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Richmond criminologist discusses Colo. shooting

Posted at 11:39 PM, Jul 20, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-22 08:53:17-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - For decades, Americans have gone to the movies to escape from reality. So, what would possess someone to attack defenseless men, women, and children as they watched a movie about superhero who fights evil?

“I’m not saying you can make sense of something like this, but you can offer explanations for it,” said University of Richmond Professor, Dr. Joan Neff.

Neff specializes in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

Neff  believes it was either mental illness or built up anger that caused 24-year-old James Holmes to allegedly open fire inside a movie theater shortly after midnight killing 12 people and injuring 59 others.

“In terms of making sense, it may make sense to the person who did it, but it`s not likely to make sense to the rest of us,” she said

If they are angry, Neff says killers usually take it out on the people they know. But, this appeared to be indiscriminate, leaning in her opinion towards mental illness.

“Even people with mental disorders are people capable of planning, caring out actions and taking them to a logical conclusion in that sense,” she said.

Police say Holmes was clad in body armor and wearing a mask when he came into the theatre's emergency door he had propped open earlier that evening, so it was obvious to Neff this was never going to be a case of suicide by cop.

And, the fact that he apparently told police he had booby trapped his apartment, she says might have been his way of showing off and becoming famous.

“It’s  possible he wanted to see himself in the limelight. If you don’t stick around,  you won`t be able to see how people will react. You don`t get to see the headlines, you don`t get to see the news, you don’t get to see you name in lights, so to speak,” she said.

Neff says it'll take some time to know the gunman's real motive, especially since police are saying Holmes has stopped talking

“I think people are thinking about the tragedy and the horror and the victim`s families, and that`s what we should be worried about,” she said.

In light of the mass shooting in recent years orchestrated by young people, we asked Dr. Neff if this situation was unusual.

“No. A high percentage of crime occur where both the perpetrator and the victim are between the ages 16 and 25,” Neff said.