At midnight on Friday, July 20, I settled into my seat in a packed movie theater in Manhattan, ready to lose all sense of reality while watching the much-anticipated third installment of the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.
At 4:00 a.m., I fell asleep, nerves still on edge and ears still ringing from the movie
At 6:00 a.m., I got a call on my cell from my boss. I needed to get to the office, now.
I don’t know whether or not people know the name James Holmes. I don’t know if the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting loomed large, brooding, and heavy over others’ summers the way it did over mine. I don’t know if my friends found the incident as fascinating as it was tragic.
I do know that for most people, James Holmes is another crazy gunman; the shooting was a sad blip on the radar of summer; and the tragedy served as a reminder that nothing is certain, or safe.
But James Holmes and his story became my obsession. I interned at a national network news organization, and it was my job over the course of that fateful Friday to find out anything and everything I could about the shooter with the dyed-orange hair and the disconcerting smile.
He had a near-invisible digital profile. Facebook, MySpace, school newspapers, political affiliations, charity donations – all came up clean or proved to be dead ends, his too-common name hopelessly mired in search engine results. Later, TMZ would discover his online dating profile at a sex-targeted site. My amateur investigative skills were not that good. Who IS this guy? I wondered, frustrated. I kept making cold calls.
And then — Why this movie? Why this theater? Why this crime? Flashbacks of chase scenes I’d seen the night before, of flying Batmobiles and machine-gun attacks, threatened to cut through my focus. I shivered a little every time a trailer for The Dark Knight Rises played on TV. It could have been our theater. It could have been my friends. It could have been me.
At 3:00am on Saturday, July 21, we downed some celebratory beers in our newsroom for a job well done, and retired for the weekend. I was tired — but thrilled. It had been by far my best day at work.
But in Colorado, I reminded myself, this wasn’t just a news story. It was their hometown, their theater, their friends. And James Holmes? He wasn’t just a name to investigate: he was a name to never forget.