Level

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Emergency Operations Center has been moved to Level 1, the agency's highest level, due to the risk of Zika virus transmission in the U.S., officials said today. The Level 1 activation is "reflecting the agency’s assessment of the need for an…

    Good Morning America
  • 'Girls' Star Lena Dunham Taking Time Off for 'Chronic' Illness

    The acclaimed HBO show "Girls" is back for a new season this month, but its biggest star will not being making press appearances due to a "chronic condition."Lena Dunham took to Instagram today to write, "I just wanted to let you know that, while I am so excited for Girls to return on Feb 21, I…

    Good Morning America
  • WWE Wrestler Daniel Bryan to Retire

    Former WWE champion and professional wrestling star Daniel Bryan is retiring."Due to medical reasons, effective immediately, I am announcing my retirement. Tonight on Raw, I'll have a chance to elaborate. #gratitude," he tweeted on Monday.Read: Stone Cold Steve Austin: My Life After Pro…

    Good Morning America