Accused Theater Shooter’s Psychiatrist Warned Colleagues of Possible Danger

A psychiatrist treating James Holmes alerted colleagues that he could be dangerous months before he went on a deadly shooting rampage in a Colorado theater

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Shooting suspect James Holmes appears in a Centennial, Colo., courtroom for his arraignment on Monday, July 23, 2012

The university psychiatrist who was examining accused movie-theater shooter James Holmes found his behavior so erratic that she brought it to the attention of a group that measures the possibility of violent campus threats.

Dr. Lynne Fenton, who treated Holmes earlier this year, notified her colleagues at the University of Colorado’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team (BETA) that Holmes could constitute a threat to others, Denver’s KMGH-TV reported on Thursday. Citing unnamed sources, the station reported that Fenton brought up concerns about Holmes to several members of the BETA team, who are experts on threatening behavior. But police in Aurora, Colo., where Holmes lived, were never contacted by the University of Colorado.

(MORE: James Holmes Charged with 142 Counts in Colorado Theater Shooting)

Fenton, who is a principal member of the BETA team, discussed Holmes’ behavior in separate conversations with other team members in early June, six weeks before the shooting. Holmes had been attending the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where Fenton worked, to pursue a Ph.D., but he unexpectedly dropped out of the university’s neuroscience program on June 10 and never returned to campus. Three days prior, he did poorly on an oral presentation, the same day he purchased an AR-15 rifle. After he withdrew from the school, officials said, the BETA team had no power over him.

Under federal law, Fenton would have had a duty to act if there were a specific threat that Holmes made, but one of the sources told KMGH that no such statement ever came up. The psychiatrist’s connection with the former student came up when defense lawyers revealed in a court motion that she was treating him. A news report says that Holmes sent Fenton a package several days before the attack containing a notebook allegedly detailing his plans. The University of Colorado said the package arrived July 23 and was turned over to authorities immediately, the Denver Post reported.

School chancellor Don Elliman defended the university at a press conference last week: “To the best of our knowledge at this point, we did everything that we think we should have done,” he said. But threat-assessment expert Barry Spodak told ABC News that the warning signs were there. “You know, I think that’s the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away,” Spodak said. “Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat-assessment teams would have gone into action.”

(MORE: After Aurora, Questions About Mass Murder and Mental Illness)

Holmes, 24, who had no criminal record, was charged last Friday with a total 142 counts of first-degree murder and attempted murder for the shooting deaths of 12 people and wounding 58 others during a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises at an Aurora theater on July 20. In his nearby apartment, police found more than 30 grenades, 10 gal. of gasoline and improvised explosive devices, all rigged to kill the next person who entered Holmes’ apartment.

Holmes’ next scheduled hearing is on Nov. 30, and he has entered no plea. If found fit to stand trial and convicted, he could face the death penalty.

MORE: Legal Strategy Gets Complex as Charges Are Presented in Colorado Shooting Trial

35 comments
IAMSatisfied
IAMSatisfied

The BIG question, that it seems VERY FEW are asking is: "Was James Holmes on any psychotropic medications prior to or during his crime?"  If so, then I think the pharmaceutical companies AND the prescribing shrink should bear at least 75% of the blame.

The vast majority of school shootings were perpetrated by those on or recently on psychotropic meds... and YES, school shootings have risen proportionally with the sharp rise in wrecklessly prescribing such meds. So, the manufacturers and prescribers should be hung for this gross injustice.

Talendria
Talendria

It's always tempting to say that someone should've done something to prevent an insane person from acting on his psychotic impulses, but in a free society you can't detain someone until they make a specific, credible threat.  Having said that, I do think the university had a responsibility to follow up with him.  They have no qualms about chasing people down for endowment funds, so they should've spared an hour or two to conduct an exit interview with this guy, at which point they may have found grounds to impose a psychiatric hold.

Ezekiel Hernandez
Ezekiel Hernandez

It is sad how universities don't act in a timely manner to alert authorities about situations that could harm innocent people in the end.

Summer Starden
Summer Starden

Hey everyone - I'm really pretty certain this is  a fake, but some people are saying that

this youtube video was made by JAMES HOLMES - the crazy wanna-be Batman Joker Aurora cinema Shooter.

There were apparently some screen captures circulating of his myspace account, where this

youtube account name - THINKTILLDEATH - was listed. Sure it could all be

a fake - there are plenty of wierdos trying to make something out of

this tragedy... but the myspace account is closed down now.....

The video was posted weeks before the shooting in Aurora, so it's not some newbie wanna be fake.... It's

pretty wierd, i'll give it that much - it seems to be trying to explain

why he's so angry, and how maybe the shooting was a way for him to

fight the actual source of his rage by externalising it... doesn't make much sense to me, maybe some psychiatrist out there can explain its convoluted meaning -

but it's definately.... interesting. Here's the link anyway

http://youtu.be/xdp0QsqYbuY

 

Sharon Flanagan
Sharon Flanagan

I was trained that, if you feel someone is a threat to self or others, you call in the assessment team.. not your colleagues or bosses.. the trained team, usually from the police or local mental health teams, that determines if someone should be held for more in depth testing.  We saw this same thing happen in Arizona last year.  The college dropped the whole thing when the student left.  No one followed up with authorities.  That's not the way *I* was trained and, in my work, I've called in the assessment team on more then a few occasions.  When in doubt.. follow through.  I'm SO ashamed of my profession.

Diann Barnes
Diann Barnes

THIS TURNS OUT TO BE THE "SAME" SENERIO ALL OVER AGAIN. WHEN WILL WE AMERICANS LEARN, WHEN THE BACK DOOR IS OPEN amp; WE TEND TO BE NIEVE AS ALL HELL, THE BOMB STARTS TO TICK amp; NOTHING IS DONE UNTIL IT EXPLODES amp; THEN WE START TO LOOK EXACTLY WHERE TO POINT THE FINGER. THIS KID WAS "NOT" BORN TO DO THIS amp; HIS MENTAL PROBLEMS DID NOT JUST START HAPPENING, THIS WENT ON FOR A PERIOD OF {POSSIBLY} DECADES. WHAT IS TRULY SAD IS THIS COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED BUT WAS'NT.

1brother_art78
1brother_art78

How many clues does law enforcement need before someone is considered a threat? And, why aren't high-tech military type arsenals monitored? If I go buy a face-shield type fighting weapon, then, doesn't that mean I'm going to be shooting at someone who will be shooting back? And, instead of killing the guy, if he's SO SMART, why don't we study him? When will we finally learn?

Summer Starden
Summer Starden

Hey guys - I'm pretty sure this is just a fake, but some people are saying that

this youtube video was made by JAMES HOLMES - the crazy wanna-be Batman Joker Aurora cinema Shooter.

There were apparently some screen captures circulating of his myspace account, where this

youtube account name - THINKTILLDEATH - was listed. Sure it could all be

a fake - there are plenty of wierdos trying to make something out of

this tragedy... but the myspace account is closed down now.....

The video was posted weeks before the shooting in Aurora, so it's not some newbie wanna be fake.... It's

pretty wierd, i'll give it that much - it seems to be trying to explain

why he's so angry, and how maybe the shooting was a way for him to

fight the actual source of his rage by externalising it... doesn't make much sense to me, maybe some psychiatrist out there can explain its convoluted meaning -

but it's definately.... interesting. Here's the link anyway

http://youtu.be/xdp0QsqYbuY

 

a1b5jj
a1b5jj

he is a textbook case of paranoid schizophrenia.  he now joins a rather long list of other paranoid schizophrenics who have succumbed to the voices in their head.  You would think we would have learned something 30 years after John Hinckley, but no. The tragic irony is that the Batman movie franchise has been celebrating and glorifying psychosis for 20 some years.  Look what it did to the last Joker, Heath Ledger.   You glorify psychosis as 'entertainment' and guess what, you attract psychotics to the theater.

hedonikos
hedonikos

That's right. We are barbarians. Every human being is. Being the intelligent (sic) species that we are, we kill each other for all kinds of reason and cause. Including pleasure. Just look at humanity and its history. We even take pleasure from carrying weapons. We invent things that can virtually destroy millions of humans at once. So yes. We are barbarians. Think we can ever change? Good luck with that.

Deborah Beaudoin-Zaki
Deborah Beaudoin-Zaki

Sounds like Penn State all over again; forget the potential victims of a dangerous person, forget reporting them to authorities, forget doing a proper psycho/social accessment or refering them to a social services agency/law enforcement, etc.  The school apparently felt it was not their problem to help this troubled man who was a student there.

Just get this student off campus and wash your hands of him when he needed help or hospitalization.  Didn't he have an emergency contact in his file?  If this was my son who was in danger of a severe medical or mental condition I would want to be notified or how else is he expected to be helped?

It appears nobody cared about this young man's mental health and deterioration while he was away at school.  How safe are our children if an emergency arises when we send them away to college? 

As a former mental health nurse I have seen many mental health issues develop in this age group.  If the person has not family, friends, therapist or others to get them help or rejects them from their schools and work places without bring this to the attention of mental health services or law enforcement for review/treatment this will only continue to happen.

I do not blame this mentally ill man as much as I blame all those at his school who did see him decline in mental health and nobody responded.   The school apparently dropped the ball. 

Tony Trollucci
Tony Trollucci

I don't understand how there can not be a some sort of national registry for high risk psychiatric patients. This should DEFINITELY be considered a red flag for any gun sales. Anyone that is considered a high risk person should at the very least be barred from purchasing a firearm until they are able to prove their mental health.

Ther Richardson
Ther Richardson

 Lets run with your thought, who is going to do the entry of all those patients?  Who is going to do the updating of that system?  How are you going to mitigate the damage done when someone puts your name into the system as a psych patient when you finally decide to go to counseling to get over your fear of heights giving you a red flag?  It is all well to say there needs to be another national registry, but there needs to be a well thought out and viable plan not a knee jerk reaction

Rob Smith
Rob Smith

Oh sure, let's make a registry to which anybody can add somebody else's name to bar them from buying guns.  I'm sure the NRA won't mind.  The guy had no record, so there's a very fine line between prudence and locking away people who are a little different.

a1b5jj
a1b5jj

yes, but purchasing automatic weapons and 6000 rounds of ammo is prima facie evidence of poor mental health. no sane person could possibly want such weaponry for  any sane reason, even if they have been listening to Alex Jones rant 24/7.  so lets just ban such sales period.

Ther Richardson
Ther Richardson

 Wrong, as a section gunner and ranger sniper I shot thousands of rounds a week, anyone that shots competition shoots thousands of rounds likewise, and buying in bulk cuts costs enormously.  Yet another knee jerk reaction

808independent
808independent

Until all the facts are known, it is too soon to pass judgment. But generally, our system does a poor job of handling dangerous people before they actually do something. If it is true that the psychiatrist notified the threat assessment team and no further action was taken, then I'm sure there will be lawsuits as a result of this. It is strange how current law seems more concerned about the privacy rights of deranged and dangerous individuals than with the safety of its citizens. Clearly, laws need to be changed to allow the reporting of people who make threats, even if generalized ones. My prediction is somebody dropped the ball and a lawsuit against the University will result. What good is a threat assessment team that lets one like this get by? They probably need to rethink their whole process.

theresonlynow
theresonlynow

As a clinician, I can tell you that in my state, we have Duty to Warn laws, which are, in most cases, totally useless.  So I am ethically, legally and professionally mandated to report suspected child abuse and elder abuse, and I do.  I am also mandated to report specific threats of suicide or homicide, but in most cases it is not specific and even if the police are called, at best it's a 72 hour hold for eval and no treatment is given. 

During the Reagan administration, US policy shifted to turn severely mentally ill people into the streets, which is why before the 80s, we had "hobos" in this country, but not the amount of homeless/street people, many of whom are mentally ill.  There is very little funding for mental health treatment, for alcohol/drug treatment, for PTSD, etc. These are issues about access to health care, and access to long term treatment for individuals who truly cannot function in society without causing harm.  

But right or wrong, in this country we choose rights of autonomy and self-determination over the larger needs of society.  Many people who were in long term facilities did not need to be there and who gets to say if I can give you medicine or not, or force you to take it?  These are difficult questions no one has been willing to answer.  

I see it all the time in abusive families and in very mentally ill people, but until something specific is done which is injurious to self (like suicide attempt) or others (like breaking the law), usually nothing is done.  The hands of the clinician are tied and it's a very difficult position to be in.  We can only notify as we are ethically charged to do and then hope for the best.  Sadly, in this case it was a terrible outcome, including for this young man's family.  

Mytu Sense
Mytu Sense

As a grad student, it's clear that there are too many laws protecting the mentally ill, and too few protecting society. If this guy had shown any signs of threatening behavior (as noted amongst colleagues), a law requiring a 72-hour evaluation might have saved not only his life; but those of countless others whose lives will never be the same. It's a sad case; but, one that can work as a conduit for change in education policy, especially on the college level. I truly can't imagine being in my early 20s attempting a doctorate; however, I'm certain that it's quite common if a person shows an interest, and the funding is available. The important thing to note is that success is not marked by staying with something (or someone); but, instead by boldly walking away from situations that are taking the very breath from your life. As a parent of adult children, I just wish he would have walked away from the program, and headed to the beach for a job as a waiter. Anyone listening? If it's not working for you, step away; take a hiatus. Follow your bliss. Don't put a timeline on something that has a 10-year window. In life, if it's for you, it will be there when God ordains. The Spirit does not lie! I'm sure it will all come out eventually; if not already; but were prescriptions written for this emotionally troubled man?  

Summer Marie
Summer Marie

He needs to be put in a mental hospital for life. Killing him is not going to help. He needs treatment then he needs to be put in jail for the rest of his life. Sentencing him to death will not solve anything, he was insane at the time he did t his and you can tell in so many ways.  He was insane before he did and after he did it. Like I said killing him will not help..... 

John Forsthoffer
John Forsthoffer

Killing him is not going to help, but it will save on tax dollars housing and feeding his lousy a$$.

Sapumal Perera
Sapumal Perera

Sure let’s put him in a mental institute and let the tax

payer pay for his medical bills, what kind of justice is that? And what kind of example are we giving others who

has such violent tendencies to kill people. Oh, he got off easy; I too can get

away with it then...

Cookieluv246
Cookieluv246

Have you never heard of a fate worse then death?

Why stoop to his level? On the one hand he was a murderer, but he was also a human being, a brother, a son, a friend, a person.

I think the true satisfaction the families would feel from him is empathy and remorse and regret. Not to say some wouldn't want him dead. But hate only brings more hate. And I feel like killing him would be running away from the problem rather then solving it.

As humans it is our duty to try our best to not needlessly kill, that goes for him as well as anyone else.Let us make the best of a bad situation and not succumb to our primal desires. But use it to prevent further deaths.

Terry Thomas
Terry Thomas

The death penalty is not about helping the accused, its about the prevention of similar crimes... if there is too much leniency they the risk of committing a crim is not properly addressed by a swift and severe punishment.  The other way to look at this (and my preference) is the Categorical Imperrative, what you do in life sets the standard to be done back to you.  If you steal then you say thats what ive decided is ok and therefore that can be done back to me.  If I kill then its ok to kill therefore I can be killed... it is a broad way of looking at the golden rule.  This was laid out by Immanuel Kant (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C...

Questions about Holmes' sanity need to include his ability to plan and execute his attack, along with the fact that he understood his action might provoke deadly action , ie the bullet proof gear, tear gas and gas mask.  His actions after the fact are irrelevant and could just be good acting to not face the death penalty or life in prison.  He certainly wasnt sleepy or inactive during his attack

AmericanPlutocracy
AmericanPlutocracy

Using Kants "Categorical Imperative" is an interesting one  of moral underpinnings. Kant also said that 'the state' should not be involved in such decisions. In regard to the death penalty the Supreme Court has also ruled that no decision (regarding death) should be made with the consideration of race, religion, etc. This is a telling prohibition because it provides a window into the fallibility of man(kind) in making decisions OTHER than that of moral imperatives. In essence (as Schopenhauer and others) have proffered - there is 'ego' in man and, as such, the categorical imperative becomes nothing more than an exercise in wishful thinking as a reason for action.

In part tongue in cheek I add: ‘it is better’, Kant writes, ‘to sacrifice life than to

forfeit morality’ (Col 27: 373). Is it moral to have a for-profit health care system? that excludes 50+million in our country. Is it moral that 1.7 million children in this country go hungry each night while the richest 1% made 93% of the income in 2010. 

Lastly, you state "The death penalty is not about helping the accused, its about the prevention of similar crimes..." Perhaps I'm mistaken but where did Kant suggest that imposing death was a deterrent? I might add, there is no sound research nor evidence, to date, that maintains the death penalty is a deterrent to crime. We should at least be honest about why we kill.

We're a far cry from a moral society.

Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson

i'm sure the death penalty, had it been made known to him, would've stopped a severely psychotic man from this act.  It's not the "golden rule" you're talking about whatsoever, it's "an eye for an eye" and it's what is still used in parts of the middle east and other rights-deprived areas of the world.  

Michael Cruise
Michael Cruise

No, the level of planning that was involved in what he did shows he was sound of mind.  That, of course, doesn't mean he's not a clinical sociopath or even psychopath but neither are the same as being legally insane.

Peter
Peter

Killing him, or putting him in general population and letting Darwin get to work will cure his mental illness permanently.

Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson

This is a common misinterpretation/misapplication of evolution.  Killing him will do nothing.  If he reproduces, possibly, he could pass on a hereditary trait for psychosis.  Being locked in jail the rest of his life and out of his mind, i strongly doubt he'd be having kids.

Also, invoking evolution in this case is more cruel than you could imagine for evolution is a harsh, unrelenting force.

The guy needs treatment and to be studied.  

pfflyer
pfflyer

Right. Because we're barbarians. I keep forgetting.

RubyPanther
RubyPanther

Why pick on Barbarians? Just because they speak a different language? Historically, barbarians were typically not primitive at all, they were advanced in different areas than the Greeks or Romans. Celtic "barbarians" had much more advanced metallurgic knowledge and mining techniques. They had their own systems of justice. You don't like barbarians, would you rather us dispose of him in a civilized manner, such as throwing him into a colosseum with lions?

Alfonso Freda
Alfonso Freda

I said it once ....I'm not going to say it again..............someone knew this kid was sick !!!! The "Joker always tells you in advance....what He's going to do !!!!!  Insane verdict ..Life.................................Kid thought He WAS the Joker....................