I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who once commented that, “All things truly wicked start from an innocence.”
As I watched the events in Aurora, Colo., unfold in the early morning hours following a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a local theater, I couldn’t help but think about Hemingway’s remark.
How can anyone so innocent at birth develop into something so wicked while standing in the fire exit of a movie theater, armed to the teeth, with his hair painted orange like the Joker villain from Batman?
Minutes later, a fantasizing lunatic would shoot 12 innocent people dead and cause injuries or wounds to some 58 additional victims.
Evil always seems to be lurking around some corner. But what causes people to commit such crimes?
Throughout my prison career, I would often think about that very question. Why does a person choose to embrace evil and violence instead of a more normal and decent way of life?
As a young correctional officer, I saw much violence in the prison world and often wondered why individuals act out in such a savage manner.
I remember one particular evening as a Captain in 1984, when I responded with Lt. John Shifler to a prison cell.
An inmate had killed his cellmate by stabbing him some 37 times and then wrote in the victim’s blood, “Helter Skelter’s Son” on the cell wall. As we removed the assailant from the cell he still had the homemade shank in his hand and was covered in his cell partner’s blood.
Charles Manson embraced the name “Helter Skelter” and those lyrics from an old Beatles song as he prepared for a race war. “Helter Skelter” was the book that told the story of Manson’s group slaughter of the pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends along with Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.
Did the inmate really think he was the son of Charlie Manson? Was he “acting out” the gruesome stabbing and slaying of another person so he could become an unofficial member of Manson’s family?
Did our society help to create this sick monster, or was it another human deficit that caused the problem?
Was it the inmate’s childhood environment or upbringing that produced such a violent predator? Was it a psychological defect that contributed to such a fit of rage? Or was it some genetic disorder in his DNA?
Does our society actually encourage such behavior by the outlandish and vulgar presentation of violence as entertainment to our youth in the form of music, video games, movies etc.? Are we creating our own little violent Frankensteins?
Was James Holmes one of those kids who didn’t like to play on the school ground where he might learn the importance of interpersonal relationships?
Or did he prefer to play violent video games alone in his room, while engaging in those fantasy moments where he assumed the role of the bad guy and adopted those desires to prevail over all that is good?
Have we created an environment that steers impressionable people toward an evil bowl of porridge instead of something more nourishing?
How much violence was swimming in the head of the Colorado theater shooter? Did he really believe he was the Joker delivering all the violence, pain and suffering he could muster on the good and innocent people in the movie theater?
On this day was he going to conquer Batman for good?
Maybe the answer can be found in one of those very same movie seats, when many movies ago, the shooter became the real Joker, who crossed over the edge of reality, and decided to act out his violent fantasies in a blaze of real gunfire.
For most people, it’s just a movie; for the shooter it was a fantasy come true.
Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.