Some reports indicate that James Eagan Holmes’ psychiatrist warned a threat-assessment team at Colorado that he had a dangerous mind, which she feared he might act upon. However, her warnings were ignored because Holmes dropped out of school.
The Denver Post reported that Dr. Lynne Fenton told the Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team (BETA) that she was concerned about Holmes prior to the tragic shooting in an Aurora, Colorado theater that killed 12 and injured 58 others.
This new information begs the question as to whether or not the university demonstrated negligence by not taking the situation as seriously as it should have. If so, then we must ask the questions as to what warning systems need to be put in place at university campuses and other institutions to ensure prevention of these horrifying incidents in the future.
It has been previously reported that Holmes mailed a package to Dr. Fenton that contained a notebook detailing his plans for the massacre. However, she never received the package. This raises the question of what disturbing signs Dr. Fenton saw that compelled her to warn the school. In response to this revelation, University Chancellor Don Elliman stated, “I believe until it has been demonstrated otherwise, that our people did what they should have done.”
Fenton helped establish the BETA team which according to minutes from the meeting set out to “determine when student action moves from an academic concern only to a broader campus concern.” The minutes further read, “Generally if you believe the threat is imminent, call campus police. If you think it’s best to involve the BETA team contact Lynne Fenton.”
Earlier this year, the Virginia Tech university was found guilty of negligence for failing to warn students quickly enough that a shooter was on campus in what turned out to be the worst school massacre in U.S. history. Whether or not the University of Colorado at Denver will also be charged with negligence is a question that remains to be answered. In the meantime, it is important for institutions of learning across the United States to develop a more comprehensive warning system in order to ensure to the fullest extent possible the prevention of further incidents like the tragedies in Blacksburg, Virginia, and Aurora, Colorado.
In 2009, the ministry of Denmark actually formulated a plan to deal specifically with putting measures in place to prevent school massacres such as those that have taken place in other parts of the world. The plan focuses primarily on identifying those situations when students either become “frozen out” or victims of bullying, so as to reduce the risk of pent-up anger and aggression surfacing among students.
In the wake of the Colorado Shooting, it definitely appears to be that time in which we need to take this matter seriously so that we too can implement a system that ensures safety for all university students. However, that is much easier said than done. Laws about client confidentiality make it difficult for situations such as the case with James Eagan Holmes to be addressed in such a way as to totally predict and eliminate the possibility of further massacres. Still, yet I believe through dialogue we can work together to pursue interventions to at least minimize the occurrence of further massacres to the fullest extent possible.
This could further be achieved by educating others with knowledge as to how to interpret certain warning signs that were evidently indication of the pain Holmes endured, which led him to inflict others. There needs to be more public awareness. The only question is: how do we go about spreading it?