This is a guest post by AARP’s Mary C. Hickey.
As a parent of young adult children, my thoughts immediately turned to all the heartbroken mothers and fathers of similarly aged kids left in the wake of Friday’s brutal shooting in Colorado: The parents who lost sons and daughters in the senseless tragedy, of course. But also the parents of James Holmes, the alleged shooter. How unspeakably awful it must be to realize that the child you raised is capable of such an atrocity.
“It is often said that no one can break your heart as much as your own child,” Dr. Harold J. Bursztajn, a forensic psychiatrist and co-founder of the program in psychiatry and the law at Harvard Medical School told Time magazine’s Healthland blog. “There is a great deal of truth to that especially when you have been watching a child, for whom you had great hopes and who had a brilliant mind, slowly losing his or her grip in reality.”
Bursztajn suggests that Holmes’ parents are likely feeling shame, guilt and “self-incrimination of, ‘I should have done this and I should’ve known.’ ”
As people look for someone to blame for this epic tragedy, a “knee-jerk reaction is to blame the parents,” he says. “But that kind of solution to our feelings of helplessness in a community is no solution either. We need to address the fundamental questions that need to be asked that we still don’t have answers to at this point, which is why what happened happens.”
My hunch is that the explanation will be the same one that’s behind the similar horrific crimes we’ve witnessed far too often: The shooter is grappling with a serious mental illness that has escaped anyone’s notice. Possibly even his grieving parents didn’t know how out of touch their 24-year-old son had become.