The killings at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, are a tragedy. For now, I don’t know what more can be said about them, and yet hundreds of reporters continue to turn out millions of words. The city of Aurora is under occupation, as news people seek some new angle, some overlooked teacher of James Holmes or neighbor of a victim, some anecdote that will create a headline.
Every detail will be analyzed for a clue to the motive of the shooter, to his state of mind. My 90-year-old mother keeps saying, “he doesn’t look like a mass murderer.” I know what she is thinking: that he is clean cut, nice looking, white – like Charles Whitman, who shot 48 people from the University of Texas tower in August 1966, like Ted Bundy, who raped and killed over 30 people. My mother doesn’t know what a mass murderer looks like, and neither do I.
We talk about life’s randomness, but most of us cannot stand it. So we grasp at any straw that will let us think we have some control, and we fit people into stereotypes that don’t exist. We hold vigils with recognizable icons – bouquets, teddy bears, the flag – which have become not just outlets for community grief, but national theater for the rest of us.
I believe that thoughtful insights will emerge from this tragedy over time, long after the nation has moved on from this obsession, leaving the victims’ families to cope however they can. I cannot begin to imagine their grief.