School's Efforts Questioned in Colorado Theater Shooting

By Banda, P Solomon | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), August 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

School's Efforts Questioned in Colorado Theater Shooting


Banda, P Solomon, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


DENVER - In the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre five years ago, the University of Colorado and other schools across the U.S. created "threat assessment teams" to identify and take action against students who might turn violent. Now, in the aftermath of the movie theater rampage in Aurora, Colo., some are wondering whether the system broke down.

A Denver TV station reported this week that a university psychiatrist was so alarmed by graduate student James E. Holmes' behavior that she tried to bring him to the attention of the school's threat assessment team more than a month before the attack, but the group never met to talk about him because he had already taken steps to drop out.

Holmes, 24, is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 58 in the rampage on July 20 a few miles from the Aurora campus after methodically stockpiling guns and ammunition for months.

"If the argument is because he was no longer a student, he was no longer their problem, they are absolutely incorrect," said Larry Barton, a threat consultant and professor at American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "Any court and any victim's family would have an argument that the school acted with indifference. I hope they have a very compelling answer to why they did what they did."

University Chancellor Don Elliman has repeatedly said the school did all it could with regard to Holmes. He and other university officials have refused to discuss any specifics, citing privacy laws and a judge's gag order. The university would not say whether staff members had any concerns about Holmes or whether police were ever alerted to him.

The school announced on Friday that it had hired former U.S. Attorney Robert N. Miller to conduct a review of the university's procedures and actions in dealing with Holmes.

KMGH-TV and the Denver Post, citing sources they did not identify, said police were never contacted.

It's not clear what alarmed the psychiatrist, Dr. Lynne Fenton, or whether she even treated him. But she helped found the school's Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment Team in 2010.

The team's members are drawn from the counseling center, the faculty, the housing and student services departments and campus police. It consults with police, the university's legal team and mental health services. …

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