Authorities Fail to Act on Holmes Concerns - Consumer Justice Foundation

Authorities Fail to Act on Holmes Concerns

Written by Faith Anderson on August 2, 2012
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Concerns Raised about Holmes Weeks Before Massacre

Reports indicate that Holmes’ psychiatrist contacted several members of a “behavioral evaluation and threat assessment” team within the first ten days of June, to alert them that Holmes could potentially be a danger to others. The BETA team consists of key staff members from a variety of university departments who have specific areas of expertise in dealing with the assessment of potential threats on campus. Holmes was enrolled in the University of Colorado’s doctorate program at the university’s Anschultz Medical Campus until June 2012, when he withdrew from the program. Fenton reportedly made phone calls about engaging the BETA team in the beginning of June, but the action was never followed through with, as Holmes began the process of dropping out of school around that same time. Once Holmes withdrew from the university, the BETA team reportedly “had no control over him.” Unfortunately, university officials never contacted Aurora police with Fenton’s concerns before the massacre took place on July 20.

Risk Assessment Team Does Not Convene Despite Concerns

As of now, it is still unclear what Holmes did or said to Fenton that sparked her initial concern. According to one source, in order for Fenton to justify going to law enforcement, Holmes would have had to tell his psychiatrist something specific, something that indicated he planned to act. The BETA team, after all, was established as a “way to determine when student action moves from an academic concern only to a broader campus concern.” According to minutes from a 2010 meeting discussing the initial creation of the BETA team, “One of the most difficult aspects is knowing when immediate action is required, or if there is time to convene the BETA team to discuss the issues.” In the case of James Holmes, neither was done. One source believes that the BETA team may not have been convened because, although Fenton had “serious concerns,” there may not have been an immediate threat to warrant action against him. If only the university had checked its mail room though. Holmes reportedly outlined his deadly plans in a notebook he mailed to Fenton, which was found in the mail room at the University of Colorado in the aftermath of the massacre.

Holmes Mailed Shooting Plans to Psychiatrist

Inside the notebook, Holmes had detailed his plans for the massacre, including pictures of a stick figure gunman opening fire on a crowd. There are conflicting reports about when the package from Holmes was actually delivered; some sources say the notebook arrived at the university prior to the attack, although it wasn’t discovered until afterward, while the university says the package was delivered on July 23 and immediately turned over the authorities. University Chancellor Don Elliman said Wednesday, “I believe, until it’s been demonstrated otherwise, that our people did what they should have done.” In addition to uncertainties regarding what Holmes said or did that prompted Fenton to call members of the BETA team, it is also not clear whether Fenton continued treating Holmes after he withdrew from school, referred him to another psychiatrist, or had any further contact with him after he dropped out. Regardless, further action could have been taken to monitor Holmes as a potential threat to himself, the campus and to others, had the risk assessment team followed through with Fenton’s concerns.

Posted Under: Editorial
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