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Campaign mounts against mentioning Colorado shooting suspect's name

Following pleas from victims' relatives and others, politicians and some journalists are refraining from naming the Colorado theater shooting suspect.

July 25, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times
  • Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and President Obama are among those who have made public statements about the Colorado theater shooting without naming the suspect, James Holmes, shown in court this week.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and President Obama are among those who… (Pool, Getty Images )

AURORA, Colo. — Facing an audience of thousands gathered to remember victims of the deadly theater shooting here, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper made a strategic choice: He didn't mention the suspect's name.

"In my house, we're just going to call him 'suspect A,'" Hickenlooper said.

The crowd burst into applause, cheering the governor's effort to join a growing campaign bent on redirecting public attention from the alleged shooter to those who were wounded and killed.

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Some experts on mass shootings laud the effort and have even joined in, saying such killers — think Dylan Klebold at Columbine andSeung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech — often hunger for notoriety.

"They want desperately to go down in infamy. Too often, we give them exactly what they crave," said Jack Levin, a sociology and criminology professor at Northeastern University who has tried not to name suspect James E. Holmesin interviews. Levin recalled interviewing Charles Manson, who called himself the most famous person in human history. "The sad fact is, that's only the slightest exaggeration."

The campaign against mentioning Holmes by name was started by the brother of one of the victims, 24-year-old Jessica Ghawi.

In the aftermath of the shooting, Jordan Ghawi, 26, of San Antonio became frustrated by how much of the news coverage focused on the 24-year-old Holmes.

"Let us remember the names of the victims and not the name of the coward who committed this act," Ghawi tweeted Friday afternoon.

The tweet went viral. When some Twitter followers noticed Holmes' name trending on Twitter — something Ghawi said bothered his mother — they started a campaign to promote Jessica's name instead.

On Sunday, Ghawi met with President Obama at an Aurora hospital, where the president was visiting victims and their families. Ghawi made his pitch to the president, and when Obama addressed the tragedy as he left the hospital, he did not say Holmes' name.

"It meant everything. This man is probably the loudest voice in the world." Ghawi said, "I'm just hoping we can hold the media to the same level of accountability."

Not long after the president's remarks, Hickenlooper made his reference to "suspect A" at the Sunday evening vigil.

"I love what the governor said," said Jacqueline Lader, who survived the shooting with her husband, Don, and a friend. "This individual did this for fame. Every mass shooter has done it for fame, and Gov. Hickenlooper said, 'I'm not going to say his name.'"

"He was a coward," her husband interjected. "He was studying to be a neuroscientist. There were many things he could have done. Instead, he took the easy way to make his name known."

Ghawi noticed that when Fox News host Mike Huckabee showed some documents concerning Holmes on his show, the name was blacked out.

Ghawi said CNN'sAnderson Cooper assured him he would try to minimize use of the suspect's name. On Monday, Cooper tweeted, "I have no intention of saying #AuroraShooting suspect's name tonight. Don't want to give him more attention than needed."

In a televised interview later Monday, Tom Teves, the father of shooting victim Alexander Teves, 24, challenged Cooper and other reporters to go a step further and ban the name the way some media refuse to show streakers at public events.

"I would like to see CNN come out with a policy that said, 'Moving forward, we're not going to talk about the gunman. What we're going to say is, a coward walked into a movie theater and started shooting people. He's apprehended. The coward's in jail,' " Teves said, suggesting people could boycott those who still mentioned Holmes by name.

Mary Muscari, an associate professor of forensic nursing who studied mass killings and teaches at Binghamton University in New York and Regis University in Denver, said she liked the idea of refusing to give suspects in mass killings the attention they crave. But she also said she understood why attention focuses on killers, because "people want to put a face to evil."

Levin noted that most mass killers target coworkers or classmates. Indiscriminate, public shootings are more rare, he said, about 16% of all mass shootings.

"The dramatic nature of the attack makes me believe he was trying to maximize not only the body count, but the publicity," Levin said of the Colorado gunman.

Mass killers often want to outdo previous killers. Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, even paused during his rampage to mail photos of himself to NBC.

Keeping Holmes' name out of news accounts will not be easy.

Dave Perry, editor of the Aurora Sentinel, defended the paper's use of Holmes' name in a Tuesday column:

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