I couldn’t help myself. I had to watch the footage of James Holmes’ appearance in court today. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one. He’s got the look I’ve seen many times in inpatient psychiatric hospitals except that he’s not in the hospital. He’s in jail. Where he belongs, I might add. It is clear he is on some pretty strong psychotropic medications. At one point, he even nods off.
I know most people are thinking: Who is this guy? What makes someone do what he did? What the hell is wrong with him? What was he thinking?
However, the question I kept asking myself over and over again as I watched is: Who is James Holmes mother? Obviously, I know who she is. Her name is Arlene Holmes and she lives in my state. But I want to know what she is thinking. What is she feeling? Was she in court today? Does she support her son? Is she the one he calls from jail when he gets his phone calls?
And the most important question I’m asking: Did she create this monster? Was she a horrible mother? Was she terribly abusive? How did she bring him up? Did she create a psychotic killer?
We want to believe that there is a simple cause and effect relationship for creating a person who is capable of such a horrible and incomprehensible tragedy. But as I’ve said previously, evil doesn’t have an explanation.
What if his mother is just like me? What if she was a great mother who provided James Holmes with everything he needed to be a healthy, happy, and well adjusted individual in the world? What if she loved him with all of her heart and tucked him into bed every night? Attended each one of his important events throughout his life and took lots of pictures that she proudly posted on Facebook?
You might say that the description above could never happen. A monster like this has to originate from somewhere. His parents have to be monsters themselves, right? Well, this isn’t always the case.
I remember my first year in my doctorate program when I started working in an inpatient psychiatric hospital for children and adolescents. I met my first sociopath there. He was 5. He made my skin crawl and turned my stomach just sitting in the same room with him. I still remember his name because from our very first assessment session I knew if he wasn’t locked up that I would read about him in the news. He was on his fourth inpatient hospitalization. He’d been under psychiatric care since he was three. He had a long history of hurting animals, cutting his newborn sister with a knife to “see the blood”, and burning down his grandmother’s house. On purpose. What prompted his most recent hospitalization? His parents had gotten him a dog to help him bond. They gave him the puppy and he acted quite pleased. Two minutes later they heard the dog squeal and ran in to see what had happened. The boy had proceeded to snap each one of the puppies legs.
I met his parents. They were wonderful. They were amazing parents who loved their son dearly. They had been getting him help ever since they had noticed he was having problems. They still were willing to do whatever they could to help him. And they were DEVASTATED. Beyond devastated at who their son was.
It can happen. Perfectly loving, well intentioned parents can have a child who grows up to do terrible things. And as a mother of a boy, I can’t help wondering what would I do? What would I do if James Holmes was my son? Would I walk away? Never look back? Refuse to answer phone calls? Would I show up in court? Fund his defense? I don’t know. What an awful decision for a mother to have to make.
I want to be clear that I’m not looking for sympathy for James Holmes. He doesn’t deserve any even if he is mentally ill. I’m thinking about his mother. And I really want to know what would you do if you were James Holmes’ mother?