(KGTV) — This week our nation is again stricken with the grief and anguish of another mass shooting. Precious children taken at the hands of a gunman armed for combat and intent on taking lives.
In 2021 we saw 693 mass shootings. Each time we grasp for how it could have been prevented.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the day before the tragedy in Texas I spoke exclusively with Arlene Holmes, whose son James killed 12 people and injured 70 others in a movie theater in Aurora Colorado almost 10 years ago.
Holmes says the anniversary of the Colorado tragedy should focus on the victims. As we are now focusing on the victims in Texas.
But she agreed to the interview prior to Tuesday’s shooting because of May's focus on mental health.
It was July 20th, 2012, when James Holmes stormed into an Aurora Colorado movie theater during the midnight showing of "Batman: The Dark Knight Rises" and opened fire, killing a dozen people, and injuring 70 others. The San Diego native, who had been in Colorado attending college was found guilty of 165 counts. He's serving life in prison without parole.
“When my son graduated with a degree in neuroscience of bachelors, he came home from college and was just quiet and sitting there. You didn't get out and get a job, do things and I got mad, the exact opposite of what he needed. He needed someone to see. He couldn't," Arlene shared.
Arlene, the mother of James Holmes, says not a day goes by that she doesn't think about the effects of her son's horrible actions. The innocent lives taken, families destroyed, others left medically and psychologically damaged, and she feels she had an obligation to become knowledgeable about mental health awareness and share that knowledge with other people.
“If people have been caught before psychosis, before they break with reality before, they have delusions, before they go to buy that gun when they've never bought a gun before. If you can catch that before and get them into treatment that's worth trying.”
For years now, the former Registered Nurse has been educating herself and speaking to colleges and nursing schools about the signs of mental illness, the resources for help, and the ways to report a possible problematic person in the workplace and in schools. She emphasizes it's not easy, but if all of us, whether we directly know someone affected by a mental disorder or not, seek out the knowledge, we would better identify and report a potentially dangerous person.
“I mean, my son was getting good grades, going to school every day. So, I was kind of using the wrong metrics. And I needed to look more in the big picture. Of what else was going on. He was isolating," Holmes said.
One of the hallmarks of schizophrenia, the mental illness for which her son was diagnosed, is not expressing yourself and not talking very much. Holmes says the website Each Mind Matters provides education on how to ask open-ended questions, such as "can you tell me some things you're thinking?"
She also recommends the national alliance on mental illness website, among many subject matters, you can find other methods to encourage a person to communicate. Many shooters post online or write manifestos.
“My son wrote it all out in notebook. So, because someone isn't talking to you, that doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't a lot going on inside.”
The National Institutes of Mental Health reports 50% of people with a mental health disorder show signs before the age of 14.
“My son was starting to show signs at puberty. And the difficulty in that is, it's similar to other teenage behaviors. Is it typical behavior or is there something more to it?”
Holmes says if you think something's not right, keep trying to talk, go for a second opinion, or outside the family, report the odd behavior to the appropriate person in your workplace or school. Most universities have anonymous reporting sites on their web pages.
“Part of the problem is just leaving people alone and not following up on them," Holmes said.
But Holmes stresses you may not be able to do it alone. You don't have control over whether a mentally ill person goes to the doctor or takes their medications. All you can do is talk to them about your concern, even if you get rebuffed.
“Or you get an irritable response that makes you cringe. You still must. I guess I'm just saying hang in there. It's not easy.”
Holmes believes if we included mental health education in all our lives collectively, we would better recognize those dangerous differences. Difficulty expressing, feeling pleasure, staying motivated, and showing emotion, and we could more quickly identify those rare cases when mental illness has slipped into psychopathic madness.
“If we could prevent one. I'll keep talking.”
You can find much more information about signs, resources, and organizations on these websites:
- Understanding mobile crisis response teams -phone number is (888) 724-7240 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)