The Aurora Shooter: Image of Loss – UPDATED

We all know his name, but I prefer not to use it in a public forum, mostly because his name should not be better known than the names of his victims.

I will use it, though, in private prayer.

Social media is abuzz that the shooter is in court being arraigned. People are looking at the images and using words like “catatonic”, “evil”, “empty”, “scared”.

I think he looks lost. Lost boy, lost soul. Knowing nothing at all about him, I can’t know if he has snapped out of a psychotic episode into comprehension. I have no idea what I am looking at in that image, beyond loss — both the loss he has created in the lives of others (and in the heart of the nation), and the loss within him that contributed to the nightmare he perpetrated.

Scripture says “deep calls unto deep” and the psalmist says “in your light we see light”; does loss seek loss — create more loss — in order that it may be less bereft, less alone?

When I hear about these terrible acts of evil, it always makes me wonder: did this person have anyone in the world, anyone in his life, praying for him? I know what it’s like to go unprayed for, by anyone. It’s an awful, desolate thing, a daily darkness. It is a vast emptiness, and one that seeks to fill itself, which is difficult to do when our culture itself is, in many ways, a vast emptiness that may temporarily distract but can never fill our voids.

If loss seeks loss, in order that it may not be so alone, we will see so much more of this as we become an increasingly empty, cut-off, isolated and secularized people.

While praying for the victims of this man, and for their families, can we pray for this lost soul, too? Can we pray that his soul may be opened to light, receptive to the light that is always seeking it out — for God, like the father of the Prodigal Son, is forever casting his sights to the horizon. He is like a beacon, forever seeking us out and calling us back to him, to his light, so we may not be lost. In the dark.

For those of us who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, each morning at Lauds we chant the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-79)

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Yes, I will pray for the shooter. We must. We really have no choice, if we believe what we say we believe, than to pray for his salvation, and for his deliverance, and for all those who “dwell in darkness” and are in a spiral from which they cannot break free, for the sake of light.

God is not finished with any of us. I will pray for the shooter by his now-terrible name, in hopes that he will be given a new one.

‘”To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it.”‘

Joanne McPortland, great as usual:

. . .the words miracle and monster are cognates. Miracle is rooted in the Latin verb “to look,” monster (like the words demonstrate and monstrance) in the Latin “to show forth,” with a secondary sense of “to warn.” (The first use of the word monster was to describe what circus sideshows called freaks, humans born disfigured or visibly disabled, whose deformities were considered a message from the gods.) Both monsters and miracles shout “Look here! Pay attention!” Both miracles and monsters are signs and wonders.

Read it to its conclusion. You will get goosebumps

UPDATE II (H/TKevin at New Advent) a sound question: Why Colorado?

Still, Harman said that theory gets complicated in Colorado, where so many residents arrive from elsewhere. ([the Aurora shooter] grew up in California.) Thousands of native Midwesterners live here. Ditto for East Coasters, Texans and Californians.

The Old West myth — and the New West one too, for that matter — holds that people can pull up roots and reinvent themselves. But such transience can lead to emotional isolation. And Harman noted that people who are social misfits and feel ostracized tend to lash out, not withdraw.

Read it all

Msgr. Charles Pope “If the light in you is darkness, how deep will the dark be?

Related: Reminders of the Fall; Evidence of Grace

The Anarchist Butterfly Effect

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • B. Durbin


  • Jennifer

    Oh Elizabeth, you have made me cry this morning. That is my most favorite part of Morning prayer. Yes, we can pray for this lost soul. As much I have to wrestle with the sickness in my stomach at the thought of him and what he’s done, he is not beyond the reach of redemption. He is very, very lost as you said. Lord, have mercy. On all of us.

  • Keith Jarrell

    Lost is correct. The shooter was clearly lost from nearly all levels of understanding the importance of love, of life and the importance of being loved. He may well have been loved by his family but for some reason that love didn’t register and he wasn’t able to capture the essence of knowing the depth and width of love. He missed it. Someway, somehow he didn’t understand it. No one that knows love could do such harm. No one could inflict such pain and loss unless they had no idea what such an act would do to so many for so many years to come. The scars that these family and friends will feel for the rest of their lives will be unspeakable. We’ll never fully be aware of the grieving and the loss of love from those that have perished.
    One should not be angry for the shooter. We must all pray for his salvation and that he will turn his face to God and ask to be forgiven. As difficult as it may be and will be for years to come he too has and is suffering. Those of us that know God know that he does not want any of us to suffer. Jesus gave the ultimate suffrage, dying on the cross where he suffered so none of us would have to.

    As difficult as it may be, we must heal as a county and to do so is to begin to forgive.

  • Julie D.

    I liked the way that the new Bishop of Aurora (Denver) put it in his statement and have been keeping that in mind during my prayers:

    But in Aurora, which means “the dawn,” the sun rose this morning. In a city whose name evokes the light, people of hope know that the darkness may be overcome.

    For those who were killed, our hope is the tender mercy of our God. “Neither death nor life,” reflected St. Paul, “can separate us from the love of God.” We commend their souls, and their families and friends, to God’s enduring love.

    For those who were wounded—physically, emotionally and spiritually—our hope is in their recovery and renewal. To them we offer our prayers, our ears to listen, and our hearts to love. The road to recovery may be long, but in hope we are granted the gift of new life.

    We hope also for the perpetrator of this terrible crime, and we pray for his conversion. Evil ruled his heart last night. Only Jesus Christ can overcome the darkness of such evil.

    We hope that all of us may find the peace which surpasses understanding.

    [I will have to send that link to Joanne McPortland. She just posted something pretty great, and the "Aurora" thing came to her as she was finishing. -admin]

  • priest’s wife (@byzcathwife)

    just a little clarification- his massacre was not a “psychotic episode’ – he planned it slowly and carefully. He took a valium to calm any nerves that might arise. While he might end up having some kind of mental illness that contributed to his violent tendencies, he is simply consumed by evil. This doesn’t mean that we can’t pray for his soul.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Demonic possession?

    There seem to be an awful lot of dark forces at work in the world, lately.

  • Ryan Haber

    Thanks. Well said.

    I do think it is important to say his name, though. James Holmes is a man, a human. He must be dealt with as such – crazy or evil might not be discernible or relevant – but human is.

    We must not forget that James Holmes is a human being. We are made of the same stuff as he.

  • Brian English

    ” just a little clarification- his massacre was not a “psychotic episode’ – he planned it slowly and carefully. He took a valium to calm any nerves that might arise. While he might end up having some kind of mental illness that contributed to his violent tendencies, he is simply consumed by evil.”

    Exactly. He spent months putting his plan together–collecting guns, ammunition, and other equipment. The booby-trapping of his apartment, in the hope that he would kill even more innocent people, must have taken days.

    “This doesn’t mean that we can’t pray for his soul.”

    But should we be, only a few days after his murderous rampage? Have we reached the point where we are no longer capable of expressing righteous outrage at the massacre of innocent people, including a little girl? This was a carefully planned act of immense evil, committed by an evil man, not a little lost boy.

    [There is a time limit? We can only pray for him "sometime later" when this has all faded from memory? We should not pray for him while we're praying for the rest? That makes no sense at all to me. -admin]

  • Manny

    I’m with Priest’s Wife. He planned this methodically and executed it nearly flawlessly. I’m not about to project into his mind or feel some sort of empathy. I can’t imagine how he could do it. Sure I will pray for his soul – every human being deserves that – but if this implies that justice not be followed through or he be excused in any way, then I don’t support that. This guy committed an unspeakable act. There can be personal forgiveness – I’m not against that – but society requires justice or society falls apart.

    [Where did I say that Society should not have Justice? -admin]

  • Manny

    “Where did I say that Society should not have Justice? -admin”

    You don’t and if you didn’t intend the suggestion many people do make that point within the same context of looking into his soul.

    [I can't read his soul -- I've seen people suggesting (understandably) that he needs an exorcism. I just see loss. What can I say? -admin]

  • Roz Smith

    I will pray for the shooter’s family, too. Some will want to point fingers. That is usually not appropriate. While the immediate family often knows a loved on is one the edge of a breakdown if the troubled person is of legal age there may be no way for the family to compel him or her to seek help. It is often in the nature of these conditions that the afflicted tend to be fixed on the idea they are not the ones in need of help – or prayer- when their need is actually quite desperate.

  • SKay

    Consider what he intended to happen at his apartment and the thought and time he put into that intended second massacre. Thank goodness the police foiled that diabolical plan.

    His actions were no different than the Muslim’s at Fort Hood no matter what the senseless reason. Innocent people died and their familie’s lives will be shattered forever — now he has the attention he obviously wanted(painted red hair and all).
    Lost? Maybe.
    I just can’t quite get past the sadness for those families yet.

    [Sad for everyone. -admin]

  • Anna Morris

    I believe God and His Son want us to pray for everyone at all times for all things. I am reminded of the example set by the Amish when a crazed gunman opened fire in their one room school full of children. Their ability to foregive is an example for the world. Jesus said to pray for our enemies. He foregave His tormentors while he died on the cross.

  • Brian English

    “There is a time limit? We can only pray for him “sometime later” when this has all faded from memory? We should not pray for him while we’re praying for the rest? That makes no sense at all to me. -admin]”

    I am not sure when the time would come, but it strikes me as obscene to be praying for the killer when his victims have not even been laid to rest yet. The victims and their families are the ones who matter now.

    Has this guy even expressed any remorse? In your view does it matter if he ever expresses remorse?
    [Obviously it would be wonderful if he did. But maybe that can only happen once he has been pulled into the light. Can he get there on his own, without grace? I don't know. But is that the line for you? If he expresses remorse, then you'll pray for him? Maybe he'll never get there without prayers. The grieving families "matter now" yes, and have my prayers and the prayers of millions of others. But this guy "matters now" too. We all "matter now", we all need salvation "now" not later. Jesus did not say "Father, later on, forgive these guys who don't know what they're doing. Not now, though, because you know, it's too fresh." -admin]

  • Jim J. McCrea

    Whatever the evil, we must not give into thoughts of darkness and revenge, but with grace rise above the natural man and shed light into the darkness.

  • Deacon Steve

    The appropriate time to pray for him is at the same time that we pray for his victims. We can pray for the families and their pain and suffering as they go through this awful period of mourning. We can and should also be praying for the perpetrator. We can pray for justice and mercy for the shooter, as well as for repentence and reconcilliation on his part. It is easy to pray for the victims, it is hard to pray for the shooter, but we are called as Christians to do the hard things as well as the easy things. It does not cheapen the pain of the pain of the families to pray for the one who inflicted the pain. Despite what he did, he is still a child of God, created in the image and likeness of God, even if he has forgotten that and turned his back on that fact. God does not stop loving us even when we sin in a very big way. He is always there to welcome us back, it is the example that Jesus set for us, and it is the example that we should strive to follow.

  • Msgr pope

    Beautiful reflection, thank you.

  • Tom Kelly

    There seems to be a lot of ignorance about mental illness here. Psychotic episodes can persist for weeks, months, and years. I have had seven psychotic episodes in the last 20 years and each lasted at least a week. But for the grace of God any person reading this could have a psychotic episode starting right now. Outside of the episodes I live a totally normal life and am heavily involved in church.

    Fortunately my psychotic episodes were not at all violent. We can’t say if the Aurora shooter was in a psychotic episode but we can say for sure there have been many high profile cases where people did horrible things without any self awareness of the implications. Condemning people with disease is a little old fashioned and non-Christian, isn’t it?

  • Ginny

    I will not pray for him because I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be spiritually connected with a demon-possessed entity. An exorcist is needed.

  • Kensington

    Beautiful thoughts, Anchoress, and I think you’re right. He’ll be in my prayers tonight.

  • Myssi

    A funny thing happened to me on Sunday, while I was ostensibly teaching a group of 7th grade girls. One of our questions was “what is an example of something that you have done or not done that doesn’t seem to have any consequence but that ends in sin?” The girls didn’t really have any answers and I’m not sure they understood the question the way the lesson phrased it. My co-teacher mentioned inappropriate things she might watch on TV herself, but wouldn’t let her daughter’s watch. My first example, “what if you see the bully in the hall and don’t tell him/her to stop?” Which started some why would you and why wouldn’t you talk. And then I asked “what if you were in a theater and saw someone sneak over to the exit door and prop it open? Would you get up and close it?” They all said probably not. I said, “The person is probably just letting someone else in, right? No big deal?” “Yeah, pretty much” “That’s stealing from the theater, you know. And in Aurora, Colorado, that simply action could maybe have saved 12 people.” Integrity, because a Christian life looks different.
    Which led to the question, “what are some things that you see that don’t look Christ-like? Things that you should avoid?” One of the girls began describing a neighbor she has been trying to get to come to church…one of the other girls asked who she was talking about and when she said his name, I could have cried. Later I did cry. The young man she can’t get to come to church has bullied my oldest son since they were in first grade and they are now in high school. Over and over I have prayed for my son in that situation, but never once did I pray for the bully. Never once, because the Mama Grizzly in me just wanted him punished for hurting my baby.

    I looked at the girls and said, “We need to stop and pray for X.” It may very well be that he has never come to church because my moral failing that no one saw, is that I never prayed for him. If I had been praying, would he have come and come to know Christ? The girls added some names of folks they think need God and we ended our lesson Sunday praying for them. And, I asked God in front of those girls, to forgive me for not forgiving X for hurting my son and for not praying for him when his behavior cries out for mercy.

    I can pray for the Colorado shooter, just I can pray for X. Because if I don’t, who will?

  • Brian English

    “Jesus did not say “Father, later on, forgive these guys who don’t know what they’re doing. Not now, though, because you know, it’s too fresh.” -admin]”

    I think this statement focuses on one of the problems I have with this outpouring of compassion for the killer. None of us are in Christ’s circumstances here. The people who were murdered and their families are. It strikes me as outrageously offensive for people to be asking God to forgive the killer if the families have not made that request. Asking God to forgive someone who didn’t do anything to you doesn’t seem very praiseworthy to me.

    [It's not an "outpouring of compassion" for the killer; it's a wondering about Christ would want us to do, what we're called to do. No, you're right, none of us are in Christ's circumstances, here; must we endure all he endured, before we can try to emulate him? I agree with you that it would be presumptuous and outrageous of me to ask God to forgive the shooter. Good thing I'm not doing that -- it's the sole privilege left to his victims (one of whom already has forgiven him). I'm saying pray for his redemption. I'm sorry you can't see that. Weakness is sown, and he sowed his weakness in a most perverse way. Strength rises up - admin]

  • http://Pathos Wild Bill

    What I see with Mr Holmes reminds me of another resident of Colorado who last I knew was locked up forever? Ted kaszinsky the unibomer. These two people share something, they are very intellegent people at the top of the IQ scale. However they are both stark raving MAD?
    When you look around at history some of the worlds most evil and crazy people where also the smartest? Somewhere either God and Satan are having a sick joke or there is a mistake somewhere? The worst part about all of this is that it seems to happening much too often!

  • Siobhan

    Elizabeth, I started thinking about the shooter’s parents almost immediately. My heart just goes out to them, and the parents of all the others who have gone off the rails. They, too, have lost a son, and they are not receiving the support of the community. I imagine they are in isolation right now, consumed with grief, full of questions, and plagued with feelings of guilt. Mental illness is insidious, and the writer above is correct, it’s difficult to get an adult who does not want help into treatment, and sometimes harder to keep them on their meds. So rather than treating, we wind up here, debating the death penalty. God have mercy on us all.

  • Maria

    “I am not sure when the time would come, but it strikes me as obscene to be praying for the killer when his victims have not even been laid to rest yet. The victims and their families are the ones who matter now.”

    Obscene? To pray that he open himself up to the mercy which Christ merited on the cross by dying for HIM? I think it is obscene, rather, to want in any way to block Christ’s mercy.

    “I will not pray for him because I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be spiritually connected with a demon-possessed entity. An exorcist is needed.”

    Honestly, do you think you can “catch” possession by praying for the possessed any more than you could “catch” cancer in a similar way?

  • doc

    This killer should be given an opportunity to convert to Catholicism, confess his sins to a priest, and then be marched to the gallows. I find it rather perverse that his victims and their families will have to pay for his care with their taxes. I honestly believe the Norway killer, for example, would not have done what he did had he known that he would be quickly executed for it. According to the accounts I’ve read, he seems to enjoy his fame and revels in his chance to get interviewed by the Euro-press.

  • Jennifer

    I think I can understand Brian English’s sentiments as I struggle with them myself. Here we are still reeling from the horror of realizing that people can’t even go to the movies anymore; the madman has jumped off the screen and into the theater for real. It just underscores the reality that there’s nowhere left to be safe anymore. It’s the state of our world. It sucks. But their blood and their loss cries out to us, and we’re supposed to restrain our inner screams for punishment and show this murderer the kindness of praying for his soul?? Really?? YES. Because that’s the Gospel. That’s the craziness of God’s mercy, and if we desire mercy for ourselves we have to summon the courage to beg God to help us show mercy, even to those who would kill us. Enough mercy to at least pray for his redemption, because he is truly lost.

    Mercy doesn’t mean we don’t pursue justice. We must and we should make sure this man is never able to harm another human being ever again. That’s not in conflict with mercy. It’s simply in conflict with vengeance, which God says belongs to Him. Would it not be a glorious display of God’s power if this wretched man were to be saved and redeemed? How does it serve us better for him to be lost to eternal damnation?

    Even as I asked that question, it turned my stomach. I do not want to share Heaven with the likes of Hitler or Charles Manson or even your average pedophile, do I?? Do I?? No, Lord, I don’t. How can they possibly get away with what they’ve done? If they do, then there is no justice.

    Except that my sins nailed You to the cross. My offenses put You to death. I’ve never killed anyone! Except You.

    Man, this is tough. The only thing I can do is pray that that man somehow turns from evil and chooses Jesus before he dies. I pray that what is lost will be found.

    [It's where the victory is. Read this it will help. -admin]