"I Think my Son was the Shooter."
These are words no parent wants to say but Jeff Williams had to when he arrived at Santana High School in Santee, CA and came across two girls who told him, "Andy did it. (Williams, 2011)". And now, the parents of James Eagan Holmes are facing this nightmare as well as they come to terms with the fact their child opened fire in a crowded movie theater, killing 12 people and injuring 58 (Aleccia, 2012).
All the news coverage has focused on the victims and the seemingly dazed James Holmes' first appearance in court but now the attention is turning towards the parents. What is it like to be the parents of a murderer? Jeff Williams first response was disbelief. His son, Andy Williams, opened fire at his high school, killing two students and wounding 13 others. Just the week before, they'd gone hang-gliding together and condo shopping. He said that Andy was smiling and picking out the room he wanted. The next week, he shot and killed two people (Williams, 2011).
Andy was charged as an adult at the age of fifteen and pled guilty. He was given a sentence of fifty years to life (Williams, 2011). Jeff Williams says he isn't angry with his son because it's incomprehensible to him that he could have done what he did but he feels a certain sense of responsibility to the parents of those killed and injured. He states that he did "everything he could" when it came to raising a responsible child but the guilt is still there. He is being sued by the two victims' parents for negligence.
Lois Robison is also thinking of James Eagan Holmes' parents tonight. Her son, Larry Robison, murdered five people and was executed in 2000. Larry developed a history of mental illness and was finally diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic yet was deemed sane enough to stand trial for murder. Lois and her husband did everything possible to help their son, trying to get him psychiatric help from the time he was 12 until he was 25 (Robison, 2011).
After the crimes occurred, Lois went public with her plea to get help for her son in prison and better psychiatric care for prisoners overall and received a backlash of hate mail from people who were hurting as much as she was: the victims' families. Lois was present, outside the prison, when her son was executed. She states that she doubts she could have withstood such a tragedy if she hadn't done everything possible to try and get Larry help for his mental illness.
The parents of James Eagan Holmes have a long, hard road ahead of them. Like Jeff Williams, their first response was probably disbelief. Our son could not have done this. And, in this situation, perhaps that's best. To be like Lois, trying to get help for a child you know is on the verge of self-destruction and meeting with closed doors, is a burden almost too much to bear.
The question of parenting comes into play as well. Jeff Williams received hate mail that made him question his parenting skills and made him feel partially responsible for the Santana High tragedy. Lois dealt with prosecutors claiming she never tried to get help for her son and threats were made on her life when she showed up for the execution of her son (Williams, 2011).
Already, internet commentators are saying Holmes' parents were abusive and should share in the guilt along with their son (Aleccia, 2012). It will never cease to amaze me how people have an almost obsessive need to place blame in a tragedy such as this and that blame always seems to fall on the parents. Many times, like Jeff Williams and his son, Andy, the parent is doing the best they can do. It never occurs to a parent that their child may become a murderer because of decisions they made when the child was growing up. Or, like Lois, to have done everything possible and yet to still be accused of not doing enough.
A parent can never absolve themselves of all guilt when it comes to their child taking the life of another. When all of the pointing fingers and media flashes are gone at the end of the day, there is always the still, quiet voice that asks, "Is this my fault? Did I do enough?" Andy Williams and Larry Robison were baseball players, held the lead in school plays, loved skate-boarding and won honors in the Boy Scouts. They were no different from the kids I see out my window as I sit here typing this. So what went wrong?
"The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
--excerpted from The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats