Centennial, Colorado: A little more than a week before the shootings at a crowded movie theatre, it appears suspect James Holmes was already looking to beat a retreat from the small apartment where he lived.
Half a block from his building — now surrounded by yellow police tape — Holmes had stopped to chat with neighbours, telling them he was looking for a new apartment.
“I told him we didn’t have any vacancy,” recalled Carl Allen, who talked with Holmes for several minutes.
“The thing that puzzled me,” Allen said, “he got an apartment over there. Why [did] he want one here?”
Americans got a first look at Holmes who made a brief court hearing on Monday, but remained perplexed over what triggered his alleged shooting frenzy that took the lives of 12 people.
His hair dyed orange, eyes staring out blankly, Holmes made the appearance three days after the rampage that also wounded 58.
Police have only begun to unravel the meticulously constructed horror story that seems to have become Holmes’ life.
Holmes had been a first-year graduate student in neurosciences at the University of Colorado at Denver, enrolled on a competitive National Institutes of Health scholarship.
On Monday, officials at the medical school campus said that, in June, Holmes had suddenly begun the process of dropping out.
They left unanswered the question of why — it’s not clear they even know.
He quietly ordered packages that police say contained the building blocks for makeshift explosives, he festooned his apartment with Batman memorabilia, and he set up a profile on an adult website advertising a propensity for “shenanigans” and asking, “Will you visit me in prison?”
Calls to re-examine US gun laws mounted as it emerged that Holmes bought his four weapons legally, as well as thousands of rounds of ammunition on the internet. Over eight weeks he stocked up on 6,300 rounds of ammunition: 3,000 for his .233 semi-automatic AR-15 rifle, another 3,000 for his two Glock pistols, and 300 cartridges for his pump-action shotgun.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg late Monday urged President Barack Obama and his Republican rival for the White House Mitt Romney to make the bid to clamp down on the rampant proliferation of firearms a talking point of their respective campaigns.
“Since 48,000 people will be murdered with guns in... the next four-year presidential term, I would argue it’s a substantial problem and that they have an obligation to tell the public before the public goes to the voting booth what they will do,” Bloomberg told CNN.
How can we prevent mass killings like Aurora?
On the morning of the shooting, when Tom Mauser turned on the news his first thought was “Oh God,” followed by an immediate: “Not again.”
Mauser’s own son Daniel was slain along with 12 others at Columbine High School in 1999. In the years that have followed, every time the unthinkable happens yet again — at a Virginia college, a Texas military base, an Arizona strip mall, a Colorado movie theatre — Mauser mourns anew.
Mauser’s primary focus has been to advocate for more gun control. 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?” said Peter Langman, a psychologist.
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.
“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.”
Terry Garahan, who spent years training law officers in Ithaca, New York, to better cope with emotionally disturbed suspects, has another take.
“We assume that someone else is going to take care of it, someone else is going to make the call. What we can do is to take a risk.”
But how do you cover all your bases?
If there is one saving grace it is to be found in statistics. James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University and one of the nation’s foremost experts on mass murder, has collected data on every mass murder in the United States going back to the mid-1970s.
He and others noted, overall homicide rates in the United States have fallen to their lowest levels in decades. And while America still suffers from more violent crimes and murders than most other westernised countries, mass killings occur elsewhere, as well.
Beyond gun control, most Americans will look to the mental health industry for accountability.
“When people say there were warning signs, they’re yellow flags,” he added. “Those yellow flags only turn red once the blood has spilled.”